Posted on 24-02-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

“Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times…” wrote Susan Brownmiller, in her 1975 book, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. She goes on to analyse, “Rape’s critical function is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”

From their ability to exercise power over women, men through the centuries started using them as merchandise. When in early civilization men discovered how to trade, they found the demand for women as a sexual commodity for exploitation the easiest to trade. The way the trading worth of roses was increased by bestowing it the value of expressing subtle love, young women were sold as sex merchandize. The difference? Innumerable roses could be scientifically produced, but women with a mind of their own had to be stolen or lured for trading.

The end of such trading is prostitution. Nowadays some difference is made between voluntary vs. forced prostitution, although I don’t subscribe to this distinction. As France’s Green Party corroborates, “The concept of ‘free choice’ of the prostitute is indeed relative in a society where gender inequality is institutionalized.” Without initially falling into some trap, whether for money or social rejection after rape, no woman ever chooses to fulfill a sexual need or desire with unknown men. If that were the case, we would have heard of male brothels exclusively for women. In male prostitution, it’s generally men offering themselves to other men. However, there can be women who sell their bodies out of greed, fulfilling an unfortunate demand created by men. Apart from underprivileged women kidnapped into city brothels in India, a survey reported by Azad India Foundation found women from Tamil Nadu, Bihar, UP, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Karnataka are bought for supply to Thailand, Kenya, South Africa, the Middle East, Britain, South Korea and Philippines. They are severely abused, forced into sex work and become vulnerable to HIV infection. Unrelenting poverty and unemployment is making trafficking in women and girls rampant.

In the 1971 war when East Pakistan became Bangladesh, an orphanage in Kolkata had rescued an abandoned Bangladeshi girl. When a young French intellectual Indophile came looking for a bride, this innocent girl was found to be suitable. With all good intention the orphanage made arrangements for Mahuwa’s marriage and travel to France. When her husband proudly introduced Mahuwa as his wife, people appreciated him for his humane gesture. I came to know her after quite a long time. One day this simple girl confided in me her worry that the noisy grunts and rowdy behaviour emanating from her husband’s room were getting louder, and the number of men visiting him every night was steadily increasing. It was so evident that he was a homosexual, but Mahuwa did not understand that. She never even discovered what marriage meant. When she had explained her plight to her orphanage, they told her to adjust to her new home, without listening to her specific concerns. It transpired her husband actually trafficked Mahuwa to make her his housemaid. Luckily I was able to secretly help Mahuwa file for divorce after she became a French citizen. Her story has a happy ending. This brave woman learnt French, found a job, met someone who loved and married her, and they are living in Belgium now. But not everyone is bold and fortunate enough to escape when duped.

Human trafficking is a lucrative industry, second only to the world’s most profitable illegal industry, drug trafficking. In 2005, ILO’s Patrick Belser estimated a global annual profit of $31.6 billion. The UN’s 2008 estimate was that almost 2.5 million people from 127 countries were trafficked. Trafficking women for commercial sexual exploitation violates their dignity and right to life, security, privacy, health, education and redressal of grievances. In India, as rich and poor alike choose to abort baby girls for dowry reasons, there’s a skewed gender ratio. The 2011 census showed the sex ratio of children under age 7 to be 109 boys to 100 girls. That means 7 million fewer girls than boys in our 1.2 billion population. So in states like Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat, young girls are openly sold for marriage to older men.

Radical feminists say there’s no voluntary prostitution because the women are coerced to engage in sexual activity, made victims by pimps and traffickers. Indirectly, they come through poverty, drug addiction, personal problems, lack of education, employment possibilities or “merely by patriarchal social structures and power relations between men and women.” Others want prostitution abolished as it ultimately leads to mental, emotional and physical destruction of the women. In consequence, Sweden, Norway and Iceland have enacted laws that criminalize the sex workers’ clients, but not sex workers themselves.

In contrast are those who favour legalization of prostitution, saying practitioners are independent adult women whose choice should be respected. Former sex worker and founder of Amsterdam’s Prostitution Information Center, Mariska Majoor says the sex worker is another profession, “It’s only bad if done against one’s will.” Since the mid-1970s, the world’s sex workers have organized. They demand de-criminalization of prostitution, equal legal protection, improved working conditions, prevention against abuse, the right to pay taxes like other occupations, travel and receive social benefits like pension. The World Charter for Prostitutes Rights was drafted in 1985. As a result, Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand have legalized prostitution.

Men across the world don’t hesitate to go to unknown sex workers as per their affordability and without any emotional connect. Because they pay for sex and for household expenses, most men consider the sex worker and their wife or partner as merchandize they own and control. But that is never true. So let’s bury the condemnation of voluntary prostitution. Let’s analyze the horrible forced prostitution facts that amount to rape and avoid treating women as merchandise.

To download above article in PDF Women as merchandise?

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/women-as-merchandise-fear-factor-of-th…/1078707/0

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Posted on 17-02-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Droit de seigneur literally means the right of the lord. This custom from the European Middle Ages (5th-15th centuries) and beyond allowed a feudal lord to deflower the bride of his serf on her wedding night. In plain fact, it amounted to rape. So it’s appropriate that on St Valentine’s Day last Thursday, we observed One Billion Rising, a global call to protest violence against women by dancing publicly. “One in three women on the planet (adding up to a billion women) will be raped or beaten in her lifetime,” said Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues that humorously vents attitudes towards women. She rightly says this is as critical a goal as ending poverty, Aids or global warming.

This social practice of sexually overpowering the physically weaker sex, and exerting economic power over her chosen husband is also known as droit de cuissage, literally meaning the right over her thigh. Another such French expression jui primae noctis also amounts to rape rights over women subservient to the ruler. This ultimate symbol of feudal barbarism has been recorded in umpteen stories and paintings such as Vasily Polenov’s 1874 painting of an old man bringing his daughters to their feudal lord and Paja Jovanovic’s 1998 painting Adornment of the Bride which became a Yugoslavian postage stamp. The plot of the opera The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is mainly based on jus primae noctis too.

Greek “Father of History” Herodotus (484-425 BC) wrote about a Libyan custom of “Bringing all women about to become brides before the king, that he may choose…" In the 12th century, “Kurdish chieftains in Western Armenia reserved the right to bed Armenian brides on their wedding night.” Belgian writer David Van Reybrouck wrote in his 2010 book Congo, a story about former Zairian President Mobutu and Congolese custom, "If he was on tour across the country, local leaders still offered him a virgin. It was a great honor for the family if the girl was deflowered by the supreme leader."

French lawyer-author Jean Papon (1505-1590) first opposed this tradition. French writer-philosopher Voltaire denounced it saying, “This excess of tyranny was never approved by any public law” but acknowledged its historic authenticity in his Dictionnaire philosophique. In 1935 Paolo Mantegazza’s book, The Sexual Relations of Mankind, stated that droit de seigneur appeared to be “a binding custom.”

It’s interesting, even shameful, that because there is no record of any law allowing the subjugation of vassals and sexually exploiting their women, some historians today claim that this supposed right was a myth. Actually when life for the lower social ranks was so exploitative, it appears immaterial whether droit de cuissage existed as customary law. The feudal lord’s permission was required to marry, the bride’s father had to pay a bride price to compensate losing a worker. The Church took a marriage tax too. The feudal lord’s power was so overwhelming that he probably could force sexual activity on married or unmarried girls with no consequence to him.

The scholarly search for a documented law seems to me another instance of males indignantly, indeed perversely, denying their centuries-old dominance over women. With this kind of attitude and flair in the air, century after century, I wonder if there’s any hope that women can be totally freed from oppression. 

When former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested on charges of attempted rape of a hotel chambermaid, the media mocked it as modern-day droit de cuissage. The term droit de seigneur is nowadays used in sexual harassment cases such as a superior in an office abuses his hierarchical position over a subordinate woman employee to satisfy his sexual desire. A 2011-2012 Oxfam India survey found 17% of working women in major cities admitted to sexual harassment at workplaces but “a majority of the victims didn’t resort to any formal action against the perpetrators. Top three unsafe-for-women workplaces are labourers (29%), domestic help (23%) and small-scale manufacturing (16%).” A report last November said the All India Men’s Welfare Association (AIMWA) termed the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill to be "anti-men." They opposed it because women would head the complaints and local committees, so “no man respondent could expect justice from such a biased jury.”

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte had commented, “Women are nothing but machines for producing children,” but at least he respected them. During his Egyptian Expedition, he declared, “Everywhere, the rapist is a monster” and ordered that “anyone guilty of rape would be shot.” In some cultures, rape was seen as a crime against the head of the household. Its penalty was a fine, payable to the father or husband whose "goods" were "damaged.” The US anti-rape movement got a boost after two powerful women’s organizations became active. France passed the law making rape a crime in 1980. India’s Union Cabinet has just cleared a new anti-rape law ordinance with tougher jail terms, including death penalty, for crimes against women. With hard-hitting laws and One Billion Rising, let’s hope more men join my call to “Respect and save women.”

To download above article in PDF Droit de cuissage

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/droit-de-cuissage/1075338/0

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Posted on 10-02-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

When we label countries as developed, we first refer to their economic and industrial power. Next, we benchmark the human qualities they command: lower infant mortality, better healthcare, higher survival rate, better education facilities, less unemployment. Developing countries imitate their living comfort too: better infrastructure, transportation, hygienic living amenities, superior science and technology, and structured systems for political, legal, social and industrial rights. In emulating these positives, developing countries willy-nilly follow their gender balance initiatives, which can be quite appalling.

That’s obvious from how women’s suffrage was delayed. Men got voting rights in Greece from 1864 while women voted in parliamentary elections since 1952. Similarly in Norway, men voted in 1898, women in 1913; in UK men in 1918, women in 1928. In France and Switzerland, men exercised suffrage from 1848 but women from 1944.  Other Western women voted only in 1940-50s: Italy – 1945, Belgium – 1948, USA – 1965. How did men get so empowered in developed countries?

It all boils down to physique. The genesis of male superiority came from men’s stronger body. As hunter-gatherers before civilization they secured the home from animal intruders. As warriors, they’ve fought wars to defend land. Women’s dissimilar frame, crafted to ready the body for procreation, begins from puberty, the monthly period, conceiving a baby, carrying it for 9 months and then putting a stop to it when menopause comes. Men just cannot fathom these subtle areas of women, what it ultimately means to take responsibility for continuance of the human race. So the huge gender discrepancy remains.

As women lack men’s body mass and resistance, men have usurped control to subjugate them with corporeal power since primitive times. Even slaves for physical labour were always men. Women slaves were used elsewhere. Gladiators were never women. When not enough men returned from war, polygamy further thwarted women’s spirit. This physical aspect is evident from Olympic Games originating 776 BC in Greece. Only men athletes competed to distinguish strength then. Women entered modern Olympics in 1900 Paris Games. Introducing women’s boxing in 2012, women now participate in all Olympic events.

Their physical protective aspect influenced society that men are super-duper decision makers. So they grabbed the upper hand in modern society, outnumbering women in all areas of authority. Extreme male empowerment is highly prevalent even in international bodies committed to gender balance. Of 185 highest-ranking UN diplomats, only 7 are women. As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg lamented, “Women are not making it to the top. Of 190 heads of state; 9 are women…. people in parliament in the world, 13% are women; in the corporate sector, women at the top at C-level jobs, board seats, tops out at 15-16%.” Women fought and got voting rights; they’re battling for equal representation now. In USA, “Females with bachelor’s degrees earned $35,408 in 2000, compared with $49,982 for males.” The European Business & Professional Women group has highlighted an average 16.4% gap in women’s pay compared to men in Europe. UN statistics reveal that women work approximately twice the unpaid time men do. To get equal pay for work of equal value, women in several European countries observe “Equal Pay Day” protests.

Developing countries benchmark developed nations on lifestyle, lifestyle products, education system, business style. The Western influence has penetrated mostly by occupying developing country markets. They sell expensive Louis Vuitton luxury products, democratize taste buds through McDonald’s that tweaks taste for every country’s palate, and excite customers with technology brilliance as Apple has done. It’s about time advanced societies collectively share the responsibility of bringing gender equilibrium, not mere style and eating pleasure.

Violence against women is another disgraceful male act. In the West, a man’s abusive "I f..k your mother" swear-words is proof of the masculine raping mentality. Women rarely utter such violent words. One of 6 American women experience an attempted or completed rape. As per UN statistics, about 2 million girls suffer female genital mutilation every year; worldwide, 20-50% women face some domestic violence during marriage. Primary war victims today are civilian women and children, not soldiers, as rape is used as a war weapon. In this digital age, sexual perversity is available at the touch of a finger in a mobile phone. Even porn filmmakers may lose business because any individual couple can upload their own perverse act in front of a camera to earn easy money. It would be difficult to prohibit such technology advancement and societal freedom as it’s totally open-ended. Only education on rape prevention can bring respect to women. The analogy is similar to countries having nuclear weapons, but being under tight international compulsion about not using them.

To help women assume stature, education is a starting point. Currently, two-thirds of the world’s one billion illiterate adults are women; two-thirds of 130 million out-of-school children are girls. UN’s Commission on Status of Women is meeting in New York next month. Can it accelerate gender parity progress? United Nations and developed countries should focus on universal education. How to live in mutual respect with women has to grow in men’s psyche. It cannot happen overnight. It requires education that psychologically implants itself in men’s brain and behaviour.

Through past centuries men have exhibited their overwhelming power to run society. So it’s clearly the responsibility of men in developed countries to actualize the Western democratic principles they’ve framed of liberty, equality and fraternity. This translates to achieving gender equality that’s missing in every country. Irresponsible human behaviour can definitely be changed. In the last 50 years, fatal road accidents in developed countries have drastically reduced due to collective effort of implementing stringent rules, fines and rewarding incentives. Just as the West is taking action to correct environmental damage they’ve caused, developed country men should take the initiative to frame regulations to provide the unconditional support and respect they’ve denied to women for so long. Only then can male behavioral change start to happen; and women’s emancipation become a global priority.

To download above article in PDF Western males can change global mindsets 

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/western-males-can-change-global-mindsets/1072033/0

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Posted on 03-02-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

For a century now Hollywood has built up the recipe of global box office hits with a specific template of the heroine. Prescribed by male producers and film directors, this Hollywood diktat’s become the universal standard for judging beauty across the world. The most celebrated benchmark of them all was born as Norma Jeane, a foster-home raised, black-haired aviation factory worker. She rose to become an all time Hollywood myth, transforming into a blonde bombshell called Marilyn Monroe. When she crooned, “Happy Birthday Mr. President,” even John Kennedy could not resist her. Hollywood reinvented this archetype, with periodic evolutions, and the world’s brainwashed public had little choice but to admire these heroines. After popularizing roundish-faced heroines, Hollywood turned to high cheekbones, importing Italian Sophia Loren, French Brigitte Bardot, among others. From depicting puritan American style to glamorous women to showcasing sex bombs, Hollywood even went into soft-porn like Basic Instinct where the heroine has huge power to sexually provoke men.

Gender inequality is alive in Hollywood, as per a 2009 survey on top 100 films by USC’s Annenberg School. Male roles dominate with 67% as opposed to 33% women roles; in movies, 25.8% women wear sexier clothing like swimsuits and unbuttoned shirts compared to 4.7% men. Off screen, only 3.6% directors and 13.5% writers on top-grossing films were female. Motion Picture Association of America said the only place women were ahead was in buying more than 50% movie tickets.

Women’s roles in other professions have a slight edge as per LA Times. About 15% women are on Fortune 500 company boards, 15% are clergy members and 10% aerospace engineers. Last week, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was talking to Sgt. Jennifer Smith of US Air Force who formally complained of sexual assault and harassment during her 17 years in service at various war fronts. This brave woman said her husband was very supportive so she’s foregoing her pay and benefits for the “greater good” of helping others. She confirmed the horrendous stories that Amanpour had heard of military women suddenly finding fellow soldiers over them when asleep, or having their doors broken into. Smith said that women don’t revolt as they’re passionate about their jobs. Statistics show that 33% US armed forces women don’t report rape because the rapist is the boss’s friend, and 25% don’t because the rapist is the boss himself. Women comprise 14% of active American military personnel; soon combat positions will be opened for them.

By advocating equal opportunity, aren’t we knowingly jeopardizing women’s safety, not only from the bloodthirsty enemy but from fellowmen who lose all finer civilized manners as they enter savage battlegrounds? Stressed out and breathing possible death every moment in the warzone, serving male armed personnel become slaves to their natural carnal testosterone appetite. It can be argued that this phenomenon translates to rape by plundering armies, and that’s why rape of women and sodomy of men are common in armies in all countries. Attempts to correct are perhaps made, but the strength of basic instincts revealed through male genital reaction is so powerful under violent wartime conditions that niceties of behavior plummet by the wayside. Unless men and women have 50-50 representation and men change barbarian habits, women risk rape. Women are highly under-represented in factories and office jobs, but this risk is minimized as everyone returns home after work. But in brutal situation where men have no civilized control over their androgens, can such professions ever be safe for women? This controversy remains unanswered.

Returning to women’s beauty, let’s look at India. Firstly it’s regrettable that Mumbai very tamely created a counterfeit Hollywood in Bollywood. In fact the cinema industry has embraced the “wood” pollution: Telugu is Tollywood clashing with Bengali film studio area Tollywood, Tamil is Kollywood, Malayalam is Mollywood; and Kannada film industry nicknamed Sandalwood is at least representative of its environment. India’s obsession with fair women and specific features is as old as time, but in this copycatting, the fair-skin has been reinforced by Hollywood’s influence. India’s heterogeneous character is not visible, no dark person with a totally different face is a national film heroine. Hats off to Naomi Campbell, the world’s first black woman to break white dominance in modeling. She became part of the global "Trinity" of the most recognizable, in-demand models in late 1980s. Neither Hollywood nor Bollywood could produce acclaimed black heroines except for a handful like Halle Berry and Whoopi Goldberg.

When photography or cinema didn’t exist in feudal times, a Western King would marry the most beautiful woman and invite painters to paint family portraits. Perhaps this feudal man’s choice of woman’s beauty later transcended to cinema. Even haute couture fashion designers took inspiration from Royalty’s dress, make up and women’s personality. In master paintings of Picasso or Van Gogh, women’s portraits don’t reflect Hollywood beauty. Were they ugly or not representative? Actually these paintings have all time universal value, whereas Hollywood heroines come and go. Is there any hope that archetype Hollywood heroines can be changed to women of value beyond plastic beauty? In the male decisions of feudal lords and Hollywood, we may have lost our capability to admire and express different characters of beauty. We have to extricate ourselves from Hollywood’s male dominated bondage that destroys women’s ingenuity.

To download above article in PDF Hollywood males dictate women’s beauty

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/hollywood-males-dictate-women-s-beauty/1068527/0

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