On the Misogyny of Indian Men
Recently I have been reading about this issue of misogyny of men, and in particular, Indian Men. In part I am pulled into this by some experience. Misogyny is defined as ‘a hatred of women’. Most people think of this in a sexual context. However, I believe misogyny in some cultures is so prevalent that it defines much more than sexual attitudes, or to speak plainly, it is the total dismissal of women in that culture as second class, intellectually inferior, etc. This of course, is not isolated to men from India, but is seen world-wide.
My direct experience with Indian men has been of a certain class, the upper class. These are very well educated and placed men in literature, education, the sciences, etc. They are not the people one would associate with this mentality and behavior, however, I think it is very hard for Indian men in general to avoid the psychological and social issues of misogyny. It is so prevalent in Indian society at all levels that it stains all classes. In most conversations I have had with upper class Indian men, there is a total blackout of any acknowledgement of misogyny in male behavior. In only one conversation did an Indian man come forth with what he thought was the problem, but then avoided any further discussion. Perhaps because I am an American woman this was what was making him uncomfortable, embarrassed, but I think it is more to the issue that Indians are not comfortable talking about these things in general. They are a very prudish and traditional society, regardless the level of education.
We read of the horrible prevalence of child and women rape in India. According to statistics, there are over 100 REPORTED rapes of women daily. This is just the reported rapes. The amount of rapes unreported is much more. Why is this so?
First, the usual men who are charged are lower middle and working class men. (of course, there is the case of Tarun Tejpal, owner and editor of Tehelka in India, decidedly not a working class man, posturing as a left-leaning liberal) There are social and economic issues that make this obvious. In the major cities (and especially Delhi) it is almost dangerous for women, unaccompanied by male relatives, to walk the sidewalks without what is called “eve-teasing”, which is groping and attempts of molestation, besides just wolf-whistles and obnoxious comments about women’s physical characteristics. (The name of this, “eve-teasing” is interesting: Eve being the temptress of Adam?). In the countryside, it is as dangerous and perhaps even more so. Gangs of men lie in wait for women walking home from work or on errands. However, what is even more troubling is the role and position of educated woman, women of privilege and class and caste, some who openly attack through media these women who are raped. (And hold that these crimes are those of “little brown men”, who just happen to be their own countrymen.) This is another form of misogyny, female hatred for themselves. These women align themselves with male oppressors, thinking they will escape all the treatment of male misogynists, at least in the intellectual sphere. But this is not the behavior of only upper class women. It is also seen with working class women. Blaming the rape victims is only part of this hatred. In one village reported, a rape victim was set upon and threatened with burning alive if she didn’t leave the village of her home.
The intellectual class, the upper classes, like to blame the officials, the lawyers, the courts, and the police in particular for the lack of bringing these rapists to justice, but the base is set within Indian culture and society. Of course, a high percentage of Indian police are corrupt, and in villages, in the countryside, bribes are standard procedure. Having full knowledge of rapes and not reporting them is another practice by police. The police tried to buy off two parents from their legitimate and horrifying complaint when their 5 year old daughter was kidnapped (by three local men) and raped and sodomized for three days. The parents courageously resisted this.
Tour groups (some from here in the States and Europe, and most from India) tell tourists to immediately contact the police when they are molested on the street by Indian men. But others say that this is rarely help. In fact, it can be even more obstructive to any justice. One group of women who were staying in a hostel in some Indian city found out fast that every morning, like clockwork, police would show up banging on their door demanding bribes. What to do? It’s a difficult situation and only traveling in groups and not certain cities can you attempt at least a semblance of safety.
Where do these attitudes and behaviors of misogyny come from?
The answer to this question is not the place of this short article. It would take a lot more research and study to answer this fully. This article is just to raise awareness amongst women thinking about travelling to India and to pose some facts and warnings.
Recently I have been reading some literature that these attitudes are ‘post-Colonial influences’, left over from the period when the British were more than involved with the Indian continent. Of course, the influence of the British imperialists certainly impacted on just about everything in Indian culture, but the problem of misogyny in India is far older than that.
It goes back to feudalism, and probably farther back. The approach of man to woman relationship was built upon three things: 1) the availability of sexual release for men, 2) the issue of domestic servitude and 3) reproduction. Only where women are educated is some of this lessened. However, this is also showing to be a double-edged sword. There is resentment from men of all classes where women are educated. And as one Indian woman said to me recently, the very thing that should liberate women from the backwardness of society doesn’t. “We are educated to not bring shame to our upper class and professional parents and relatives, but we are stopped from real liberation because of tradition. We can only go just so far with education. We must not step on toes.”
Religion is of course part of the mix. There are female goddesses in Hindu religion and they are devotedly worshiped. But the culture of misogyny is so deep within the Indian mindset that even this has little effect in abating the behaviors of rape, molestation, etc. Goddesses are one thing, women are another.
Female Infanticide and the Sex Trade of Children
There is a long history of female infanticide in India history. Girls are killed at birth, or aborted or abandoned to die because their ‘worth’ is so much less than boys. ( In some families, the girls are only allowed to eat the leftovers of the boys after they have eaten.) This is part of the cultural behavior within India and is very old. This is very much the base of this Indian misogyny. It starts at the birth.
Women are just dismissed, demeaned, and denied within the broader Indian culture. It isn’t always sexual, but the fear that women live with is constant, and many times it is sexual. The truncated intellectual progress that is denied because a woman is born a woman in India is one of the greatest wastes of humanity.
Statistically over 100,000 children are kidnapped or disappear from their parents and villages every year. This feeds into the sex trade and is generated also by the blinding poverty of the masses of Indians in rural villages and urban slums. Parents sell their own children into this trade, or children are driven by hunger.
We in the West certainly have these same things, but definitely not to the extent that Indian women feel today. Our laws are strong when applied and our police of course have the same ability to be as corrupt as the Indian police, but when our laws work, they abate some of this. But we don’t have one billion citizens and we don’t have quite the corruption of Indian lawmakers. Indian courts are, at best, chaotic. Rape and abuse cases can be ignored, or drag on for years. And the feminist movement in India is little older than a decade.
I believe that generally good Indian men don’t understand how they can easily slip into the mind thought and behavior of misogyny. Unfortunately, Indian men, many men in my experience take it as their right to demand that women do things they themselves don’t want to do. It is because we, as women…our work, our creativity, are of a lesser standard in their eyes. Surely we can put aside our work, our propulsion towards our success for what is more ‘important’ in their belief. This is an intellectual form of servitude. We must see this behavior for what it is and bring it sharply to their attention. Further, we must not be cajoled with praise to do things that put us off our road of progress. This is a dead end for women and puts us further back in our successes in life.
Is India too dangerous to visit today?
Finally, is India too dangerous a country to visit? I have had numerous friends, professional women and other poets who have gone to India in the past year to bring home their daughters studying there. I would say that yes, India is in too much turmoil socially and politically for foreign women to visit, especially single women. Even couples have been attacked, the woman gang raped and the man beaten. We have heard of many gang rapes of European women in the past few years and this doesn’t even begin to amount to the terror and fear that Indian women and girls must live with daily.
What is the solution? One Indian woman friend said that “all Indian men are misogynist. It’s in their DNA.” I am hoping that those sane and good Indians, men and woman, realize how their country women (and men) are suffering and how the rest of the world sees India in all its tattered glory.
Over thirty years ago I was sexually violated by my psychologist. I had gone to him for marriage counselling. I was in college and a psychology student. I sought the advice of a lawyer and we wrote to the Georgia Psychological Association. They ignored my complaint. Only when I won my case (I am told it was the first psychological malpractice case in Georgia) did this cowardly bunch give my lawyer a back- door apology. Not much of one, but that was all they were willing to do. As I still say: Cowards. They had complaints before of this ‘doctor’ and ignored them. He would be called ‘serial’ today in conduct. A number of his former patients testified about his sexual abuse and also his drug dealing to patients. I left the study of psychology, sickened by this ‘doctor’ and also the board that supposedly had jurisdiction over these therapists.
Jane Kohut-Bartels who is also Lady Nyo