What role does gender stereotyping play towards sexual violence? – Part 2

While talking about the impact of popular culture, it is imperative to mention to role the news media plays. To the credit of the news media for ensuring continued traction of stories that bring to light the serious nature of such acts. However, the grotesque nature of the idea is allowed to continue to perpetuate by the statements of the political bigwigs through the media networks. The pointing of fingers that follows usually only further perpetuates the idea that the act is not condoned by society and so the idea of protection from such acts. According to Kohlman et al. (2014), the media condones, it also normalizes the act of violence by the nature of reporting.

In a truly liberated society, which is what democracy should breed, each individual has the right to do as they please as long as it does not impinge on the rights of others around them. The issue then is not about protecting women from rape, because in a liberated society the act of rape itself should not happen, and hence the issue then becomes the liberation of society. Women are allowed the right to their bodies even if they are prostitutes. The women behind the glass walls in the red light district too have a right to say no and following Tuerkheimer(2014), the absence of no does not imply yes.

There is a level of induration in the minds of the spectators of such violence. They find it easier to film or record the act rather than actively indulge in stopping it. The recording helps pin point the nature of the act and bring the perpetuators to justice but reveals a voyeuristic nature of the spectators.

The increasing number of rape cases in India reflects on the violent undercurrent in the very fabric of society. It is an echo of the emerging political culture where sexual violence plays a central role of establishing the dominance of one group over the other. The idea to then question is where is this undercurrent rising from? There are many answers ranging from the very core of our own barbarism or as more cynic personalities would say, from popular culture. Which further lends to questions are we teaching our youth that rape is ok or are we merely accepting that it is how nature is and so by extension humans must be too. I unfortunately believe that we have evolved from animals and this evolution allows us to make a choice and to exercise restraint for without which the evolution itself will be rendered useless.

Abuse in any form is heinous. The nature of abuse is compounded with societal apathy; however as was evident with many rape cases in India, apathy is absent. The media continue to give it serious traction, allowing for (and often facilitating) large-scale public protests and demonstrations which comprise of with agitated crowds—both men and women. The insecurity of women, including their vulnerability to rape and abuse, is a national issue which has prompted the continued to fuel the public anger at gender inequality in India. It is in a sense social development that can help in remedying the persistent inequalities from which Indian women suffer.

There are a certain number of restrictions that society places on women, these restrictions are not geographically bound to India and span across the globe, to even the developed counties which we look up to like America. One of the advantages women in India do face is that they are not underpaid for the same job as compared to men. Hollywood’s portrayal of women does leave much to be desired but most would agree that female characters in American films are far more realistic and evolved than their Bollywood counterparts. This reinforces my original point that there are a range of factors that lead to the normalization of sexual violence, most to do with deeper seeded issues in society which go beyond the way women are represented on screen.

Based on the news coverage of rape across India, it has been argued, with some plausibility, that India has an extraordinarily high frequency of rape. This might not be the best way to address India’s problem? Rape and brutality against women are not exactly unknown around the world. It is worth making the point that for all the attention on India right now, it still ranks well below the US in terms of recorded cases of rape. In fact, if we go by the comparative statistics of reported rape, India has one of the lowest levels of rape in the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found the incidence of rape in India for 2010 to be 1.8 per 100,000 people, compared with, for example, 27.3 in the US, 28.8 in the UK, 63.5 in Sweden, and 120.0 in South Africa (Sen, 2013). The number of recorded rapes in India is certainly a substantial underestimate, but even if we take five times—or ten times—that figure, the corrected and enlarged estimates of rapes would still be substantially lower in India than in the US, the UK, Sweden, or South Africa (even with the assumption that there is no underreporting in these other countries).

World Bank figures are alarming to say the least, according to their 2014 report more people are dying or are disabled due to sexual and domestic violence than the deaths and disabilities caused by Malaria, Car Accidents and Wars combined. If we are truly living in a world that perpetuates violence to this level then there is a serious need to call on action for change. Additionally, there is much to be desired in in the way women are treated in society and by extension the way they are portrayed in popular culture, which guides normative behavior in society. The treatment of women is an extension of larger gender roles in our society and the change cannot come from a one sided discussion on the issues of violence. It has to be a joint effort where men speak up for women’s rights and feminism as loudly as women do. The time for change is upon us and we have to at the very least attempt to be the beacons that drive this change because, borrowing from Emma Watson and the HeforShe Campaign, “If not now then when, if not me then who?”

(This is the second article in the two part series published by Rushva Parihar. Please click here to read the first part)

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Rushva Parihar is a development professional working with the United Nations University – Merit, Maastricht.