The body and dignity are essential components of an individual’s physical and moral integrity. The violation of human dignity (judicial innovation) coupled with bodily integrity become the parameter of judging instances of violence (Fournet 2014). However, patriarchal traditions which have been passed down through the ages reinforce the ‘natural’ inferiority of the female body to which it attributes bodily sin. Internalization of these constructed messages provides chances for men to abuse their authority and for females to submit to their abuse. Social as well as familial contexts into which female children are born set the stage for gender-role patterning. Moreover, as research by several scholars has shown, females who are abused as children become more dependent upon and more sensitive to their abusers and by extension, to other potential abusers due to the burden of redemption which more often than not falls on them (Manlowe 1995).
As instances of reported molestations and sexual abuse increased, a fair share of these victims being minors (in several cases pre-schoolers are newborns) were enough to debunk the rape myths. The onus is very slowly shifting by analyzing the perpetrator’s sexual behaviour, childhood abuse, attitudes and cognitions, and interpersonal skills. However, with the coming to the fore of sexual assault cases in reputed schools in Kolkata a serious flaw was noticed in the aftermath of these incidents: instead of concentrating on the causal factors or the mindset of the perpetrator, parents raised demands such as removing all the male teachers and teaching staff from schools. While security is an important issue and incidents such as these should not be trivialized, removing male presence from the premises cannot be the solution. Such measures may ensure protection for the time being; once these children grow up and enter the adult world such separation is impossible and untoward. Hence, instead of separating the male and female realm, a healthy amalgamation which creates an atmosphere of healthy cooperation which regards both the sexes as equal partners thereby eliminating patriarchal superiority is the need of the day.
The Education Minister of West Bengal, Partha Chatterjee had remarked that it is better not to have male teachers in girls’ schools which may provide a temporary ‘solution’ but can have an opposite effect in the long run. Instead of identifying the patriarchal need for power on and control of the female body as the raison d’être for such incidents and reversing such patterns, advocating for the creation of a rift between two realms is a detrimental solution as it not only reinforces gender roles but also caters to patriarchal notions of public private dichotomy which has been a feminist contention for a long time. As the Hindu reports, more than 100 cases had been registered in West Bengal under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POSCO, 2012) in the last three and a half months.
The need for control and power stems from the ancient traditions of ‘ownership’ of women by men. It is assumed without question that women submit to the sexual relations initiated by men (Manlowe 1995). The abduction and subsequent gang-rape and strangling of a 12-year-old homeless girl in Kolkata in 2016 resulted in homeless women smearing oil and soot on their and their daughters’ faces to protect them from being taken away by drunken men while sleeping on the footpath. Moreover, victims do not necessarily have to be girls. Boys are equally susceptible to preys as was demonstrated by the alleged sexual assault of a male and two female students by the German trustee of a school located in Andheri, Mumbai. Established gender roles where the tag of ‘victim’ is generally associated with the weak female leads to the ‘effeminization’ of the male victim. In fear of losing ‘manhood’ and being ridiculed by society, cases of sexual assault where the victim is male more often than not go unreported. Similarly, cases of sexual assault where the victim is female may go unreported due to the fear of loss of ‘honour’ and isolation.
Instead of covering up such incidents for whatever the reason may be, initiatives to change the status quo by bringing forth stories, incidents, and awareness should be harped upon. Instead of burdening women with the responsibility of protecting themselves or branding men as lustful perpetrators, as a society we should teach every individual to consider themselves to be equal to one another. It should be stressed that ‘natural’ inferiority and the patriarchal system are not ‘traditions’ that we should be proud to follow. Instead of being stuck in the warp of gender stereotypes and recalling the ‘golden ancient past’, the present situation needs to be addressed. Sexual abuse occurs so frequently that it is clearly indicative of the structural flaws of our society that legitimate patriarchal domination (Manlowe 1995). Hence instead of portraying women as subservient sexualized objects an atmosphere of mutual respect and understand coupled with awareness should be fostered in order to break away from the patriarchal ‘tradition’.
Fournet, Caroline. "The Human Body: Victim, Witness and Evidence of Mass Violence." In Human Remains and Mass Violence: Methodological Approaches, by Caroline Fournet, 57-80. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014.
Manlowe, Jennifer L. "Disenchanting Faith and the Female Body: Deconstructing Misogynous Themes in Christian Discourse." In Faith Born of Seduction: Sexual Trauma, Body Image, and Religion, by Jennifer L. Manlowe, 59-78. New York: New York University Press, 1995.
Image Credit: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/300811_TheElders_031.jpg
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