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Cis men get away with doing so little, while the humungous responsibility of moral behavior and consequently upholding the morality of a family rests on a woman, her body, her vagina.
I started watching the Clinton–Lewinsky affair story in a series American Crime Story Season 3 – Impeachment on Disney Plus Hotstar recently, and it brought back memories of everything Monica Lewinsky was subjected to in the media when the scandal broke out in 1998.
Lewinsky was a 22 year old woman who admittedly fell in love with her boss. Unfortunately her boss was the President of the United States of America. Her boss was also 27 years older than her, married with a family, and a serial cheater. Yet Monica Lewinsky bore the full brunt of the aftermath of the affair while Bill Clinton, the man she had a relationship with, went on to complete his term as President, his impeachment notwithstanding.
The affair was possibly the first ever #MeToo incident of inappropriate workplace sexual relationship to come to public light, even though back then #MeToo didn’t exist. To term the affair ‘inapproporiate’ would be an understatement. Today, after POSH and #MeToo has gained worldwide recognition, we know of the Clinton–Lewinsky relationship as an abuse of power, as workplace sexual harassment.
In a Ted Talk and in recent interviews, Lewinsky mentions that if the incident had to happen now, she would probably have got more support online. However in 1998, what happened to Lewinsky was a horror story. She confesses that she couldn’t get out of her house for months, she was suicidal, and she needed years and years of therapy to even get to a place where she could work towards her recovery. Despite not having social media in the 90s, there were tons of offensive jokes made on her, 40 rap songs created about her, lewd comments, name calling and expletives used to describe her all over pop culture and for years in the media. Monica Lewinsky jokes were a dime a dozen.
Her character continues to be shredded to pieces and she is still called a home breaker and many other unsavoury names.
Even recently, in a discussion I had with a few friends, what came up repeatedly was – why did she get involved with a married man? Why did she have an affair with a known sex offender?
The questions really should be – Why is there always a higher expectation from the woman? Why was it her responsibility to not break up Clinton’s marriage; didn’t he know better? Why was she given the short end of the stick in a relationship that was initiated inappropriately by the most powerful man in the world, who should have known better?
The pressure on a person assigned female at birth begins immediately. Right from childhood she is taught to make herself smaller and softer, and to adjust with whatever she is given. She is taught to bear pain. To not complain, to not speak up against what should not be happening to her.
Keep your voice down, shouting isn’t becoming of you, watch your words, women aren’t supposed to be angry, keep quiet and let it go, are the many advice I would receive often in my childhood. I remember even being told that if I continued being the stubborn girl I was, I would be thrown out of my husband’s home. All this before I even hit puberty.
I was bullied by a bunch of boys all through primary school, but like the good little girl I was, I bore it, because that was the subliminal message I received from the teachers who chose to ignore what was happening to me, because “boys will be boys.”
In 7th grade I could take it no more, and I confronted a bunch of them, shouting them down and then emptying a bottle full of water on the chief bully. He responded by hitting me with his cricket bat on my leg. I went home quietly chastised. I had learnt that no good could come from raising my voice against bullying and oppression. The tables turned when my mother learnt of the incident from another mother, and guns blazing stormed into the Principal’s office to demand justice for her daughter who was physically assaulted. The mother in her couldn’t overlook the large, ugly bruised injury I had on my leg.
Why did it need an injury for me to speak up? Why couldn’t I raise hell before I was hit? Would I have received the support I did later, if my body didn’t bear signs of harm?
Women are insidiously conditioned to play second fiddle to cis men. Not just for the men in their lives but for all cis men all around in society and wherever they are present. The ‘boys will be boys’ argument that is raucously endorsed by all who uphold patriarchy – men and women alike, has only worked against women and all other marginalized genders and upholds rape culture that today, we are noticing as problematic.
Rape culture is that which allows men to stalk women, to mark women as theirs/their property, that allows sexist jokes in work places, that gives men the right to dictate women’s sartorial choices to them, that takes away women’s reproductive rights, that gives men the horrific entitlement to fling acid when rejected.
What will it take for victims and survivors who somehow gather courage to speak up, to be believed? Do we only believe the victim when she dies? Or has injuries to prove her claim? Or has DNA evidence like Lewinsky? Everyday hundreds of girls, women and other marginalized genders are molested, harassed, or assaulted and yet there continues to be disbelief each time a woman or a person belonging to a marginalized gender speaks up.
We continue to have #MeToo confessions even today. A recent one exposed an influential, liberal, feminist, stand up male comedian. The expose was by an anonymous person on Instagram. Social media lit up with cis men demanding ‘proof’ of the allegations. Some cis men who until then were self proclaimed feminists did a complete 360 degree turn and blamed the internet anonymity for false sexual harassment cases.
Before questioning the victims, let’s ask ourselves – have we made it safe for marginalized genders to speak up on sexual crimes committed against them? Didn’t we have a ruling where the ‘NO’ was supposedly feeble? Didn’t we have another ruling where the survivor wasn’t believed because she slept after the assault? Didn’t we have an IIT student who was let out on bail because he was an ‘asset’ to the state?
Because data shows that on average 5% of cases are falsely reported, should we disbelieve 95% of those who speak up? We are told that the biggest nightmare a man has, is of being falsely accused of rape. Guess what every woman’s nightmare everyday is? That she will be raped. And we go through every day taking steps to protect ourselves.
The onus to stop the rape culture, the violence, the discrimination, the abuse continues to fall on women and other marginalized genders. WE are required to constantly do something to stop it all, to make it safe for ourselves. So far nothing has changed. Women are continuing to become empowered but how much of the moral pressure has eased up on women? Are we able to assign responsibility correctly to the quarters that deserve it?
We are repeatedly told, you should know better, do better, be better. Cis men get away with doing so little, while the humungous responsibility of moral behavior and consequently upholding the morality of a family rests on a woman, her body, her vagina.
It is 2021. As a cis man, do your bit to ease up the moral pressure on women. Take responsibility for your actions and stop looking to the woman to carry your shame. Be better. Do better.
Image source: Still from Short Film Beti/The Short Cuts, YouTube
I am a banker, author, poet and an intersectional feminist. Speaking up on social issues, mentoring and coaching and cooking up a storm for friends and a certain strapping 21 year old boy are what read more...
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When someone accuses you of "too much feminism", what they are really saying is, "I am uncomfortable with you challenging the status quo and disrupting my privilege".
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A book by Swapnil Pandey, The Force Behind the Forces, is apt here. The love of these gritty women powers the men to confidently step out and face the most hostile situations. I feel privileged to share a personally witnessed account of this undying love and faith.
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