Antara Ganguli, Anuradha Beniwal, Bee Rowlatt, Ruchira Gupta and Suhel Seth in conversation with Amrita Tripathi
By Harish Alagappa, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger
The session ended ahead of schedule, yet somehow managed to pack in more argument, discussion, and insightful comments than one could hope for in a talk twice as long. Novelist, journalist, and Editor-at-large of SheThePeople.TV, Amrita Tripathi, began by asking the panel, ‘why does it even matter, why do we need to call out misogyny?’ Author and gender specialist at the United Nations, Antara Ganguli, responded, ‘Instead of misogyny, I’m going to talk about gender equality.’ She went on to describe why it’s important to self-identify as a feminist, stating, ‘Men think it’s a great way to hit on women by saying, ‘You’re a feminist? You don’t look a feminist!’ FYI, men, that’s a terrible way to hit on women!’, adding, ‘I would be horrified if someone went up to a civil rights or Dalit rights leader and said, ‘Yes that’s great, but don’t you think you’re going too far?’ (…) If you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist, that’s word the word means.’
Author and former national chess champion, Anuradha Beniwal, highlighted the kind of misogyny ingrained in her home state of Haryana. ‘When my sister was born, my parents’ second daughter after me, my Dad received messages of consolation.’ The impact this has on the psyche of women growing up in such environments is brutal, as Beniwal pointed out: ‘When you’re born, there’s no joy from your presence, and this becomes an indicator for things to come. Ultimately, this leads to the genocide of baby girls.’
Misogyny is much more subtle in progressive societies, and few are more qualified to talk about that than British writer and journalist, Bee Rowlatt. She conducted a social experiment where she met one of the premier drag kings of Australia and underwent a temporary transformation to become a man. ‘The idea was to become a man for a day,’ she described, ‘It’s fantastic to be allowed to own the space, to be loud, physically intimidating, and to dominate the conversation.’ Regarding the phrase Mansplaining, the tendency for men to talk to women in a condescending tone that assumes ignorance, Rowlatt expressed that ‘Mansplaining isn’t some jokey thing you only see on Twitter, it’s an important thing. It’s as important to a girl in Bihar as it is to Hillary Clinton.’
Panellist Suhel Seth believed that the answer to misogyny lies in what he described as ‘pedigree’, stating, ‘I still believe that it has everything to do with your upbringing and education.’ Regarding institutionalised discrimination against women in India, he proclaimed, ‘There is no punishment for condoning misogyny in India,’ adding that, ‘Khap Panchayats (community leader groups who often pass deeply sexist decrees and undertake vigilante action that favours victim-blaming) should be disbanded.’ He also believed the media were complicit, declaring, ‘In the media, we only see a token lady on panels,’ popularly referred to as ‘manels’.
Writer, Academic and Women’s Rights Activist, Ruchira Gupta, described how the culture of misogyny permeates every level of society, using the example of US President Donald Trump. ‘The people who voted for Trump were more afraid of female authority than they were of Russia and China,’ she remarked, elaborating that ‘within an hour of entering the White House, he took down the pages dedicated to Violence Against Women and LGBTQ rights.’ Notably, the Trump administration also deleted pages dedicated to climate change and the Affordable Care Act. ‘We are not just calling out Trump’, Gupta declared, ‘We are calling out all toxic masculinity.’
The session concluded with the panel taking questions from the audience. In response to the question of how misogyny affects men, there was discussion of the negative ideals men are expected to imbibe in a patriarchal society. When Ruchira Gupta finally asked the audience to raise their fists if they identify as feminists; the Cox and Kings Charbagh was a sea of defiant, feminist fists.
Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill