Where men can go unscathed for crimes against women
Anya Alvarez of the Guardian wrote an introspective article on Kobe Bryant winning an Oscar for his short-animated film, Dear Basketball. Kobe Bryant was a major basketball player in the NBA, however, in 2003; a 19-year-old hotel employee reported that he had raped her. Alvarez quotes Bryant's apology: "Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."
She also goes on to say that despite this Bryant had been "unscathed" by such an accusation as his career, reputation and marriage had not suffered heavily. On another account, it was suggested that the young woman's life was heavily impacted by coming forward. Her sexual and mental health history had been made public thus it was a very stressful and horrible ordeal for her alongside the assault.
Another popular account is when Babe, an online magazine, decided to publish an incident of actor Aziz Ansari allegedly sexually harassing a woman. The pseudonym the woman chose was Grace, and she said that Ansari kept on ignoring her nonverbal cues to stop and that she left crying in an Uber.
The case has been controversial with some people taking Grace's side while others saying that Ansari, himself, may have been innocent, stressing also on the racial undercurrents present in such an accusation. Babe had published the conversation Grace and Ansari had after the encounter. Aziz said: "I am so sad to hear this. All I can say is, it would never be my intention to make you or anyone feels the way you described. Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I'm truly sorry."
I do not know if Ansari is culpable or not; the case needs to be further investigated. Alvarez wanted to know if the #MeToo movement or Time's Up movement have become ineffective to help diminish sexual assault and harassment. She asked Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki, a notable advocate for women's safety in campuses, if the movements were losing their potency. Wanjuki says that they are still platforms for advocating awareness and that their relevance cannot be denied.
I do believe #MeToo and Times' Up are important movements as is Laura Bates' site and book 'Everyday Sexism.' Bates covers the many areas where women meet sexism. Her studies are globally oriented. She does talk about how in many mainstream cultures it is inculcated that rape is not treated as the violence and violation on women but rather it is something that women "deserve" for transgressing a society's rules set for them. Isn't this a popular rhetoric in South Asia? Isn't this what movies such as Pink had explained and intricately detailed? Boys and Men have flexible markers of reference.
They can do things yet their actions do not necessarily define who and what they are. Women on the other hand, are labelled, marked, exploited, scrutinized and called out for how they dress, how they talk and all their actions are catalogued as "evidence" to why they should and can be abused.
If there are confusions between genders on how they conduct and behave I do believe it is necessarily encoded in the societies we live in. Sure, there can be false allegations. There can accounts that are fabricated to make men seem culpable who have no blame. However, there are also many accounts where men feel privileged to do what they want because societal mores and conditioning has allowed them to do such.
When interviewing one of the assailants in the infamous Delhi bus rape case, the man showed no remorse on what happened to the victim. There was no sign of regret or empathy; his statement was no "good girl" should be out and about at night. Furthermore, he said that she deserved the violence done to her on the grounds that she fought back and did not take her rape quietly.
When the list of bodily damage was read to him he showed an unflinching blankness that is usually associated to sociopathy. One should remember that one of the reasons of death for this young woman was evisceration. It is a brutal assault yet the man felt she had transgressed some rule of society and should be "punished" for it. One can question if this sociopathy is a cultural tool that are taught to men to make them justify their own crimes.
Last year in Bangladesh, there had also been a case where two girls were sexually assaulted by their male friends in the Gulshan area. It took some time, but they came forward and their assailants were duly punished for their crimes. The case was controversial because people felt that the girls had questionable characters, partying with young men at night. No one seemed to question, why should such young men have even asked out their female friends on such a late hour? There is no outcry on this. We seem to want young men and young women to act differently. However, this difference is an inequity; it is a bias and rather a cleavage of realities.
Men are conditioned to believe that their sexual desires and sexualities are normal. Women are taught to want anything related to sexuality, outside pleasing a husband in marriage, as a deviance. This is where the Madonna and the Whore complex is perpetuated. "Good" women should not have any desires unless it is to satisfy their legal partners.
Men should have a wider range of desire based on the fact that it is not as frowned upon if men consume alcohol (even in countries it is forbidden) or go to see sex workers. The term "boys will be boys" is used to erase their transgressions. Their misconducts are labelled as "normal" biological urges, which is contradictory seeing then that biology has to be adopted by women, as we are of the same species.
When women desire, they are questioned. When men desire, they are validated. It is such cultural appropriations that make status quos where consent and even understanding female desires is kept in the dark. Even if female desires are known some men exploit them.
Isn't it a common story, a man "uses" a woman, tells her he will marry her than abandon her? Usually, a woman is criticised for being stupid, not aware of understanding the deceptive nature of the man. Still, the man's deceptiveness is treated as "natural", his cunningness associated with his "typical" urges and he is usually unscathed, to borrow from Alvarez, as his reputation is not in shambles as the woman's.
Mainstream cultures try to indoctrinate women to want marriage as an end goal. For men, it is unfettered desire and professional career. Usually, a man may even treat his relationships are career oriented prospects as well. He will be ambitious, he may not respect a woman's boundaries and take it as a challenge (like a career obstacle) to break them down. He is taught that a woman has shyness and that shyness is only there to excite him and to encourage him on. This is not the real world.
Women, as men, can be outspoken, can be bold and have the intellectual faculties to know what they want and don't want. They have agency as much as men. When she says "no" it is not a ploy for a young man to feel he must be aggressive or "persuade" her otherwise. It is simply a "no."
Alvarez's article made me ponder on why we condition young men to do most of what they please and condition women to feel they can't do anything without some guidelines. We should not be making the world more unequal. Ultimately, most human beings desire similar things. If we want happiness in the same equation then our resolve should be to teach boys and girls similar things.
Hold them accountable for similar actions. If the preconceived mind set is a woman is this or that if she acts or speaks in a certain way, no amount of segregation, conservative dress codes or ethics would really stop a young man from acting in a certain way.
It is called male privilege. We should not nurture such a privilege. Rather we should be nurturing human rights, where men and women are treated equally with respect.
The writer is working with The Asian Age