Attributing it all to just sex

I wonder how many people recall that some years ago a leading publishing house in Bombay had allowed its printing presses to be used to publish a step-by-step guide to rape. In Marathi, it was titled “Balatkar kasa kartat’’ (How to rape) and was the handiwork of a Marathi journalist, who later ended up as a close advisor to a Maharashtra Pradesh Congress chief.

I was an active member of Bombay’s Women in Media group at the time and I still remember how we were all in a royal froth about it – we decided to protest with both the publishing house and the police. I was still pretty much a rookie at the time so it was a revelation how insensitive men could be to women ploughing a lonely furrow to make it in the world – any field, of course, but particularly media and politics. The police chief just laughed, did not think it worth any great fuss or complaint; the publisher just shrugged off any responsibility by saying he was not culpable for any content of private job works taken up by his press.

My own Chief of Bureau and News Editor – both with daughters around 15 years of age at the time – proved not just insensitive but downright crude when it came to not just reporting the event but also dealing with us. I was working for a wire service then and the CoB tried his damnedest after that to keep the only three women there at the time on night shifts — and reporting on pornography. When I refused to write on porn, I was given a memo – a highly offensive one, full of sexual innuendo. I still have that piece of paper for I had saved it for the sexual harassment suit I filed against the CoB.

Of course, the moment they received a copy of the notice his superiors from New Delhi flew down to pacify me and give him a piece of their mind about dealing with women reporters. “Your 15-year-old daughter could end up in an exact situation tomorrow. How would you feel if her boss asked her something like that?’’ I recall my Delhi editor telling him.

The Delhi guy, a South Indian himself, later told me, “No South Indian girl (we were all three South Indians at that agency then) should have to put up with this kind of nonsense.” I replied, “No woman should have to put up with this nonsense, Mr … Period. This is about women, not about South Indians.”

“Of course,” he quickly corrected himself. “We will take care that no woman who works for us has to ever face what you have faced here in the past few days.” But there was a condition for his supportive action – I had to withdraw my case against my boss. “This is essentially his stupidity but the agency could receive tremendous bad press about it. I guarantee you nothing like this will ever happen again in the future but you must take back that suit.”

I was young, with no larger plan of conquering the world and fighting only for my self-respect; I just wanted to get on with my life and career, so I did. I wish now that I had not because that particular CoB, while stopping to pick on me, continued to harass every other single woman who happened to cross his path and there was not much any of us could do except move out of that organisation.

I recall all of this now because of the controversy over Mayawati – and I am absolutely stunned that another woman should make such a remark against a member of her own sex. I believe Rita Bahuguna Joshi should know how difficult it is to make your way in a man’s world and at least she should have refrained from emulating Mayawati (oh, yes, Mayawati has said similar things about Mulayam Singh’s (non-existent) daughters before). Without ever stepping out of line, a woman has to continually battle allegations – and all of them revolve round sex in one form or the other. They either threaten to rape you (a journalist in Bombay was locked up for six hours and so threatened by someone she was investigating and she is still traumatised by that event) or label you a whore or reduce everything you have achieved on your own by attributing it to your having slept with everybody who might benefit your career. As though you were never capable of getting there on your own education/talent/enterprise.

I am not much of a soap watcher but this week I caught in the passing something going on on Raakhi Ka Swayamvar and the sheer insensitivity of that conversation made me stop and listen on. One of the grooms was asking Raakhi Sawant if she had slept with her boyfriend and if she had taken the casting couch route to fame in Bollywood. I was gasping in sheer outrage – I am not a fan of Raakhi’s but if that man had really wanted to marry Raakhi, really in love with her as he claimed, he would have asked her those questions off-camera and not on it. Of course, just like Mayawati with her detractors, Raakhi was up to taking him on – if you finger me, I will finger you, she said — and so he got ousted from her swayamwar. “And this time I am not sorry to kick someone out,’’ she said.

But I have not stopped thinking since: what is it that makes men in this day and age derive sheer pleasure from not just reducing a woman to just a sex object but actually hurt her and attempt to destroy all her self-esteem by attributing every bit of her achievements to just sex? Somebody tell me!

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