Author: Haley Gray
The Dec. 2012 New Dehli gang rape is sparking impassioned discussion all over the world about violence against women and victim-blaming. Indians have taken to the streets in an impressive wave of demonstrations, expressing frustration with problems running the gamut from under-policing at night to a pervasive Indian culture of holding women responsible for getting raped. Feminists around the globe are looking to India with wide eyes and furrowed brows, assessing the “woman problem,” as Rashmee Roshan Lall frankly phrased it in her Dec. 28 opinion piece for Foreign Policy on this issue. India has become the poster child of the harassment and sexual violence pandemic. With all of this tisking at Indian victim-blaming, poor policing, starkly patriarchal culture (the list goes on), perhaps we are too quick to dismiss the similarities between women’s issues in India and women’s issues in America. Rather than just sizing up the problems in their society, lets take this opportunity to re-examine our own.
Many of the alarming victim-blaming comments from high-profile Indian lawyers and congressmen, like that 90 precent of heterosexual rape cases are consensual, or that the victim invited the attack upon herself by choosing to take a bus late at night, evoke echoes of our own Todd Akin (R-MO), who set the media abuzz when he brought to our attention that rape isn’t always legitimate in his words.
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault reports that 87% of boys and 79% of girls think rape is okay if the man and woman are married. One in six American women are victims of complete or attempted rape, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
We have another important thing in common with India: rampant sexual objectification of women in the media. Lall points out that in India’s big cities, sexualized media is a part of daily life: seedy advertisements, sultry Bollywood dance numbers rife with scantily clad women and sexual overtones, even violently sexual rap lyrics.
Yesterday the 49th Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition hit the stands. “[It is the] annual celebration of female objectification and the heterosexual male gaze,” the feminist organization Missrepresentation said. Missrepresentation is dedicated to addressing issues of female objectification and their malignant effects on our society.
Occidental Politics Professor Caroline Heldman recently gave a TED talk discussing the disempowering nature of sexual objectification in our media. She broke down how this objectification is cultivating a harmful culture of male subjectivity and female objectivity – a problem that some Indian feminists have expressed concern about in their own society. Vibhuti Patel, an Indian women’s rights advocate, blames lack of sexual freedom coupled with conservative culture for the phenomenon. “The age-old code is to keep men and women separate. So women are only viewed as sex objects,” Patel said in a 2011 Times of India article on sexual violence and gender equity.
For all our struggles, we also have many accomplishments in common with our Indian sisters. As Lall indicates in her Foreign Policy piece, Indian women are hastily catching up in employment and education–improving their lot more quickly than men, actually. They are decidedly gaining more ground in terms of political representation with better representation in politics than women in the United States. And though still less developed, India is a pace-setting economic powerhouse formally under the leadership of a woman president (catch up America #Hillary2016).
Why then, do both Indian and American culture so frequently seek to strip women of their subjectivity? Certainly, there are unignorable differences between the US and India when it comes to women’s issues, differing conservative ideologies being one of them, as Vibhuti Patel points out.
The aim of this article is not to make the point that women in the US face the same challenges as women in India, or that our struggles are even on the same scale. But rather than looking down at India from our self-constructed, western pedestal, let’s find the similarities between our struggle and theirs. Let’s take this opportunity to look at our own problems with objectification and victim-blaming. We can work to change them within our own society in solidarity with our Indian sisters fighting to do just the same.
Haley Gray is a junior DWA major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you have an opinion on this issue? If so, keep the conversation going and comment on the online version of this article at occidentalweekly.com or write a Letter to the Editor.
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