Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bodies of women.

There's a girl who studies in one of the other departments, at work. She's familiar to Medusa, mostly through the praises of her teachers, but also because she is always around whenever Medusa visits that department. She seems sorted, pleasant, is clearly intelligent and studious. All irrelevant. And she has also been threatened with an acid bulb.

For the past couple of years, one of the leaders of the erstwhile ruling students' union (again irrelevant) has been interested in her: an interest that she has politely yet firmly declined, repeatedly. This year, therefore, the young man has renewed his attentions, with the accompanying threat of disfigurement. Her classmates now walk her to the bus stop, she has sought help from her teachers, has spoken to the boy's friends, and is contemplating staying at home, for a long time to come.

Medusa can not even begin to imagine what prompts this young man to act the way he is promising to act, but she can try to comprehend the sense of despair that this girl must be experiencing- a despair shared. Because whether or not one has been at the receiving end of such sensational, headline-grabbing violence, one has gotten used to having one's body brought to the forefront of one's existence. Grabbed and mauled on the roads, in buses, trains; brushed against in the metro and in homes, parties, colleges, workplaces. If she gets ahead in life, she's probably also sleeping with her boss, and if she doesn't, then her cleavage-display has sadly been in vain. Her demands in meetings are expressed too loudly, shrilly, She provokes and is not careful enough- the way to teach her a lesson is to teach her body a lesson.

So, while the girl at work will probably go to the police and complain, and maybe, just maybe, be rid of this young man for good- her experience of her body is unlikely to be any diiferent.

Stopping here seemed too depressing, and so Medusa tried to imagine a situation when she and her friends could talk about the bodies of "masculine" men in a similar manner. They could say, "ooooh, look at his arse, no wonder it got slapped yesterday when he was getting on the bus". Or maybe, "its only natural that all his students would hang on to his words, have you noticed the size of his adam's apple?" And again, "If he did not want me to stare at his belly, why did he wear such a tight shirt?".

Pretty taxing, this imagining.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

About a year ago, on her way back from the workplace at the heart of the industrial wasteland, Medusa was sitting next to a student. Medusa had always liked this boy, he was courteous, funny, attentive and regular in classes, and made an attempt to communicate- all virtues that Medusa cherishes more than ever before.

This boy asked Medusa, "Ma'am, why don't you have a talk with the first year girls?"
Medusa: "About what?"
Boy: "Ma'am, they wear jeans to college. Why don't you ask them to stop?"

Medusa, completely flabbergasted and extremely unhappy, on various counts, croaks a reply: "But so do I. In fact, I am wearing jeans right now!!!"
Boy, unfazed: "But that's different."

Medusa, summoning up all the authority that she could muster, tells the boy off. And then continues with her confusion and discomfort, till this piece of news makes her sit up and rethink all her discomfort. Medusa distinctly remembers the time when there was a furore against the comments made by the principal of Asuthosh College, about students needing to wear decent clothes (read, no jeans) and the more recent Muralidhar college one. Incidentally, the reactions to these events, differentiated in time and in space, have been more or less similar- the authorities have been called "traditional", "fundamentalist". "patriarchal", "non-modern", and increasingly, "taliban". 

The thing common about all these reactions is that, they all manage to posit the offending authoritarian group/ person as something distinct from us progressive, modern liberal secular subjects: aberrations, and worse- anachronisms. So, if these offending people/ voices are merely blasts from the past, religious fundamentalists in a secular world, then the swiftness with which they can be relegated to an outside, is amazing. And this outside ensures the comfort with the inside, societies freed of "criminal types", humans freed of beasts

In such a scenario, when Medusa seeks to question the ease with which her student censured the clothes worn by his peers, she finds herself unable to posit her student in any of those comfortable categories. His engagement and sensitivity towards contemporary politics and society, and his interaction with peers and teachers, seem perfectly satisfactory- to Medusa. Then what gives him the moral authority to criticise clothes worn by women, and expect his criticism to be ratified by his teacher, who will, in turn, penalise them by bringing the force of her authority to rest upon them? Especially when, this teacher herself is wearing jeans, something he clearly thinks girls should not wear?

However, while he did not comment on Medusa's jeans, in fact treated it as something distinctly different from those of the "first year girls", many others did. Her parents, some guy in the bus, some whispers in the corridors and some other women members of the faculty. Her parents are neither aberrations, nor anachronisms, but they worry about what the PEOPLE will say to her clothes, because they know that discrimination against women on the basis of WHATEVER, is not surprising, shocking yes, but not unexpected. Her parents worry, and her student forces his opinion, because discrimination against women is STRUCTURAL, it is SYSTEMIC, and the longer feminist critique of instances of discrimination and violence fools itself by calling these aberrations, the longer is the road to an end to it? If an end can be thought of, that is.