Gender and the City: Why now?

By Kaammini Chanrai

I am at a party. I am not acquainted with the majority of people who surround me. I make polite conversation with a stranger nearby, full of appropriately awkward pauses and questions sufficiently boring that my attention is somewhat diverted to an exchange occurring close to me.  ‘I would bang her’, a man behind me comments to his friend, eyeing a near woman from head to toe. ‘Yeah, I would love to rape her’, his friend observes casually. I am rendered motionless with horror. I question the content of what I just heard, unable to believe the absurdity of this flippancy, but adamant that my ears had not deceived me. I want to approach these two imbeciles and give them a piece of my mind, lecturing them not only on the implications of their careless objectification of a woman, but of their naivety and inconsideration towards sexual violence. I want to describe the exact demeaning connotations that such actions can have, not only on women but on men too, and chastise their idiotically inappropriate use of such terms. But I don’t. After a momentary pause during which I have managed to compose myself, I carry on talking to the unknown person by my side as if nothing had just happened.

I am in a shopping mall. I wander around, in my own blissful world, thinking about stopping for a snack on my way out. I walk past the window of a large children’s toyshop and momentarily my eyes are averted to the display in the window. In front of me, I see a half pink, half blue backdrop with the sign ‘Girls’ hanging over the former and ‘Boys’ over the latter. Beneath the first sign, there are dolls, in an array of sizes with clothing to differentiate them from one another. However, that’s not all there is because, of course, dolls need their accessories, fancy cars and houses to reiterate their superficiality. Underneath the second sign, there are cars, footballs, bicycles and toy guns, all in dark colours to restate the toughness that they aim to project. I am more than annoyed. I want to enter the shop and ask the manager why they feel it is necessary to market their toys in such an overtly stereotypical and sexist fashion. I want to explain the impressionability of young children and the negative implications this may have on a child who does not pick the supposed ‘right’ toy. I want to describe how not corresponding to the toy of one’s gender might cause parents to believe that this is a cause for concern. But I don’t. I roll my eyes, a reaction that nobody but myself is aware of, and resume my journey as if nothing had just happened.

I am at home, roaming the Internet, which is unsurprisingly part of my daily routine. Inevitably, I find myself on a social media website, mindlessly scrolling through the activities of my friends over the last few hours. I stop as I read a status concerning a news story in which a male celebrity domestically abused a woman. The status questions the innocence of the woman, asserting that ‘she probably deserved it’ in a callous and careless manner. Livid is an understatement. I want to comment on this behaviour, specifically on how domestic abuse is wrong, full stop, and there is no situation in which anyone deserves that kind of treatment. I want to describe how such actions are not only worrying, but downright terrifying, given that domestic abuse kills as many as two woman a week in England and Wales and significantly more worldwide. I want to state that such flippant remarks undermine the magnitude of such concerns and are dangerous in the discourse surrounding it. But I don’t. The most I do is delete said ‘friend’ from my contacts list and allow the status to stand unchallenged as if nothing had just happened.

However, I should. I have remained silent time and time again but I am increasingly finding fault in my justifications for doing so. I refuse to continue turning a blind eye to such blinding problems. For all those instances in which I remained silent, stayed seated and stopped myself from acting, I am now speaking up, I am now standing up and I am now not only allowing myself to act but encouraging others to do so as well. Earlier this year I wrote a blog post for the LSE entitled ‘Why I Study Gender…’ This article highlighted my frustration for the constant patronising questioning I was subjected to because of my degree choice: why are you a feminist? I retorted with an impassioned response, highlighting some major gender issues which embody where my feminism has stemmed from. However, I feel almost hypocritical, preaching my sermon and yet silencing myself in reality. This is why I founded Gender and the City.

Gender inequality has shaped my life and regulated my thoughts from a young age. My initial awareness begun in childhood, where my upbringing in a traditional Indian family taught me about the segregation and discrepancies in the treatment of men and women. This both angered and confused me as I was living in a culture that cherished and nurtured women yet simultaneously constrained their activities, choices and education.  I became further enraged as my awareness increased. Even accounting for the fact that progress narratives are a flawed measure, I became more and more frustrated that great stretches of time only led to incremental societal changes, not just for India but universally.

Alongside some extremely talented and passionate friends of mine, I launch this blog with the intention of providing a platform to speak. There has been a noticeable surge in discussions with regards to gender in recent times, with conversations arising around anything from Malala Yousafzai’s work on education for girls, to controversies surrounding the #nomakeupselfie campaign, to Emma Watson’s UN speech just a few weeks ago. There is so much to be said on gender inequality and I intend for this blog to enable people to offer their thoughts.

I only ask one thing of you: please respect the views of others. Pass your opinion – disagree, by all means – however, please be respectful. Some of these articles may touch upon slightly more controversial issues than others. We, at Gender and the City, are not propagating one viewpoint. We just intend on joining in the conversation and we hope that you are ready to engage and discuss these important issues with us too.

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2 comments

  1. Pingback: Reconciling the Personal and the Political | Gender and the City

  2. Pingback: Gender and the City: Reflections on Identity and Crossing the Two Year Line | Gender and the City

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