The demon of discrimination has existed in various forms for much longer than most of us have been alive, rearing its ugly head throughout history and destroying the lives of innocents all over the world. All discrimination is irrational and disgusting – but one of the most inexplicable and demeaning forms of discrimination, disrespect and disregard for basic dignity has been discrimination meted out against a section of the population that has played the role of a mother, sister, wife, friend, elder, and so many others that are so important to our existence, that an assault on their existence, their character and their self-respect threatens to shake the foundations of society itself – women.
On account of me being a man (a binary one, at that), I have not had the misfortune of being subjected to the events that most girls (not only the sex, but the gender, by extension, also including transgender women, lesbians, and the whole gamut), if not all, have faced at some point in their lives – events of sexual abuse, ranging from catcalling to rape; discrimination and disrespect on the basis of their gender, from demeaning comments on the so-called “inadequacies” of femininity to institutionalized job discrimination; and many more. But I have seen and heard of ghastly tales that the women in my life have gone through. I’ve heard tales of a very close friend being subjected to catcalling and molestation, tales of many friends from my college falling victim to physical sexual abuse, and tales of people who were subjected to regular, systemic physical abuse throughout the formative years of her life.
Today, such abuse is much easier to indulge in than it was decades ago. A prime example of this is the recently uncovered “Bois Locker Room” incident. For the uninitiated, the Bois Locker Room was (is? Who knows if another one hasn’t been opened?) a secret Instagram group comprised of high school boys, dedicated solely to sharing compromising and revealing pictures of women that they personally knew, and initiating comments and discussions on their bodies – all this, of course, without the consent of the victim. The screenshots of this chatroom, shared widely, were utterly ghastly, exposing shockingly carnal, systemic objectification of unknowing and unwilling women, and screaming of a lack of respect and human consideration for women who inhabited worlds so similar to theirs. I can imagine disgust on the faces of readers of this post at this point – but I certainly would not expect surprise. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of an incident similar to this, and unless we act, it won’t be the last time either.
This leads me to my next point – social media has also been extremely effective as a weapon against these perpetrators. I have seen a shocking number of friends of mine, most from my college, many from my class, come out with disturbing stories of sexual abuse that they have faced, encouraged by the social media campaign that blew the lid on BLR. One spoke of being molested in a lift standing next to a friend she thought she could trust, while another spoke of being cornered in her own house by an animal, a man she thought she knew. One spoke of ‘accidental’ brushes against her body (‘accidental’ is but a feeble justification), while others spoke of forceful, violent advances.
This chain of incidents (in what could possibly serve as a testament to the power of social media) opened my eyes to the actions of the many people I personally knew and interacted with, and never had reason to suspect the moral integrity of. But that is the power of social media, and more importantly, the power of women who are given a safe platform to open up and speak to the world about the injustices that they have faced. The victims are doing their part, a job which they never should have had the responsibility of undertaking anyway – they are making themselves heard, in a society which should have seen the injustices with its eyes wide open and acted on them. But it isn’t too late.
It is all of our duty (men and women, but overwhelmingly men – we caused the problem, we still ARE causing it, and it is our responsibility to right the wrongs that we have committed) to provide a safe space free of preconceptions and bias to these women. It is our duty to encourage them to come out with their stories, not only because it educates the public about the atrocities that they face, but also because sexual abuse or discrimination inflicts a huge emotional burden on the victim that only festers inside her the longer it is kept inside. However, even more important than this is our duty to listen and act – to change the way we, our neighbours, our elders and those younger than us think. It is our duty to go to the very foundations of our interactions with, and our perceptions of, women, and to correct even seemingly innocuous actions, from the sexist joke to the refusal to partake in household work traditionally reserved for ladies. It is necessary for us to listen, and to see the world from their eyes – maybe then we will see that their cries for equality and respect are not ill-founded after all. Are there some cry-wolf incidents of pretend gender-equality violations? There may be, but that should neither detract from the truth nor reduce the magnitude of the large-scale discrimination that is so obviously taking place that its existence cannot be denied, except by the truly biased and irrational.
Let’s all make some noise, and march towards a more equal world, together – this isn’t a fight that should be fought alone. Complacence is not an option.