a) I apologize for the appalling headline. I was just trying to illustrate that humor is not for everyone.
b) This is going to be a short post, because those International Dispute Resolution readings are not going to do themselves.
c) Frankly, I know everyone wants to throw in their two cents about this incident, and you are entitled to roll your eyes at one more such effort. But as I have said before, my blog my rules.
Now, what is this about? Abish Matthew, an Indian comedian, went to N.L.U Delhi (a law school) to perform a stand up act. He made certain jokes about Malayali men beating their wives, the appearance of a female politician and women’s ability to drive (or so the news says). Now some students were offended by his humor, and walked out of the venue. Subsequently, they returned holding a placard that said ‘Get out, sexist pig’ and showed their middle finger to the comedian. They continued to heckle the comedian till he decided to cut his act shot. After this the irate audience turned on the women, pushing them and commenting on their clothes. Now I was not there (and this is second hand news from newspapers), so if I have got any of the details wrong, please correct me.
Well there are really three things I want to say:
1)Is Sexist humor okay?
Personally, I don’t like that brand of humor at all. I think that it is lazy. Why would a comedian want to hide behind stale stereotypes to evoke laughter? I know a lot of great comedians who don’t have to do that (such as John Oliver and Jon Stewart). Secondly, one must remember that behind sexism, lies a sea of historical discrimination and sometimes violence. Look at domestic violence. Having seen it happen to neighbors and on the street (and having tried to intervene) and spoken to survivors of violence, I don’t find it an appropriate subject. This is especially because, if I were a comedian, I would think about what would happen to a victim of domestic violence, if she were sitting in that audience.
However, I am not a comedian, nor am I very funny (though I have my moments). I cannot imagine what is going through his head, but Mr Matthew is young, and is developing his art (or his ‘voice’ as the hip people say). He must be trying to come up with stuff to keep things edgy and have some element of shock value in his act. Comedians often do that. Sometimes, they use their humor to throw light on a subject that bothers them (like child sexual abuse, a war, corruption). I am willing to believe that this might be what Mr Matthew was trying to do.
Now, it is up to him to ask himself whether not making fun of domestic violence takes something away from his jokes? Does he have an obligation to respect the sensibilities of victims who might be in the audience? And, whether his humor will be prone to misinterpretation. That is for him to figure out, because if comedy is art then you cannot expect an artist to be dishonest with it. He must display what he feels is the most authentic expression of his world view.
2) Was the protest wrong?
Well, in my opinion, no. Just as Mr Matthew has the freedom to decide the best comedic expression of his world view, the students who protested have a right to express their anger and outrage at the humor. That is the way democratic life is supposed to be. The girls did not vandalize the venue. They did not resort to violence. They did not take support of the coercive mechanism of the state. All they did was hold a placard, and show the middle finger. Frankly, showing the middle finger and using the f-word, is the sort of stuff A.I.B (which Mr Matthew is allied with?) has been very gung-ho about protecting. Though a lot of their humor is political satire, it is also fully of hip thrusts and ball licking gestures. (*graphic image alert* :\) So yeah, if we love freedom of expression, then we should support both freedoms. Now if Mr Matthew wanted to make a point, he could have powered through the act. The girls could have gone on holding their placard and heckling. You don’t like that? Well suppressing those voices, leads to the vandals and the vigilantes being born.
It should also be remembered that freedom of expression is not freedom from all consequences. It is merely freedom from violence and coercive mechanisms of the state. But people who don’t agree with you are free to heckle you or hold placards. I think I much prefer their brand of protest to the lawsuits of a certain Dinanath Batra, the F.I.Rs lodged against the A.I.B roast, as well as the vandalizing that various political parties do.
3) A small word to the girls who protested. (who may never read this)
I don’t know you. And I don’t know what your law school is like. But I know what a college experience is like and the crushing weight of conformism on all of us. If I was in that auditorium, I probably would just have walked out, and written about what offended me. Your method of protest is not something I have a natural affinity to. You chose what one might call a more ‘militant’ protest. But you did something. You stood up for your convictions, when you knew that there would be a backlash from your peers.
You cared enough about something, to stand up to an auditorium full of irate people.
Now since this the internet, I got a comment (which I did not take very seriously) which was essentially a tirade about feminism. My post, though it made a passing reference to feminism was on the more specific issue of sexism. Did I view it from a feminist prism? Yes. But I was careful about not spreading misinformation. You can check this comment out in the comments section of my blog post. Given the condensing and angry tone of the comment (which included an attack on my intelligence ‘feminism is sexism without the intelligence to understand it’), I assumed it was trolling. It amused me, but I did not think it was worthy of a real response. However, I stand corrected. The commentator has sent a longer reply, backing up their claims about feminism, and assuring me that they are sincere about their vitriol. For this I owe them an apology. I note, they are not a troll, they just like peddling their half arsed information with a missionary zeal, and making personal attacks on people in the process. I have tried to avoid this sort of confrontational dialogue in my blog, because I have always maintained that this space is not for the fringe. It is for people who want to arrive at a consensus through respectful dialogue.
So why am I devoting a whole blog post to this? Well because I have come to realize that with angry zealots, there is no such thing as dignified silence. The refusal to engage makes them believe that they are correct. This person’s arguments have also gained a lot of currency in the world of the ‘interwebz’, and I felt that I had an obligation to point out exactly where they are wrong.
I shall begin by reproducing the text of their second (more elaborate comment) and then proceed to examine the claims one by one. A closer examination will show you three problems 1) Massive stereotyping 2) A faulty understanding of history 3) A refusal to come out of a first world context. Amazing readers that you are, and uncharacteristic though this post is, I hope you will stay with me. (Also note the annoying abbreviations. What on earth is IOW, you will ask? I Googled it. Turns out it means ‘In other words’. Why would someone writing hopelessly huge comments on a blog want to shorten than phrase? Sigh.)
> Lady (or troll let us say).
Yes I know it’s annoying when other people bring facts and arguments which challenge (or outright refute) what we are saying. And trolls are also annoying. But that does not mean I am a troll because I actually stand by what I say, and I try to back up everything with reason and evidence. IOW I am not just saying contrary things to annoy you 🙂
> Women do fight wars.
1. What women (specifically) are you talking about here?
2. Were these women legally required to fight wars (draft) and were their men exempt from that requirement?
3. Were these women culturally expected to fight war, and did their male peers have less (or no) cultural expectations placed on them? Did men pressure these women into fighting wars while simultaneously claiming for themselves the right to stay at home in safety?
4. Were men able to vote for wars and then have the women forced to go off and fight them.. and if any women refused have them put in prison or (in the field) shot for desertion?
I agree that *some* women do fight wars. But usually this only happens when things get really desperate, or just when all the men have been slaughtered already.
> And before they were a part of the army, the things they did are in no way less important than fighting wars
Personally, I view caring for children as infinitely more important than running about on a battlefield shooting at people just because a bunch of politicians (on both ‘sides’) are telling you to do it. In the internet age (ability to bypass propaganda) there is no excuse for not knowing that war is a racket, and is completely immoral. Its primary purpose is to (a) make money for the banks who have always loaned money at interest to BOTH sides of every major war of the last century, (b) make money for their military industrial complex and (c) to demoralise the traumatise the masses so they will be easier to rule, and specifically get cull each generation of brave and strong young men (or turn them into PTSD’d alcoholic veterans) so they won’t care to defend their families and communities from the ruling class and their creeping socialist. fascist police state takeover of society. THAT is the purpose of wars. There is nothing ‘important’ or noble or moral about war. That’s just the cover story to convince young men to sign up to be slaughtered.
So when it comes to the issue of SEXISM throughout history, the issue is not ‘importance’, but whether the demands we placed on women were the same as those we placed on men. If those demands were equal then logically it would have been just as fair if women had been forced to go off to fight all the wars of the last century (or the last 2000 years or whatever) while the men had stayed at home looking after the children (which we agree is a very important task).
Somehow if 18 year old women had been the ones given a short back and sides and a scratchy uniform before being pushed ‘over the top’ into a hail of gunfire, I don’t think you would consider that equal treatment to men’s role of being expected to stay at home and look after the kids.
It’s always rather shocking to reverse the gender roles and replay history, isn’t it?
One reason (out of many) that I’m not a feminist and I don’t subscribe to feminism’s ‘patriarchy theory’ is that I’d much rather stay at home and do domestic chores than go off to get trench foot and then have my legs blown off in some stupid war, and I’d much rather stay at home than go and work 12 hours a day down a mine, or out at sea, or in a shipyard or doing any other job which was traditionally assigned to men in a patriarchal society…… especially in the past when the technology of the day was absolutely rubbish meaning there was no decent safety equipment, or machines or vehicles to do the bulk of the heavy lifting.
Instead I would say “Yes please, chain me to the kitchen sink and force me to do the washing up! …….. just as long as you don’t put me on a boat, down a mine or in the middle of a war zone!”
And I think the majority of women throughout history all felt the same way, as do most women today too. And that includes feminists (if they are honest). I don’t know of ANY feminists who have CHOSEN to do manual labour jobs, or ‘rugged’ jobs of any kind, and none who have joined the army. All the feminists I come across work in my life work in comfortable offices – or comparable environments – doing jobs that could (if one chose) be done in heels, with long nails, skirts and a high maintenance hair style. So whether they choose to wear trousers and sensible shoes or not is kind of irrelevant. And feminist seem to gravitate towards government funded jobs like teaching where they are almost unifiable.
Why do YOU think most women waited for centuries until the exact moment that new technology (electricity, cars, plastics, telephones etc) made paid work outside the home a safe, comfortable and largely indoor experience before deciding en masse that they wanted to take off their aprons and have a go at it? Might the answer be buried in the question somewhere?
Again, I’m not judging anybody, I’m just pointing out that there has never been a time when gender roles, and social demands on genders, has been equal (ie not sexist). Presumably this has something to do with the fact that men and women are different. And throughout history sexist attitudes and traditions have benefited AND disadvantaged BOTH sexes simultaneously. Swings and roundabouts. Feminism makes out that all modern and historical sexism only ever benefitted men and disadvantaged women. But that’s utter nonsense, and incredibly offensive to men, and belittling and disempowering to women (reducing all the women of history to mere objects with little to no agency or free will).
> You have provided no links to facts (gender pay being disproved)
Look up economists like Thomas Sowell. who exposed the myth of the wage gap back in the 70’s.
The myth has perpetuated because – like most feminist propaganda – it has elements of truth to it. Yes of course men occupy many of the high paid jobs in society, but they are almost certainly supporting women financially (wives, dates, girlfriends, lovers). These women benefit from ‘free money’ which someone else earned. Far more women are financially supported (in part or totally) by their husbands / bf’s than men are supported by their wives/ gf’s….. although there has been a small shift towards more equality in this area be fair.
But the point is that feminists judge privilege by how much people EARN, rather than how much UNEARNED income a person receives. Women receive far more UNEARNED income than men, and they get it from men directly (husbands, bf’s, dates etc) as well as from the state who in turn get it from those who earn the most (that would be men again). If men and women earned the same amount of money then men would come out worse because they SPEND far more of their money supporting women than women spend supporting men.
If feminists want to narrow the pay gap they need to start financially supporting the men in their lives more, and voting to have more state welfare and social schemes directed at helping men specifically….. then men will finally be in a similar position of women of being able to AFFORD to get themselves lower paying jobs…. typically jobs which pay in other ways like less stress, more flexible hours, more holidays, more job satisfaction, more skills transferability, less hours, less overtime, a more relaxed and non-competitive atmosphere, more job security, less performance related pay etc etc etc etc etc.
How many women consider a 25 year old man with little qualifications, no real career prospects and an inability to financially support a family or even himself) as suitable boyfriend / husband material?
Yet many men would happily go out with and even marry a 25 year old woman of similar status, and they would happily support her financially (and their future family) by working their asses off at work.
So you see – in general – women have the privilege of NOT ALWAYS HAVING TO WORK quite so hard to achieve the same standard of living as men. It’s not uncommon for women to go to college and get an education as ‘backup’ while all the time looking for a decent Alpha man who’s income will allow her to be a housewife, or at least allow her to pursue a more interesting and fulfilling (but less well paid) career…. like a therapist, or a teacher, or a children’s book illustrator or whatever.
Men don’t really have that option. If a man wants to put his own job satisfaction or personal interests ABOVE his earning potential (ie trying to make it as an actor or musician or run a home for rescued dogs) then he is going to have to accept that he won’t be able to attract a woman very easily because he simply won’t be earning enough.
Studies show that men who give up the whole business of trying to attract a gf/ wife (MGTOW and a lot of men in Japan) find they are suddenly able to have a decent quality of life for themselves without earning half as much as they would have to to achieve the same quality of life living with a woman.
Women are attracted to men with resources and social status, and so THAT is why so many men work their asses off to get decent careers and earn lots of money (before having a heart attack at 50 from all the stress and coffee) ….. meanwhile, men are attracted to women who are young and fertile and the best bet for providing them with healthy children and THATis why so many women work their asses off to look young and attractive (fertile) and to cling on to that youthful/ fertile image when they hit 35, 40, 50 etc.
To say men working their asses of to earn decent money to impress women is ‘male privilege’ is a bit like saying women working their asses off to look good to impress men is ‘female privilege’.
Do you think we need to have ‘affirmative action’ to get more men in make up departments, hair salons, fashion stores and cosmetic surgery clinics to address these ‘female dominated’ spaces?
Or should we treat everyone like grown ups and let them decide what to do with their lives, based on what their ambitions are?
And while men do occupy many of the most high paying jobs, it’s lso true that men also occupy a lot of the world’s most shitty jobs too (garbage collection, sewage maintenance, soldier etc). In general women tend to occupy the middle ground choosing careers that offer the best work/ life balance. I don’t see any feminists seeking ‘gender equality’ in those dirty, smell, dangerous but decidedly ‘male dominated’ jobs, do you? If you want true gender equality you can’t pick and chose!
Feminist view the world as if that men and women live in separate bubbles and are like opposing tribes facing off against each other across a muddy battlefield. This is silly. Successful, rich, high status men are nearly always benefiting one – of not several – women in their lives (and a bunch of women they never get to see, via their taxes).
When women feel the pressure to look good to keep their men happy this is oppression……. but when men feel the pressure to work overtime just to keep their wives wardrobes stocked up with shoes and the kids bedrooms full of ipads and gaming consoles this is viewed by feminists as ‘male privilege’. Such double standards.
The feminist wage gap propaganda and ‘double think’ is so strong that even feminists themselves cannot seem to convince other feminists that the wage gap (as it is typically defined by feminists) is a load of made up nonsense.
> Further, I have acknowledged that chivalry is wrong.
I never said (or meant to imply) that chivalry is ‘wrong’. If men and women want to play those traditional roles where he is the protector and provider and she is the princess who is treated a bit like a child, then that is fine by me. Chivalry is rather like a very mild form of submissive/ dominant relationships. And playing the submissive role is NOT the same as being actually oppressed. Being submissive FORCES the other party to be assume agency and responsibility for the both of you. A lot of women like to be submissive and have men take the lead, and a lot of men like to be the dominant provider, protector and decision maker.
It’s only a problem is when men are told by damselling, trembly voiced, rich, stuck up, my-boyfriend-is-a-rugby-payer women like Emma Watson that men have to be the protectors, providers for ALL women and that these women owe them nothing in return because in the wonderful world of feminism men serving women (he for she) is just ‘equality’ you see 😉
Here you go. Read this persons words carefully, because for a lot of people they do have a lot of appeal. Together, like all specious arguments, they make you pause, even though you are pretty sure there is something messed up in them. Then you examine then closely, and they fall apart.
On the issue of whether women fight wars, and should they have been allowed to vote given that men did the actual fighting.
Before going into the question of whether women do actually fight wars, let us try to see what point you are trying to make. It seems to me that, the point is ‘men fought wars. women did not. hence, only men should have been given the right to vote, since the government takes the decision to fight wars’. or alternatively ‘women should not complain about not getting to vote, because they got to stay at home when the men fought’. The obvious logical flaw here is that the decision to go to war is not the only decision that Governments took. Governments regulated a host of things at different points in history, including, regular crimes, marriage, inheritance, abortion. If you take this reasoning to its conclusion, one could very well argue that if there is any regulation of abortion, only people with a uterus should get to vote. That is absolute bullshit, probably because the logical conclusion of this idea is absurd. The idea of universal adult franchise works because different interests (sometimes competing sometimes harmonized) can cancel out inequalities by giving people a voice in how their Government is run.
But let us examine the alternative point you may be making ‘women should not complain about being denied the, because after all they sat at home when men fought’. Well, okay. Firstly, let us take this argument on its face value. If we agree with it, then it means by extension, no one else who could not fight (due to prevailing social norms) would have had the moral right to demand the vote. This means, effectively, 1) Disabled people, at least physically disabled persons, who could not fight would be disenfranchised. 2) Workers staying back in the country to produce things, (because no matter how ‘important’ their contribution, it is not the same as actually fighting). 3) Old men, because they are to weak to fight, 4) Pacifists and conscientious objectors. See the kind of society that is created based on this judgment of who should or should not get to vote? A society where only able bodied men willing to fight would get to vote? Now you are free to think that that is a just society, but the world has moved on from that idea.
As far as which women who fight wars, I am specifically referring to …Here’s a list of the countries that allow women in front-line combat positions. In Europe: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania and Sweden. Elsewhere: Australia, Canada and New Zealand in the Anglosphere; plus Eritrea, Israel, and North Korea. Here is a list of countries that allow women to fight as fighter pilots Pakistan, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom. Here is a feminist demand for the US to change its policy on allowing women in combat zones, which notes that the changing nature of warfare means that American women servicewomen do end up in combat zones (” U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that enemy combatants prefer to bring the battle to civilian-populated areas, targeting both civilians and combatants and men and women alike. Policies designed to keep servicewomen from the front-lines of battle cannot be enforced where front-lines do not exist.”)
Further there have been women in history who willingly took up arms or who dressed up as men and went to fight. One of these women later worked as ‘ church janitor, cemetery worker and street lamplighter’. Here is an article about UAE’s first female fighter pilot. Looks to be fighting very willingly, to me. Sure, these women were not the norm, but they were brave women who did not want to be tied up to their gender roles, and chose to fight.
Further, the feminist position on women in combat roles is complex, because feminism is complex. There are different varieties. So please stop stereotyping an entire movement based on what you think feminism means. And don’t give me the ‘well, most feminist I have seen say this’ crap. The internet age, which lets you bypass propaganda, also puts an obligation on you to go and find the right kind of information. This brings me to the second point.
Then this person says something even more interesting ” Yes please, chain me to the kitchen sink and force me to do the washing up! …….. just as long as you don’t put me on a boat, down a mine or in the middle of a war zone!”And I think the majority of women throughout history all felt the same way, as do most women today too. And that includes feminists (if they are honest). I don’t know of ANY feminists who have CHOSEN to do manual labour jobs, or ‘rugged’ jobs of any kind, and none who have joined the army.”
THIS IS NOT LOGIC, IT IS STEREOTYPING
Now this is absolutely brilliant. YOU would want to be tied up to the kitchen sink. Good for you. But you have absolutely no right to speak for most or all women throughout history, and you certainly have no right to speak for all feminists (or claim to read their minds). And neither do I. But I will tell you this, just as you don’t know any feminists doing rugged work, I personally know a lot of feminists who routinely do ‘rugged jobs’, personally met women’s activists who work in rural and semi-rural areas, creating awareness about domestic abuse, sexual violence, trafficking of women.. I know a feminist who has been taking on the human trafficking mafia that has made 3 attempts on her life so far. Here is a women’s rights activist who got gang-raped while trying to prevent child marriages in India, and has been fighting for justice ever since. These women are not “doing jobs that could (if one chose) be done in heels, with long nails, skirts and a high maintenance hair style” Your lack of awareness does not mean that there aren’t feminists roughing it right now.It just means you need to grow up and account for experiences other than yours. And also wearing make-up does not diminish the moral and logical weight of asking for equality.
You also don’t “see any feminists seeking ‘gender equality’ in those dirty, smell, dangerous but decidedly ‘male dominated’ jobs, do you? If you want true gender equality you can’t pick and chose!” BULLSHIT ALERT
Under this statement lies the factually incorrect claim that women don’t do the smelly, dirty dangerous jobs? Have you seen the job a nurse does? Seen a bedsore? Have you had to wipe shit of an adult human being? It is the dream job I tell you, not dangerous, but ah the smells and the dirt! Have you ever seen the work maids or housekeeping professionals do? Not easy stuff I tell you, especially in non-first world context without those vacuum cleaners and washing machines. Even with them, those jobs aren’t easy.
But I guess you meant the construction industry, or something? Look, with this blog post I have attached a picture of me with some women digging trenches in rural India. But I guess they are poor, so they must not be doing it out of choice (as opposed to all the men in construction, out of choice)? On a serious note, yes there is a lot of poverty there, and I doubt they have many alternatives. That calls in larger issues of poverty and development. But as a matter of pure fact, there are women doing some very hard jobs. Your next claim implies feminists don’t want women do be in certain kinds of jobs (dude, big movement, lots of variation). I bet there are no feminists asking women to join construction, are there?
Now, for our main course of bullshit “Why do YOU think most women waited for centuries until the exact moment that new technology (electricity, cars, plastics, telephones etc) made paid work outside the home a safe, comfortable and largely indoor experience before deciding en masse that they wanted to take off their aprons and have a go at it? Might the answer be buried in the question somewhere?”
Well, again, that may be true for the first world, but paid work outside home is not safe everywhere. Hey, there are little girls who get shot at for going to school. Girls who get kidnapped for attending school and sold to slavery. The ones who survived the attack, defied their attackers, accepted scholarships and went back to schools. Of course men in conflict areas get killed and harmed too. No one is taking away from their suffering, but the narrative that women want fairness and opportunities because it is now convenient, is an insult to women everywhere fighting for fairness and justice.Also the reason women in the first world ‘en masse’ decided to work was because there was a vacuum in the job market created by the first world war (something I am not sure women planned).
Okay, now here is my favorite lump of BS. “But the point is that feminists judge privilege by how much people EARN, rather than how much UNEARNED income a person receives. Women receive far more UNEARNED income than men, and they get it from men directly (husbands, bf’s, dates etc) as well as from the state who in turn get it from those who earn the most (that would be men again). If men and women earned the same amount of money then men would come out worse because they SPEND far more of their money supporting women than women spend supporting men.”
Yes, I can’t speak for all feminists but I judge privilege through institutional traceable structures, because they are more accountable. But if you talk about the privileges that are unearned, and speak of how men buy women stuff and pay for dates, well I have a question:
a) Assuming your argument makes even an iota of sense, What about women who don’t want stuff, and don’t want people paying for them? Sure, you may argue there are more women who let men pay for stuff and like men to take leadership positions (because we have deeply rooted gender roles). Okay, but there may well be more people on this planet who like Katie Perry better than Mozart (because people have shit taste). What does that have to do with the law, and institutions? When I demand to be paid the same as men, are you going to tell me I can’t because some other women like to have their coffee and cakes paid for on dates? Laws need to account for the (now significant) minority that does not want to conform to gender roles. NO woman I have known well, till date lets people pay for her on dates. Sure, there may be a selection bias here (i.e. I tend to make friends with women who don’t like submissive roles), but that may be true for what you claim (about how women behave on dates around you. that too might be a selection bias).
b) And while a dinner at a restaurant is the pinnacle of privilege, I would ask, what of the power men enjoy? Running companies, being a part of the judiciary, being in politics? Have some groups of men not enjoyed actual political and economic power historically? Is the make up of that power not uneven till date (with women being under-represented in the judiciary, in CEO positions).
But wait, you will now make the life choices argument. Sure, some women end up making different life choices (low paying jobs, less commitment to putting in longer hours). But here is a study that examined “Women graduating from top MBA programs are usually in their late twenties or early thirties and have just sunk over $100,000 into a degree, presumably to raise their value to employers—just like their male counterparts. We limited this analysis to people who had full-time jobs lined up; so there was no gender difference in their commitment to working a full day. Even with those things being equal, the pattern held.” Even these women, right out of school, with the same degrees as their male friends, applying for jobs in the same sector, WERE PAID LESS.
But I feel compelled to address a larger question here. When a woman chooses to be a homemaker, she isn’t freeloading. All the homemakers I have known lead extremely busy lives, trying to keep their children healthy. and support their husbands emotionally morally. On top this they do housework that I can only describe as backbreaking. I kid you not. There is no way of accounting for their labor, no payment, no benefits. Yes, their husbands support them, but people like you reduce it freeloading, It isn’t freeloading, it is accounting for labor at home. These men (and women) decide they want a home where children have full-time parental supervision, and someone has got to stay home. For several reasons that have a mix of the social conditioning, and the biological reality of women, the person who stays back at home is the mother. But who ever stays at home and takes care of children (be it a stay at home mom or a stay at home dad, they are putting in work. So really, this isn’t female privilege). But let us get to something else you accuse me of doing.
“To say men working their asses of to earn decent money to impress women is ‘male privilege’ is a bit like saying women working their asses off to look good to impress men is ‘female privilege’.
Do you think we need to have ‘affirmative action’ to get more men in make up departments, hair salons, fashion stores and cosmetic surgery clinics to address these ‘female dominated’ spaces?”
Interesting points. Here is a tiny (really tiny problem with this narrative). I never actually said any of those things written above But you aren’t arguing with me, you are actually.. shit. I have no clue why you are doing this. And I can’t believe I am spending my free time trying to bust your myths. I don’t think men trying to work hard to impress women is male privilege (I think its silly, but I don’t think its male privilege). But yes, male privilege is being able to walk down the street without being leered at, not being told (the first thing when you get to a new job) which boss to avoid being alone with, and it is also the fact that John gets better jobs than Jennifer even when the same effing resume has been submitted.
And I do not support affirmative action, because I doubt its effectiveness. Though I do support tackling institutional biases by creating awareness. I do support providing child care (like creches at the workplace, which benefits both moms and dads), and I support giving maternity and paternity leave to parents, so that we can have couples who can work AND be involved in raising their child. I also support creating safe streets and equal marriages. I support having mechanisms for combating sexual harassment. I am preoccupied with institutional structures and the law, because it gives freedom to those who want to make choices other than home-making (which can range from the law to construction work). And no there will be some jobs that most women will not be able to do, because generally they are not as strong as men. But that is no excuse for having laws and institutional structures that disadvantage women. Just don’t hire women who don’t make the cut, like you do with men who aren’t strong enough. And now that we have constitutions (in most working democracies), with equal protection clauses, I think we have a good shot of doing guaranteeing equality to women through structural and institutional reform, as opposed to quibbling over coffee and cake on dates statistics. (Ok, I am craving cake now)
Feminist view the world as if that men and women live in separate bubbles and are like opposing tribes facing off against each other across a muddy battlefield. This is silly.
No they don’t. Yes, there is one very specific school of feminism that does (it applies a whole class struggle perspective to gender relations), but that school is in the minority. I, that is the person on whose post you decided to have this singularly beautiful bit of verbal diarrhea, do not belong to that school. If I had to say which school I belonged to, it would be the ‘anti-essentialist’ school, which is actually a strong critic of this ‘separate bubble, opposing each other framework’. Among other things, like accounting for the complex factors that make people who they are (race, age, nationality, class, and sexuality), this brand of feminism also calls for “developing a vision of the relations among men and women, not just between them”.
But that sums up the most frustrating part of this effort. I have to defend and incredibly complex movement that was stereotyped by one person, who has read very little about it. And why? Because this person does not like Emma Watson?
“It’s only a problem is when men are told by damselling, trembly voiced, rich, stuck up, my-boyfriend-is-a-rugby-payer women like Emma Watson that men have to be the protectors, providers for ALL women and that these women owe them nothing in return because in the wonderful world of feminism men serving women (he for she) is just ‘equality’ you see ;)”
But why evoke Emma Watson at all, while arguing with me? Why not evoke the image of Bhanwari Devi whose strong will and sheer courage, continue to inspire survivors of sexual assault? Emma Watson is not a part of my reality or the reason why I am a feminist. I don’t even know what she said. Everything you have said here is a huge non-sequitur. This is exactly like me going an picking a random conservative, and yelling at him for something Rush Limbaugh said (though I doubt Watson has ever been that vicious or anything).
No ideology comes from a position of neutrality. Not feminism, not socialism, not free-market capitalism. They have their first principles, and are one of many ways in which we sort reality. Feminism is not the answer to all questions, neither should it be a rigid monolith. The fact is there are several feminists helping to evolve a better idea of it. The best we can do, is to ask ourselves if an ideology is coherent, and helps create the kind of society we want to live in. If it doesn’t, then don’t believe in it. So if you don’t want to be a feminist, DON’T BE ONE. I certainly don’t want you to be one. I doubt there are hoards of people out there trying to convert you to feminism. (If they are, then watch out. If a feminist bites you, you turn into one on a full moon night). If your life is made miserable by feminists asking you to join the cause, do to them what I do to super religious people who want me to find God. I ignore them. But understand that the thing you consider to be cast iron logic (stuff I just refuted above), is full of holes.
I don’t think anything I said is going to convince you, even though I put in a lot of work and effort into doing this. Because I don’t think the sort of dialogue you want to have has anything to do with learning from other people. It has to do with diminishing them, stereotyping them and ridiculing them. But I put in this effort anyway because you need to know that when people don’t engage with your specious logic, it is because they are amused. But sometimes, bullshit needs an answer.
Well, there goes a hornet’s nest screaming to not be disturbed. But in this short post I propose to deal with it, because well, it needs to be dealt with. As we all know Feminism, the insidious movement for world domination by women, which has resulted in millions of people dying, countless wars and famines, has finally failed. (Go figure which part of that statement is made up :))
However, sexism is still alive. If you don’t believe me, go ask any woman who has been groped on public transportation, sexually harassed at work, or is payed less than men for doing the same work. While you are at it, ask persons of the transgendered community what their lived reality is like. And yes, their concerns are the concerns of feminism too. (At least the feminism I believe in). But today’s post is not about convincing the fringe that sexism exists. It is about having a dialogue with men and women who want to introspect about their behavior. It is about pointing out a few things to those who have no desire to practice hidden or benevolent sexism, but have a hard time figuring out what they are doing wrong. But before I begin, I would like to point out that sexism is not an isolated problem, it is part of a larger network of disrespect, assumptions and unfairness that other communities face too. So if you are looking to address sexism in your attitude, also try to examine whether you stereotype people based on race, disability or other social disadvantage.
Well, here we go. When I Google sexism, Google throws me this peach. ‘Sexism :prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.’ Now of course you would think that these behaviors are easy to find and call out. Surely, they do not exist in modern institutions and workplaces anymore. And even if they do, they are isolated cases and can be handled easily right? Well, that is not really true. Firstly what do you mean by modern? (This is also relevant to those of you who think ‘modern feminism makes no sense’). We all live in the modern age. But women don’t enjoy the same level of rights in practice (or even on paper) in every country. So when you are talking about modern, you mean a very limited (North American or European context). So do not conflate the two things.
But even in the European and North American context sexism exists. Although violence against women and sexual harassment continue to be problems, sexism has taken subtler forms in these developed contexts, including the gender pay gap and racial and gender biases in academic departments of universities. This link will lead you to the feminist propaganda site NPR, also called the National Public Radio. You may point out that in the NPR study that I have linked to you, women professors and African-american professors treat women and African-american’s as badly as the others do. Sure. But sexism is not the prerogative of men only. Women are sometimes complicit in patriarchy, as minorities are in racism. That does not detract from the larger point that these behaviors have to go. Sexism is bad, irrespective of who is doing it. The fact that these behaviors have become subtler, makes them harder to tackle. Institutional bias against women, does not create the kind of furor rape does. Of course, the latter is graver, but the former still needs to be eradicated.
Now let us examine the issue of benevolent sexism. This category of sexism does lead to a lot of thorny debates because a) We live in a society that historically prized chivalry, and some of those social norms have stuck on b) People may be genuinely confused and think that to not be sexist requires them to treat women the same way as men c) People feel threatened by the mythical feminist jumping down their throat at every small thing.
I remember when I was young, someone told me that I could either pick feminism or chivalry, but I can’t have both. To my mind, this was a no brainer. I wanted to be treated as equal to men. I honestly saw no use for chivalry. But that does not mean that I want to be treated the same as men. There is a difference. What, pray, is the difference? Imagine an old person (gender unspecified) gets into a bus. They are carrying a few bags. I have a seat in the bus. I get up, and offer them the seat. I am treating them with respect, keeping their needs in mind. I do not treat a hulking man of 25 this way. This does not mean, in any way, that he is not equal to the old person. Notice how you can think people are equal, but treat them differently?
So, when you get up to offer a seat to a pregnant woman, it isn’t sexism. She probably needs to avoid jerks (of the literal kind). I would get up to offer a seat to a man who looked like he needed it. The same goes for holding doors. I hold doors for people, and feel nice when people hold doors for me. I invented a name for such behavior. I call it common decency.
But this does not mean benevolent sexism doesn’t exist. It exists when men will insist on paying for a woman every time, despite her requesting them not to. It exists when the worth of a woman’s work is judged by how perky she looks, when the industry in question is not the perkiness industry. It exists when someone assumes that a woman is interested in trinkets and jewelry, when she might like bird-watching better. It exists even when women are stereotyped as ‘infinitely superior’ to men. No, they aren’t. They are regular people. It exists when women are shamed about the number of sexual partners they have, when it is nobody’s god damn business. It exists when women are told? ‘What? You don’t like kids, don’t worry you will change you mind in a couple of years.’ It exists when we can come up with no better response to a woman’s cogent argument than ‘She has been divorced three times’. It exists when a scientist finds no better shirt to wear, during a televised press conference, than one with half naked women on it. This is not to take away from his achievements. But really, wearing a shirt with women in lingerie on it, during an internationally televised event? Just ask yourself if this is respectful to the women in science? Forget about the whole sexism issue, and just ask ‘Gee, is it possible that my women colleagues might find this shirt (worn on this occasion) hurtful?. What am I trying to achieve by wearing this, on this particular occasion’ While we are on this issue, I love freedom of speech and expression. I just don’t think everything has to be said everywhere, and every urge has to be expressed everywhere.
But, you may object. Still not convinced. Aren’t some stereotypes true? Do you like trinkets? You will ask me. And if you do, isn’t the speech you made a bit hypocritical? Sure,I like trinkets. In fact I was over the moon when my boyfriend bought be pretty gold colored year-rings on out first anniversary. Some stereotypes are definitely true. But let me tell you something Chimamada Adiche, or the wise one (as I call her), said:
“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Yes, I like trinkets. But I don’t just like trinkets, and quite a few women I know don’t like them at all. And even if I was incredibly happy to get those pretty gold colored ear-rings, I was happier when he gifted me the Terry Pratchett book I was really pining for. Really, the power-saw on the third anniversary was the best gift ever. (Ok, I made up one of those three things. Go figure which one). The truth is that people are not single narratives. They are not their uterus. They are not the melanin level in their skin. They are not their disability. There aren’t any little boxes in which you can pigeonhole them, while doing justice to their person-hood. And they deserve respect and consideration. And an essential part of respect is fairness. That radical notion that I should be treated equally, given equal circumstances.
Sometimes it may be hard. But here is a big tip:
No matter who you are dealing with, respect and empathy goes a long way.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”- Rumi
Now my more intellectually attuned friends often quote Rumi and so does my yoga instructor. Okay, he isn’t really my yoga instructor, I went to that class twice. But he did quote Rumi. All I am saying is that it takes people of a slightly elevated bent of mind to fully comprehend Rumi. I, on the other hand, am a much prosaic creature. I have opinions. Now they may be wrong, perhaps they ARE wrong if there is no such thing as the objective truth… but they are well thought out. More than anything, they are open to being challenged. But the process of challenging, debating, discussing is a tumultuous process, and I enjoy that tumult. And *gasp* I am sad when I can’t convince people of what I believe in.
But the world around me, it seems to be full of half thought out punchlines and easy truths. Nuance is a quality that is fast disappearing from most discussions in public spaces. More than anything, most people shy away from any discussion of things they believe in. It is ‘I state, you state, goodbye’. This is what makes my experience in an American Law school stand out. In classes on Comparative Constitutional Law we have discussions on the idea of secularism. What it really means. Does free exercise of religion mean that there has to be an accommodation of different religious practices by the state? Or does it mean a strict separation between church and state? Is it cruel and unusual punishment to incarcerate someone for life, with no scope for an early release? What does free speech really mean? Even if my mind is made up on some of these issues, the tumult of these discussions plants seeds of doubt. I know years from now, if I am even a half decent thinker, I will owe a lot to these seeds of doubt.
I remember when I was very young, I met a great Bengali author who is famous for her human rights work. I was a child and a bit of a moron. She asked me if I thought the death penalty was correct, and I said with a great deal of certitude ‘Yes, some people do such terrible things, they deserve to die’. She smiled wryly and said ‘So you think the state has the right to take people’s life?’. That was a seed of doubt. I thought of what she had said. Examined it. Forgot about it. When I became less of a moron, I began thinking about the issue again. The seed of doubt began to sprout a tiny little shoot. I have never come to the conclusion that the state does not have the right to take a life. But I oppose the death penalty for my own reasons. (I don’t think it can ever be fairly applied, there will always be biases and subjectivity in awarding it to people).
Graduate school at Notre Dame (and I can’t speak for every American school nor can I speak for all graduate school experiences), has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I have met people from different countries, learnt that there can be widely diverging opinions on issues depending on where you are form. The Latin American views on colonization are not the same as African voices on colonization. I have even had to sit up and ask myself, what exactly we mean by African voices? There are 54 sovereign states on the continent, with incredible ethnic diversity. But we seem to think one word is sufficient to describe all of it. Now that can promote the cause of solidarity, but we must not forget the great diversity that underlies that word.
Anyway, I digress. My nuance starved mind found a place where to a great degree I could have conversations with people that were AWESOME. But I fear when I get out of this cocoon and into the ‘real world’ such opportunities will be fewer and far between. As someone who wants to be a practicing lawyer, will this intellectual satisfaction have to come from a small group of friends and family? How is the life of a practicing lawyer in India? Is she too caught up in the humdrum rhythm of daily life, or are there moments of pure pleasure when you craft a beautiful argument on a contested question of law? It is really for the latter that I want to practice law.
I can sense you rolling your eyes dear reader. My fears may be quite sophomoric. Perhaps the real world is full of hidden gems. Earnest people. I might stumble upon countless people planting countless seeds of doubt in my mind. I might be able to think about issues that shake me to the core of my being. Or it might be a big let down. Perhaps it is full of yuppies who can only speak in internet memes. Either way I think I need to make room for Rumi in my mind palace. I don’t think I can change anything about the world I will step into, so let me try and change myself.
The Indian state of Maharashtra has, in a new law, banned the possession and sale of beef. This has been made punishable with up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine. I think this development merits some discussion. It also requires a reflection on what secularism is, and why we need it.
But before I go on, it will be important to define what I mean by secularism. This phrase has a lot of meanings and confusion is easy. So for the purposes of this blog, secularism is a view or a framework which requires the state to treat all religions equally, and to promote religious tolerance in public life. Be aware that I have chosen this definition because the kind of strict Church state separation that is often associated with secularism, is very hard to maintain in India. Religion, all religions, are so important to the Indian people that they bleed into public life. Sometimes, religion is culture. And lest the Hinduta-vadis (i.e Hindu fundamentalists) get too smug at this, I think in India there is a tendency for all religions to expand and take cultural significance. We have seen this with Christmas, which the young in India celebrate with gusto. We see it with Eid, which though not as culturally mainstream as Christmas, is seen often as an occasion to celebrate some wonderful cuisine. I know that when I was in school, irrespective of what religion we belonged to, we would hug and say Eid Mubarak, just like we said happy Holi. That was not a sanitized secular environment, but it was a secular environment.
These days, when I speak to some people on the Hindu right wing, they say that secularism is the pet of the upper class liberals, with no resonance for the common man. Of course the people making this statement often happen to be N.R.Is or those working in high paying jobs in Indian metropolis. I lack their perspicacity, but I have never been able to figure out how they get the right to speak for the ‘real India’ (whatever that means). But I don’t buy this argument that secularism, as I have defined, is something only the elites believe in. Yes, India is peopled with those who are deeply religious. But the same people often live in harmony with each other. Despite the importance of religion to Indians, it took a long time for a Hindu right wing party to form a Government in India, and even longer for them to get a decisive majority. And while instances riots and intolerance get publicity, instances of Hindu and Muslim girls getting together to celebrate Durga Puja (and Eid and Christmas) are not publicized. This lets people get away with the lie that secularism is the pet of the liberal elite. Sure, some versions are. But to say that Indian masses have been tricked into accepting the idea of secularism which they don’t believe in, is to say that the people are idiots. And no, that is just not true. Further, to think that the ‘masses’ represent one entity, with no difference of opinions, that thinks with one mind, is the height of condescension.
My mind goes back to a time, when religion really interested me. Not just my religion, all religions. I had heard of the incredible sense of peace that comes from praying in a Mosque, and I decided to try and enter one. So one day, while I was walking around in a small town in Orissa, that I shall not name, I chanced upon a small mosque, really a room against a wall. I wanted to go in. However, I felt that I should (in all fairness) tell the caretaker of the mosque that I was Hindu. When I mentioned it to him, his reaction was to laugh. We don’t discriminate between people, he said, and let me in to the mosque. This man may not have traveled much, but he showed a wisdom so many of our political leaders lacked. He was not a part of the liberal media nexus, just a man who was incredibly secure in his faith. So that makes me ask, isn’t his Islam and my Hinduism, versions that seek harmony with each other, as real as the chest beating of the fundamentalists?
We have a richness few countries are endowed with. We have diverse languages and religions that co-exist without crushing ethnic strife. This is a gift for a country to cherish. And if we are to cherish this gift, doesn’t the idea that the State should not play favorites, make a lot of sense?
Now, speaking of playing favorites, I want to deal with the issue of cow slaughter. Legally speaking, I don’t think a ban on cow slaughter is necessarily bad. Given the fact that even the Constitution, in the Directive Principles of State Policy, mentions the prohibition of cow slaughter. My problem is, however, with the provisions of this particular Act. Up to Five years imprisonment for cow slaughter, is disproportionate punishment. This, combined with the fact that the people caught under the ambit of this law are going to be poor, given that beef is often a meat eaten by the poor. I don’t even want to talk about the fact that making beef akin to contraband is going to make it out of reach for the poor, diminishing their nutritional status. There is a more fundamental problem. If you begin prosecutions under this law, the poor (you know, those guys that can’t afford good lawyers), are going to be caught in its net. Given the deplorable state of our prisons, do we want people to spend 2, 3, 4 or even 5 years in jail for possessing and selling beef?
But that does not begin to address the problems with this ‘cow slaughter is criminal’ political discourse. Imagine if passions are whipped up about this, and someone floats a rumor that there is cow meat being sold in ‘so and so’ locality. Does that not seem to be a fertile ground for a riot to spring up. If you need evidence on what the politics of polarization does, just have a look at what his going on in Uttar Pradesh.
So here is a small request to our policy makers. If cows mean a lot to you, then work on building shelters for them. Take them off the roads, where they imperil themselves and people. Improve their nutritional status. Crack down on the leather industry. Convince people that cow slaughter is not a good idea. If you must ban it, then have fines. But whatever you do, don’t impose disproportionate punishments for things that are really, well, religious crimes. This is not too different from bans on apostasy or blasphemy (and those who will make the argument that it is about helping all animals, well… note the fate of the water buffalo). We do not want to be a nation where state power backs one religion over all others. Because the people who lose are not just the minorities. We all lose a bit of ourselves.
Before I begin this post, let me clarify that I am no saint. The observations I make in this post apply to me as well. I do not claim to have any authority on what friendship truly means, nor am I a perfect conversationalist. That being said, these are my observations after spending more than two decades on this planet, and I would like to think there is a grain of truth to them.
I have recently turned 25, and find (to my dismay) that conversation with most people is not enjoyable. This is not completely new. It struck me in law school too. When I first joined law school (in India) I noticed that people enjoyed doing something called ‘taking someone’s case’. To those who are unfamiliar with this term, ‘taking someone’s case’ is the process of humiliating someone in public, by making a punchline. That is saying something superficial and funny, which on deeper reflection may not really be true. I attributed this to the fact that these were scared 18 year-olds who had deep insecurities about their place in life. But as I grew older, the trend continued. The ‘case-takes’ seemed caught in their self-affirming flatulent bubble, and began to see their ability to pick on people as talent.
This doesn’t mean law school was full of such people. In fact, I met perspicacious and sensitive people, people who were passionate about what they believed in, and humble people. But these really were the minority. Most of them, I became friends with.
But I also learnt to be sharp. To zero in on people’s insecurities, and to be able to say ‘witty’ things, that in retrospect were plain ugly. Perhaps, I was an 18 year old, insecure about my place in the word, but I lost track of the one quality that separates intelligence (I dare not say wisdom) from cleverness, and brightness from well-marketed mediocrity. That quality was humility. Growing up in a law school you think that marketing yourself and smooth talking is all it takes to get ahead. I wish I could say this was untrue. But I will say that you can do well without any of that. Some of the most interesting people I know, and the most successful, are the humblest and most self-effacing.
At any rate, I was lucky enough to find a partner who could call my bullshit, and made me introspect on the impact my behavior could have on others. I would like to think I am a better person now, or at least a more discerning one. These nuggets of wisdom are a result of that introspection.
1) Respect your adversary.
The worst thing you can do in a conversation is make a statement, and then check out. I wish this were not true, but a large number of people make this mistake. They make a statement, and then check out (mentally) for the duration of the time that the other person is talking. Sometimes, it is less subtle. You will occasionally meet people who if you disagree with them, will start checking their phone, or get a glazed look in their eye. Here is a tip: ditch them. No one is worth talking to, if they don’t have respect for your time and effort. If you are one of these people, then I am sure you stopped reading a while back.
2) Don’t make statements for shock value.
Conversation is about the exchange of ideas, and the persuasion of people through reasoned discourse. If you need to say shocking things to get people’s attention, you probably don’t have very interesting things to say. Of course following this advice is not going to make you popular, it will only make you a bit less of a git.
3) Friendship should be between equals.
We all have friends who doubt their worth, or feel that one person has all the power in the friendship. Maybe sometimes we are that friend. If you have a friend who thinks that it is a one-sided friendship, or who devotes time and attention to you that you can not reciprocate. Let them go. No good comes of holding on to people who are more attached to you, than you to them. Somerset Maugham said something like in every relationship there is a person who loves and one who lets themselves be loved. Sadly, my favorite author was dead wrong (and this kind of wrong becomes popular wisdom). Not only are there relationships of people who equally care for each other, but that is what healthy relationships are like. Holding on to someone who feels inferior or neglected all the time, is a disservice to them.
4) Pick character over personality. Every time.
If you have to chose between a boring friend and a interesting one with a whacky moral compass. Pick the former. Close your eyes and pick the former. Personalities become boring, just like youth fades. (Unless you have a painting in a cellar somewhere that ages on your behalf.. but that story did not end well). What does not become boring (perhaps because it is boring to begin with) is compassion and patience.
5) Surround yourself with people who have differing points of view.
This helps prevent you from burrowing yourself into an intellectual hole, where you only see one point as legitimate. These days I have the most interesting discussions with people, some of whom are conservative and some of whom pro-life. These discussions teach me to empathize, and to understand that reasonable people of good will can disagree on some fundamental things.
But what you should not do, is to surround yourself with people who like confrontation, and who have no intention of being persuaded. Drop them like a hot potato (as the song goes). You will just feel anguish over interactions with them.
6)Understand that most friendships have a life cycle.
If you see eye to eye with someone for a lifetime, they are probably your soul-mate. Am kidding. The only way you can see eye to eye with a person for a whole lifetime, is through hard work. That kind of hard work can be put into one or two relationships in your life. With the rest of the people, you will outgrow them. Its inevitable, like the end of the Daily show. No one wants it happen. But happen it will, because eventually Stewart will get tired of being in the same place for sixteen years. Umm, I am digressing. Learn that outgrowing friendships is a healthy sign, it shows you are not the person you were five years ago. (Trust me, we were all morons five years ago).
7) Eat a lot of fiber.
The wisdom of this is pretty self-evident.
8)Know that you are not self-made.
It is unfortunate that our embracing of individualism makes us neglect all of the factors that have contributed to us becoming who we are. Our successes, and those of others are a product of a lot of help. That may seem trite (frankly most of this post does). But it is inevitable that you remember, that people’s failures are also not completely theirs. So if you see someone failing, know that in another time and place, it could be you.
9) Realize that 25 is too young to be dispensing advice.
This last advice, is for me.
If any of you have stayed with me till the very end of a slightly preachy post, I would like to thank you. You really are the most amazing readers, to tolerate a 25 year old, talking like a 60 year old.
1) This is a fictional adaptation of the Mahabharata.
2) I have done this for kicks
3) If you find any creative expression that centers around women to be ‘feminist propaganda’, then don’t read this. Seriously, don’t.
4) For non-Indians, if you want a little background, read the actual story of Draupadi on wikipedia. (It is not authoritative, but should give you some context.)
Now, to begin at the beginning…
There was something sharp about that evening. A bite in the air, a restlessness among the leaves. Draupadi felt impatient. She hated the days when her husbands had to go to the Court at Hastinapur.
Her husbands. She shrugged. It was strange how she had got used to that word. How normal it was being a wife to five husbands. How she lived with five men and loved them all equally.. (Who was she kidding? Everyone knew Arjuna was her favorite. This is why she was going to fall off some cliff later, on the way to heaven and what not. But people often make the mistake of assuming that Arjuna was the one she loved disproportionately. He was her favorite, the way perfect things are. Bhim, by far, was the one she loved disproportionately. Possibly because of his complete devotion to her. Love has a way of being reciprocated. Anyway, she did not know on THAT day that someday she would fall of the literal stairway to heaven for having been unfair in the doling out of her love. At that moment she was just impatient. She wanted to go home.)
As she was sitting in her waiting room, in front of a gilt edged mirror, she was contemplating what a waste of time it all was. Playing dice. As if Yudhishtir could beat Shakuni at dice. These Pandavas could be such simpletons at times. Anyway, that was an unchaste thought. She checked herself. Then she yawned.
Suddenly Dushasan stormed into the room. (That spineless brother in law of hers). She treated him with the contempt she usually reserved for the men she found uninteresting. (What was he, but an understudy for Duryodhan?).
‘Why brother-in-law? Is anything wrong? Why have you come into my inner chambers?’ she said.
Dushasan snarled, grunted, and rubbed his hands in glee. Draupadi got a bit worried. Anything that made this man so happy, had to be trouble for her. She backed up a little and asked again, more sweetly now, ‘What is it O brother in law, is everything okay?’
He was bursting with glee, and as is often the case with glee-bursters he could not really string a sentence together. ‘They lost’ he panted ‘staked all-whole kingdom-selves…then you’ He stopped for breath.
She could not understand what was going on. He went on ‘We won you.. in … dice.. you belong to us now’.
Draupadi shrank. Of course this man was out of his mind. Her husbands stake her? In a game of dice? (She tried to disregard the unchaste voice in her head that said, you know they are dumb enough to do it!)
Dushasan was now inching towards her. She froze. She was a princess. She wasn’t used to strange men inching towards her! She was not very well trained to respond to this situation.
He grabbed her by the hair. Her actual hair. What should she do? Scream? Shout? Cry? She felt like water. She felt like air. She felt that all the years of genteel breeding had left her completely clueless. Limp. She was limp as her brother in law dragged her through the palace, into the courtroom. Then she remembered that she was menstruating. Shame filled her as the bright lights of the courtroom fell on her eyes. She knew she should not be appearing before everyone in that state. It wasn’t outrage. It was embarrassment. She sort of wriggled, hoping Duhshasan had had enough. Hoping that he would let go now, and she could run back into her room.
There she saw her disgraced husbands. Five strong men, sitting silently and shamefacedly. She was hoping they would put a foot down.
Duryodhana was laughing. She knew she should never have made that jibe at that git. He really did not know how to let things go. Really. But that was the thing with inferiority complexes, they had a way of sticking around and resulting in full blown wars.. Duryodhan began to say something. She could only hear bits of it. Between her sobs. She realized that she had begun to sob. Loudly. Violently. It was not very princess-like. In a corner of her head, she realized that the debate that occupied the talking heads in the court was whether it was okay for them to disrobe her.
Surely that would not happen. Half the men here were her father’s age. They would not stand for it. Her eyes sought out the elders Bhisma, Drona, Krupacharya. Men of honor. Men who knew what dharma was. They would, she knew, put an end to this nonsense.. Her eyes even went to Dritarashtra, who she knew could not see her. Surely, this man would stop his sons?
But men of honor sometimes remain silent, when their honor is the most necessary. The silence that had engulfed the Court was overwhelming. Draupadi asked loudly, ‘How could mt husbands stake me in a game of dice, if they had staked themselves first?.’ But at that moment she knew it was a forgone conclusion. There really was nothing that could change anyone’s mind, certainly not a rhetorical question.
Dushasan was inching towards her, and she felt oddly detached from her surroundings. As if her mind was trying to shield her from the extreme pain and humiliation that would follow. She wished she could turn into a comet and fly into the sky in a blaze of fiery glory. Impossible to catch. Impossible to stake. She wished she burned with the might of a cruel bonfire, engulfing Hastinapur in her rage, her sorrow, her defeated innocence.
She thought of Sita, from another age, from another story. The perfect woman, who was loyalty itself. Who stepped into the fire to prove her innocence. Who the fire itself did not dare touch. But was that enough? Even Sita was banished. Sent away to the forest because some man doubted her honor. No anger. No reproaches. Sita raised two sons in the forest. An ancient single mom. And then she was asked to prove her chastity again. Just one more fire ordeal darling. Step in again. You did it once, you know the drill. She could feel rage on behalf of Sita, crawling through her skin. She could feel herself burning like fire. But what had Sita done? Quietly gone into the earth. With all the weight of her suffering, she had disappeared. Draupadi was confused. Was that a sign of great strength or terrible weakness? Surely a woman who was too great for fire to touch had enough power to wreak vengeance on those who scorned her?
Dushasan tugged at the end of her saree. At that moment she knew she did not have what it took to quietly sink into the earth. Legend has it that Draupadi appealed to Krishna to save her, and he did. But I would like to think it was not really Krishna who helped her, but Sita. Perhaps Sita, lying dormant in the earth, had decided that it was time women did not sink quietly into the earth when faced with an injustice. Maybe that great woman decided that what the world needed was some fire and not ice.
Dushasan kept pulling at Draupadi’s saree, and layer after layer of saree kept appearing, till Dushasan could pull no more. Draupadi found herself ablaze, spinning, faster and faster, as layer after layer was pulled from her. Free, angry, engaged in a destructive dance. When Dushasan stopped, she opened her eyes. She looked him squarely in the eye and said. ‘Your whole clan shall be destroyed. I will rip open your chest, and I will wash my hair with your blood.’
Dushasana flinched. This was not a threat, but a future fact.