While my wife was pregnant with our now-seven-day-old daughter, I was often asked, ‘Do know if it’s a boy or a girl?’ On hearing my confession of ignorance and confirmation of wanting to keep things that way i.e., declining a glance at the prenatal sonogram’s report, I was then asked, “Do you want a boy or a girl?’ On more than one occasion, after indicating my indifference to that choice and my desire for a healthy child, I gave voice to what always seemed to be an appalling sentiment, ‘I suppose a boy would be better because this is a bad world for women.’
I write these words a day after receiving news that the now-famous-for-all-the-wrong-reasons victim of a brutal gang-rape in India’s capital, New Delhi, had finally succumbed to her injuries in a Singapore hospital, two weeks after that horrific night. While protests still take place in India, and intemperate, misguided, calls for the death penalty continue to be made, and reams of perspicuous commentary indicting sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, Indian police, India’s judicial system, insensitive, tone-deaf Indian politicians, have been written, I’d merely like to offer a few words written by the concerned parent of a tiny baby girl who has no idea she has been born into a world scarred by such ghastly acts of unspeakable violence.
What makes these acts truly frightening is that they are so commonplace. Rape is a mundane occurrence in most parts of the world; violence, in other forms, directed against women, is a ritual all over the world. With probability one, someone you know has been raped. They might not have told you, but the numbers indicate that fact, hidden though it might be. And what underwrites this relentless epidemic of subjugation is the seemingly congenital misogyny of men, one aided and abetted by the cultures that surround them, and one that men facilitate at great peril to themselves. (On which more anon.) Bring a boy up to be a boy and there is a good chance you are bringing him up to be someone that will be disrespectful to women. If the women he comes into contact with are lucky, he will merely deny them an equal share in this world’s spoils; if they are unlucky, they will suffer a far worse fate.
Perhaps the scariest part of the rape epidemic, and the greatest misunderstanding that might be perpetuated in the aftermath of the Delhi brutality is to imagine that that act was a singularity, one committed by outliers. Not at all. It took place in a culture, local and global, of sexual harassment, ogling, innuendo, of men who, when talking about sex, cannot drop the language of conquest and domination, of conflating sex and violence (‘Dude, I fucked the shit out of her’ or ‘I was banging her all night’), who imagine sex to be a variant of rough-and-tumble sport (‘scoring touchdowns’), who associate weakness with womanhood (‘Don’t be a pussy’ ‘Man up’ ‘Put your pants on’).
If you are a man, and you find yourself in the company of men who use language like that sampled above, consider speaking up. Otherwise, you are part of the problem.