The link between Elliott Rodger’s massacre and the gang-rapes in Uttar Pradesh has not been considered. A subtle cultural sensationalism permeated Western reports on the latter; Indian newspapers, too busy focussing on the political upheaval or perhaps immured to the horror, simply ignored them. Remove the colour of the assailants’ skin, throw away their weapons, peel them back to the ideas which surround them and inspire them, and there is a disturbing likeness. The evocation of traditionalism as an anti-female weapon has come into its own in the 21st Century, and looks set to continue turning back the clocks on our perceptions of women.
The forms in which the traditionalism takes only appears different from culture to culture. In India, women are supposedly to be revered and protected – yet at the same time, they are seen as tempters. Comments from major figures in response to the 2012 Delhi gang rape made claims that the victim must have been responsible in some way. “Can one hand clap?” said a now disgraced holy man, currently undergoing trial for sexually assaulting his pupils. More recent comments have suggested that boys ‘make mistake’, and that executing them for would be an over-reaction. In defence of female rights, huge protest movements have arisen although their efficacy in altering the prevailing mind-set is dubious.
It is easy for commentators to sneer at us stupid, backwards foreign sorts. It’s only when you look through coverage of rapes and misogyny in the West that it becomes clear that really, we’re not that different after all. Consider the Steubenville rapists, and a CNN reporter’s comments bemoaning the destruction of their “promising” lives, without much thought for the victim. Even before the trial, the case had polarised the community, with critics accusing the victim of bringing disrepute upon the football team. That ‘victim blaming’ exists at all is an indictment of Western society, and was perfectly explored in the French satire ‘Oppressed majority’, which reversed traditional gender roles. Victims of sexual assault continue to be blamed for the clothes they wore, or their behaviour, and rapists continue to be viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of youthful errors and ‘blurred lines’. The ever-growing Everyday Sexism, no matter how much Men’s Right Activists (MRAs) play it down, represent a problem as evident in ‘civilised’ Western society as in developing nations.
There are dozens of reasons for our current ‘crisis’ of masculinity, but it is the effects which I am more interested in here. Feminism has become a dirty word, and those who call for gender equality are painted much as the suffragettes were: unattractive, irrational, and with unbridled hatred of men. Celebrities come out with semi-regularity to decry feminism for publicity’s sake, further compounding the caricatured image. Meanwhile, the internet has allowed for a traditionalist backlash to take on a digital form. Where once it would be hate-mail and threats, there are Twitter trolls and hackers. MRAs – primarily white, middle-class, affluent man-children – are the most entitled demographic in history. Feeling left out from the support which historically repressed groups have received, the internet has provided a forum for bored men who actively seek to feel as if the world owes them something. As the connection between digital and offline worlds grows ever more intimate, these issues can only grow more intense if they are not dealt with.
The idea of eradicating sexism is a fantasy, sadly, much like the destruction of homophobia. Yet the LGBTQ community has made strides in the right direction in recent years, albeit not without considerable backlash from conservatives and a number of U-turns on LGBTQ rights. Perhaps it is because homophobes have not proven as adept at utilising new media that they have slowly been marginalised in a number of countries; perhaps we have just become more used to non-heterosexual, non-cisgender people.
Somehow the view of women has moved actually backwards from sexually-liberated, empowered human beings to stereotypes – bossy, frigid lesbians; brainless, vain bimbos; shallow, avaricious gold-diggers. If we can look beyond cultural differences long enough to see that misogyny is a massive global problem, perhaps we can begin to move towards combatting it: schools could update ideas of equality to the online battleground. MRA groups who marginalise and demean women, sometimes even calling for their rape, can be called out, black-listed, ostracised. The fetishized totem of ‘free speech’ must be torn away from the pure principle, before the next generation of men is allowed to grow up thinking that women are chattels.
PHOTO: Simon Aughton