Why Women Need To Fight Misogyny In Politics

Posted: April 19, 2019

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Indian politics hit a new low when Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan made a highly distasteful remark about actor-politician Jaya Prada and ‘khaki knickers’, referring to her recent political shift to a right wing ideology.

Let’s not mince words calling it ‘inner wear’ euphemistically, because it’s the men who need be ashamed of such cringeworthy statements from loose cannonballs, not the women. Azam Khan then went on to reiterate that he had always protected Jaya Prada’s honour and dignity while she was with him in the party, saying “baal bhi banka nahi hone diya…” (he did not let a man touch her or look at her with an evil eye or let her honour be sullied). 

Why are women considered the property of the men, families and societies they belong to?

And why should women live under the shadows of fathers, brothers, husbands in order to be protected from dishonour or indignity from others?

Can women without peerage, lineage and dynasty also afford to make independent choices or do they need the patronage of men to keep them safe and secure in society?

We don’t think 21st century women need protection to live their lives;, when Peggy Whitson could manoeuvre a space shuttle for 289 days in 2017, all men need to do is shut up and behave themselves and that will keep us safe on earth.

Coming to Jaya Prada, all it took was a political shift to the ruling BJP and that was grounds to trigger a battle of knickers. Her right to change ideology, make political choices or contest elections are subject to societal sanctions. When women make up their minds or take decisions of their own, patriarchy gets its knickers in a twist.

What’s wrong with these men?

Why do they even think a woman needs to be protected as long as she is one of them?

The moment she turned, all honour was lost and dignity cast to the winds. Ironically, no men from the political fraternity, whether right, left or centrist came forward to condemn the remarks, because ultimately they all speak the same language.

If Azam Khan was playing to the gallery, and men around him guffawed indulgently, we understand that men and mindsets haven’t changed. Desh nahin badla hai hum auraton ke liye…This country hasn’t changed for us women.

I’m no apologist for either of them, but, as a woman we must condemn such obnoxious language – from an  Indira Gandhi in 60s referred to as goongi gudiya or dumb doll, Priyanka Gandhi trolled for her good looks, Jayalalitha sadly for weight issues or Mamata Banerjee for her guts and Mayawati who got flak, probably for being blunt, lack of lineage with no political dynasty to boast of and now a Jaya Prada. So, men and mindsets of Indian patriarchy won’t go away, unless you fight and stop looking the other way.

Why is politics seen to be an all boys club?

Is it because traditionally Indian society is deeply patriarchal where power and authority were held by men and women were a flock to be guarded from others? Where even today, women politicians are seen with head covered in public, so you need to connect with the right bindi size and coiffed hair and head covered demurely. Perhaps Mayawati or Jayalalitha don’t conform to the bowing and scraping making it uncomfortable for male politicians and were subject to the harshest criticism.

That’s why Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple becomes acceptable or Laloo’s wife Rabri Devi who ruled the state by  proxy with the blessings of the party patriarch was seen as the right choice, but single women who lead from the front are an oddity – Jayalalitha, Mamata or Mayawati who don’t conform  to the pattern. Also, like Jaya Prada, these women have no political lineage or background and are easily targeted by media and society. People are quick to speculate on their personal lives, lifestyles and choices; unlike male politicians who could own a closet full of shoes, watches, glares and khadi and be appreciated for their taste, Jayalalitha’s cape and jewels, and Mayawati’s bags are symbols of derision, smirked or laughed at in a misogynist society.

Women in politics have an identity problem with the masses, where they need their veils, ghoonghat, sindoor in place to connect, fit in or be acceptable. Even royalty wasn’t spared – be it Gayatri Devi and Vasundhara Raje or celebrities like Hema Malini or Smriti Irani.  Whatever be your background, politics is a different ball game altogether.

Women and their achievements are either belittled or grudgingly given their due as aberrations of destiny. We say that they were lucky to be there at the right time or associated with the right political ideologies, but we rarely ever concede their achievements; a Nirmala Sitharaman is hardly given her due space, despite being a qualified and seasoned politician.

Yet, such men and misogyny is acceptable to the public, because women aren’t united in sisterhood for our causes unlike the men and their brotherhood.

Strangely, you rarely ever find women hitting below the belt in retaliation. How is it that women keep their calm and hold their nerves in the most trying and difficult situations?

Why is it that women don’t throw muck even when the going gets tough?  Perhaps cultural decency and dignity deters them from stooping low. Women are gracious winners and graceful losers, because it’s a part of indoctrination and social culture, where we don’t play dirty, however rough the going gets for us.

Image via Jayaprada’s official FB

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