‘Just a joke’- Misogyny or Miscommunication

Just a Joke or is it? – How we tend to turn a blind eye to society’s underlying misogyny

“Not all men rape and kill. But all men do benefit from the constant threat of rape and murder that keeps women controlled, subdued and complaint.”

‘Bas mazak tha yaar, itna serious q ho jati ho tum ladkiya?’ A male friend of mine lightly reprimanded a female friend when she called him out on his apparently rude behavior, something that made her thoroughly uncomfortable. The guy in question cracked some joke on how lovely she is and how he oh-so-ardently admire her for that. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Expressing your admiration for someone is a fairly common phenomenon, especially among teenagers. So why is it that when my female friend stood up to the boy, I felt compelled to support her instead of him, despite knowing his intentions might not be that bad? The answer is quite simple, she didn’t like it and it wasn’t the first time she told him that.

One thing which I realized in this whole scenario is that despite being friends with each other and living in a society far more open than before, we, men and women, are still struggling to understand each other. It is to be expected though. There is a communication gap created through thousands of year of disparity and it might take few more to actually bridge that gap. Women, who had been playing the submissive role for quite a long time lost their voice while men are still figuring out on how much emotions they are allowed to show to not to be judged as less ‘manly’. They are supposed to be the dominating one after all.

This imbalance of give and take is in fact so much that its recurring consequences have started to gain visibility now. The recent incident happened in Banaras Hindu University is merely one of the many examples of the harsh reality. Hundreds of women took to the roads to protest for their rights, rallied for the justice that has been unfairly denied to them. Just imagine the level of frustration and fear these women must have felt that propelled them to break their silence and knock on the doors of the authorities in desperation. These authorities, on the other hand, made it only worse for them. Be it the non-chalant statement delivered by a well-educated and prominent BHU staff like GC Tripathi or the state police which didn’t think twice before showering laths on the girls, it won’t be wrong for me to say that somehow everyone is responsible, even the locals who had been watching it all and chose to stay quiet. This is what happens when society decides to abuse it power and institutionalise a crime as grave as harassment. Had the people of the city spoke against it earlier instead of affirming it with terms like ‘Lanketing’, women who had been victims of this ‘Eve-Teasing’ could have been saved.

It is undeniable that in our society, the power lies in the hands of men. And hence, it is crucial for them to take initiative and speak out for the women now more than ever. And for that we need communication. Men are needed to be aware for the privileges they are given and how adversely it is affecting all of us (them included). According to a survey done by Hollaback! conducted in around 25 countries- “Comments like ‘You’d look good on me’ to groping, flashing and assault are daily, global reality for women and LGBTQ community, but street harassment is rarely reported, and culturally accepted as the ‘price you pay ‘for being a woman or for being a gay”.

The survey also reports the long term impact of it on women. Most of the victims suffer from conditions like anxiety, depression and self-esteem issues. This isn’t the first, neither the last time when such infuriating statistics has been revealed, yet the nothingness that comes out of it is what scares me the most; and hence come the privileges I am talking about. Experts says men who usually reach out for women in public places or try to impose their superiority by harassing them are victims of warped social beliefs and psychological problems stemmed from the retarded notions of the society. The society that grants them relief from the consequences of their deeds and blames the victim instead. As per Lakshmi Lingam, Former head of women studies at TISS and Deputy Director of TISS Hyderabad- Men feel threatened to have confident women walking in the public spaces, which were earlier their domain and decide to steep to such underhanded tricks to hide their insecurities. The comfort of namelessness that comes from the crowd only adds to it.

It would be wrong of me to say that all men are responsible for this, but you can’t ignore the fact that there is the other half of this society which is actually left un-catered to for so long. For years, men dictated how women must live, behave and speak without knowing or understanding their needs. Their assumptions that women like ‘this or that’ has created far more problems that we like to address. Be it the protest in BHU or the unexpected aggressive shown by my friend, men need to understand the sensitivity of the issue. What they might call a little joke may not be as little for women, who are understand constant threat of rape, stalking, acid attacks, beating or what not. Their little eve-teasing may have grave aftereffects on the victims, affecting her self-esteem and sense of worth. In a society, where we know that we have no protection, it is only normal for women to be on their guards as they would never know what this ‘Joke’ might escalate to.

While I supported my lady friend on her stand, I also understand the turmoil my male buddy must have felt then; and I wholeheartedly sympathize with him. Maybe next time, before laughing it all off as women’s ‘sensitivity’, if men put themselves into women’s shoes and realize the depth of their concerns, things might get a little easier for us. And my sisters too, as a woman I appeal you to communicate with your male counterparts instead of simply judging them. Who knows, a little talk is all you need? And hence here, I rest my case.

– Nikita Das