Posted on 28-04-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

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

I Spit on Your Grave” is a shocking, rape and vengeance film that confronts you with many questions in the context of last week’s slew of violence reported against minor girls. In East Delhi, a 5-year-old girl was locked into a room for 2 days and raped by 2 men. Small glass bottles and candles were found in her vagina. Another abandoned 5-year-old girl, raped and lying unconscious was found outside Delhi’s AIIMS Hospital. Flown to a Nagpur hospital was a 4-year-old girl, kidnapped, raped and in a coma. 

This new happening of child rape in India is excruciatingly painful. But people tell me it’s not new, it merely sounds new because TV channels flashing it noisily. When toddler girls and other women are being raped across the country, what conclusion can we come to for the reason why? Is it lack of sex education, lack of on-time sexual experience, frustration from unemployment, illiteracy or poverty that’s making underprivileged people desperately advance towards sexual violence? There’s a school that believes women dress “indecently” which provokes men, so its women’s fault that they get sexually abused. Should we then say that 5-year-olds also dress to sexually provoke? Or is digital technology advancement ultimately responsible as pornography proliferates through the Internet onto mobile phones, instigating men to seek immediate release of their sexual energies.

Perhaps our social law and order system is too lenient and lax. Rapists are somehow becoming national heroes, widely discussed. Remember the question about what will happen to the rapist who was still a minor, although he was the cruellest of them all, who shoved an iron rod into the private body part of the 23-year-old fatally gang-raped girl inside a moving New Delhi bus last December? In the classic Hindi movie Sholay, there’s the good man hero Vijay, and the bad man hero Gabbar. But it’s Gabbar’s dialogues that are more remembered, enacted in school functions and quoted even today.

How long will women remain victims of sexual ravage? Newspapers report of rapes committed every single day. I seriously believe that rapists should be subjected to mass humiliation. They need to experience psychological trauma before being handed over for justice to prevail. If rapists are forced to see and experience horrible, vicious rape inflicted theatrically on them by brutes, and women made to torment them, there may be some chance of reforming their misdemeanours. Applying the ethic of reciprocity, “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7.12) is the best cure. The film "I Spit on Your Grave" shows the victim’s revenge to be rightly reciprocal. 

In experiencing raw brutality, “I Spit on Your Grave” by Meir Zarchi will churn your stomach in disgust. The protagonist is senselessly desecrated by 5 rapists, one even films the debasing rape in graphic detail, then she’s chased, naked and bleeding into the forest, raped, assaulted, raped at gunpoint, raped again and left as dead. Even the local police are in league with the rapists. Her endless victimization makes you despise the male species and seek pure revenge. The girl actually escapes and returns in cold-blooded fury to avenge her perpetrators. We see her cleverly take the rapists off-guard and in equally explicit scenes of vengeful assault on male genitalia, she gruesomely makes them perish in agonized torture. So is this a feminist film? Supposedly not, because too much sex is revealed, the kind that’s made for men; it’s an attack on male sexuality and infatuation with their virility.

Another victimization of women is the unborn girl child who’s snuffed out before birth. Boys are more valued socially, so if parents illegally find out the foetus is a girl, an abortion is done. Do women have the right to abort? Yes, India’s law allows abortion as a fundamental right for women to take control of their own bodies. In France it was only after writer-philosopher Simone de Beauvoir protested with “343 sluts” who signed a manifesto for it, did Health Minister Simone Veil get the law enacted in 1975. She had to fight protests from males and the Catholic Church, which to this day does not allow abortion.

Even with abortion having no religious barrier, India lacks trained paramedical personnel and facilities. So every two hours a woman dies because of abortion-related complications. In the 6.4 million abortions taking place every year, almost 3.6 million are unsafe, performed in unhygienic conditions by untrained providers. It’s pathetic that poor health services make pregnant women die.

Women victims now have tough new laws to use to punish sexual crimes against them, but savage rape attacks on young and old alike prove that law implementation is not perfect. When the legal system is not quick and responsive, should women take up radical action themselves? Obviously, no law-abiding citizen can ever advocate that. It’s only when men sensitize other men through the window of "Respect, and Save Women" manifesto that I’m promoting can the rape-revenge cycle get broken. A correction of societal attitude towards girls and women is the need of the hour.

To download above article in PDF Victims forever

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/victims-forever/1108568/0

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Posted on 21-04-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

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

Queen bee syndrome (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/queen-bee-syndrome/1102061/0), my last week’s article about women national leaders not fighting the female cause got me impassioned reader responses. Among them was, “Lifting women, liberating them is not a liability of women leaders. The responsibility of changing the way the world works lies with those who have enjoyed privilege because of gender, namely men. Why throw the problem back at women and wash male hands off the crimes that have been committed?  Why must women compensate? Why do men always require a mommy to clean up after them?”

Women national leaders are a rarity; the other extreme is subservience and crimes against women that continue unabated. Perhaps this dichotomy raises this unjust expectation from women at the top. Similarly if you look at women corporate bosses, you’d get equally contradictory perspectives on their managerial quality. Again, because there are few of them, they catch the eye.

I’ve personally worked with quite a few women in powerful corporate positions in several countries. Their subtlety and inquisitive, engaging approach have induced me to ideate very differently leading to ecstatic moments of creative professional life. One such experience was with Frenchwoman Patricia Turck Paquelier. I met her in 1986 when P&G had bought Pantene, a small local European brand from Richardson Vicks and she was made to drive the brand. Our most spectacular work together was the reinvention of old Pantene to make it a global success.

Rarely do I disclose to the corporate world that I paint, but Patricia discovered my canvases and was enthralled. She was always curious about the ideation platform of a creative person, how a white canvas can take an amazing creative route through the painter’s mind, brush, colours and palette. Pantene’s transformation from hair lotion was very intense work. Patricia would inspire me to make Pantene an aspirational piece of art, beyond boundary like my canvases, for the consumer’s daily life. From P&G Patricia went on to YSL, then became Managing Director of L’Oreal’s Prestige and Collections International division. Her performing prowess made her a role model for men and women alike. Unfortunately cancer snatched Patricia away in 2009 at age 51. I’ll never forget her incredible insight, patience and overwhelming soft skills while being rigorous and disciplined at work.  My professional creative relationship with Patricia will remain like a piece of painting canvas which forever grows in my mind.

Last month the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics published a study by two professors, from Canada’s McMaster University and the US AT Still University. After surveying 600 company board members, it concluded that women-influenced companies were more successful than male-dominated ones. Women directors appeared more open to using initiative and fair decisions that retain the interests of multiple stakeholders. They more effectively use consensus-building conduct vis-à-vis male directors who decide taking rules, regulations and traditional business ways into account. The study concluded, “Women representation in the boardroom leads to better organizational performance, higher rates of return, more effective risk management and even lower rates of bankruptcy.”

Corroborating that, a 2012 study by Universidad Carlos III de Madrid found, “Women in top posts lead in a more democratic way, allow employees to participate in decision-making and establish interpersonal channels of communication much better than men.” The obvious result is more well-informed decisions using employee feedback, and employees getting better bonded as their voices are heard at work. Sharon Meers, co-author of Getting to 50/50, says what’s best about women managers is that they fight harder for their team members to get a raise, and they give forthright, implementable feedback.

In contract, the queen bee boss also appears to exist. As per the American Management Association, at some point in their career, 95% women have felt undermined by other women. Psychologists at University of Cincinnati found women bosses can be an obstruction to ambitious women reportees. But men who report to a woman manager tend to get better mentoring, job-related support and promotions. Researchers attribute this to women over-compensating to blend in with men counterparts, so that nobody accuses them of favouring women.

TeamLease, an Indian HR services company did a nationwide survey among an equal number of men and women employees of average age 28. Very shockingly, their finding was that corporate India considers women to be “poor planners, bad bosses and ineffective managers.” The most decadent were Kolkatans where 84% said women are no good in business, which 62% Delhites agreed to. Cities with progressive views were Ahmedabad and Pune. The telling revelation is that Indians believe, “Women don’t make good bosses or colleagues because they go more by their instinct and emotion than cold logic and reasoning.”

Actually, women managers worldwide are natural relationship builders yet are routinely undervalued. They have to be extra-competent to be recognized as effective. Getting people to accept their authority is a challenge although women use a collaborative approach unlike men who scold and reprimand to have their way. Another opinion was that women don’t get promotions faster than men because they are not pushy enough to ask for it. They believe their hard work will be rewarded, but it never is.

In the patriarchal milieu, from childhood women absorb an understanding that their value comes from being young and attractive. Once that youth fades, they can become anxious that someone smarter and younger will replace them. It’s their personal, unarticulated psychological problem. I’ve several times heard that women in corporations, after reaching a certain level don’t want to advance further. They say senior corporate women become like stones, stop the social gear and sacrifice family life to become careerists. I absolutely disagree. I admire the subtlety and adroitness with which top management women balance their family, social and business dealings.

Men on the other hand have never faced any problem with age, gender or size of family. That’s because in patriarchy they are always valued, under every circumstance.

To download above article in PDF Any hope of equilibrium?

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/any-hope-of-equilibrium-/1105401/0

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Posted on 14-04-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

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

"In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman," remarked Margaret Thatcher, UK’s thrice elected Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, who died last week. Yet she didn’t promote a single woman from the Commons to her Cabinet. In her 11 extraordinarily powerful PM years, she dominated over all men and the political landscape. Is it too much to expect from such women in power that they help other women rise out of their subservience?

Take a look at India’s very own Indira Gandhi, the world’s longest serving woman Prime Minister for 16 years. Addressing Delhi’s Indraprastha College for Women in 1974, she narrated how in childhood, she was never allowed to walk Delhi’s streets; women then had to be carried in a covered doli. She was aware that, “Women are not weak… it’s because they are handicapped from birth by customs and social attitudes that they have no chance of developing their innate strength.” Yet she did not undertake significant paradigm changing projects to uplift the lot of women. Instead she said, “I am not a feminist. I do not believe that anybody should get preferential treatment merely because she happens to be a woman.” In a country where women are so suppressed, could she not have considered bringing them upto a certain level of equality?

An American woman’s magazine did a pictorial cover story when Indira Gandhi first came to power in January 1966, taking a full page advertisement in New York Times. She appeared displeased, “I do not regard myself as a woman. I am a person with a job to do.” Her idea of Indian women’s emancipation was, as per Eve’s Weekly magazine, “An honourable status in life. She should be able to exert her influence for the good and benefit of the community.” Isn’t this a statement with no actionable point?

Both the Indian and British Prime Ministers were separately nicknamed “Iron Lady” for successfully taking tough decisions. Their outstanding leadership undoubtedly deserves a cheer; it’s aspirational for women across the world. Mrs Gandhi abetted Pakistan’s break-up, nationalized banks, donned dictatorial robes by declaring Emergency, then staged a spectacular comeback. No Indian leader since has connected so effortlessly to people. Mrs Thatcher broke the UK’s trade union hegemony, thawed the USA-USSR Cold War, denationalized industries, fought and won a war faraway in Falkland Islands to re-establish Britain’s supremacy as a world power. Unlike Mrs Gandhi who entered politics in a dynastic relay race, Margaret Thatcher courageously struggled to win in a male preserve, believing she “owed nothing to women’s lib.” However, I cannot admire some of her brusque characteristics such as dubbing Nelson Mandela and African National Congress as “terrorists” in their 1980s fight against Apartheid. PM David Cameron later admitted that was a big mistake and apologized.

Of 196 countries today, only 15 have woman heads of nation. They are Bangladesh, Germany, Liberia, Argentina, Iceland, Costa Rica, Trinidad & Tobago, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Denmark, Jamaica, Malawi, South Korea and Slovenia. Historically, Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the world’s first woman PM in 1960 when her husband was assassinated. Israel’s Golda Meir, the world’s third woman PM, was chosen to avoid a power struggle between two men when PM Levi Eshkol suddenly died. She didn’t identify with women either, nor helped in their development. She was referred to as “queen bee” for pulling up the ladder after climbing to the top.

Rarely have women wielding political power used their high political office to advance women’s causes. Is it because they’ve been too busy fighting, surviving and retaining positions in male dominated societies? Or were they reluctant to open the “woman card” for fear of displaying a hint of weakness and bounty of emotion?

Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir is a clear exception of not shying away from promoting women. Openly declaring she’s lesbian, she’s made her 320,000-population country world leader of feminism. Almost 50% Parliamentarians are women. Feminism essentially is consciously creating a social order that’s free of inequality, domination and injustice that characterize our contemporary world. Iceland, fourth after Norway, Finland and Sweden in the international gender gap index, has passed a law to ban the sex industry and criminalize purchase of sex. There’re no strip clubs, lapdancing or brothels; there’re strong campaigns against rape and domestic violence. In a 2007 poll, only 10% Icelanders were against this law.

It’s a unique contradiction in women’s history that a woman who’s acquired a commanding position can be both inspiring and disappointing; a source of immense pride for other women yet of deep frustration for feminists trying to advance gender equality. Having suffered from centuries of brutal patriarchy, women’s condition is an offshoot of insecurity. Unfortunately, patriarchy shows no sign of getting wiped out in a hurry, so women leaders always feel compelled to act like men. Women’s survival as leaders can only be propped up by chauvinistic male society when defeated by a strong personality. So women leaders become like all-pervasive queen bees who never uplift other women.

To download above article in PDF Queen bee syndrome

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/queen-bee-syndrome/1102061/0

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Posted on 07-04-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

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

Returning to France on professional work, friends and business associates suddenly bombarded me with questions on how outrageously dangerous India has become for women. I’ve always heard them say India is a country they’d love to visit, but now that’s radically changed. Since last December’s fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old girl in a Delhi bus, and several sexual assaults on women including the 15 March gang rape of a Swiss woman on a cycling holiday in Madhya Pradesh, the French embassy in India has warned women to take “extra caution” when visiting India. Many French tour operators are issuing travel advisory alerts; one has refused to book women travelling alone or in pairs. India’s image of spiritual serenity is clearly fading out. Industry body ASSOCHAM surveyed 1200 tour operators from different Indian cities and found 72% had cancellations from Western women visitors in this busy winter season. Irrespective of their fear, does it mean all is well “back home” for Western women? Let’s take a look at my adopted country, France, and her deeply rooted patriarchal culture.

Vanessa, the 27-year-old daughter of my friend said French women want to study, earn well, travel the world, get established as professionals or entrepreneurs, and buy an apartment, all by the age of 30. A higher proportion of women than men (28% as against 25% according to Eurostat) have higher education qualifications. Independence is their aim; marriage is on stand-by. Career is Vanessa’s top priority. When her boyfriend’s dominant attitude and lifestyle got in the way she asked him to leave. Not ready to accept emotional blackmail or pity, women who are bringing up children alone or with a boyfriend are facing a stressful life. Children tend to be very demanding on the mother’s time, time which she has very little of as she handles a fulltime professional job too. When she tries to discipline them, they accuse and blame her for the divorce. The father pampers the child during his periodic visits that were agreed upon during the divorce. Actually the children resent a stepfather, considering him an outsider who’s stolen their mother’s affection. So the woman has to take the entire brunt of being the central villain between the children and her 2nd or 3rd husband or boyfriend. It can become a nerve-racking situation, quite cynical and tense.

Women’s rights, gender equality and combating gender-based violence have been actively promoted and defended by the French government as key human rights priorities. France has been the instigator and implementer of several UN resolutions such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and “Women, Peace and Security.” In January 2013, Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani human rights campaigner seeking girls’ right to education was awarded the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom. Yet till the first week of February 2013, women were legally forbidden from wearing pants in the French capital since 1799. This law, which came after the 1789 French Revolution when women renegades wore long trousers, read: “Any woman who wants to dress as a man must come to police headquarters to get permission.” In the 19th century, France amended the law to accommodate horseback riding and bicycles, saying “pantalons” would be allowed only if women were “holding the handlebars of a bicycle or the reigns of a horse.” Although not enforced in the 20th and 21st centuries, the French government finally, after decades of outcry from feminist lobby groups, revoked the 214-year-old law that had banned Parisian women from wearing pants.

In fact, in a bid to end a form of discrimination that’s demeaning to women the term "mademoiselle” (Miss) was officially struck out from French government documents last year. Even "maiden name" and "married name" were removed so that women are not forced to reveal their marital status. Instead, the honorific "madame" is used for all women, equivalent to "monsieur" (Mr) for men. Yet as per a World Economic Forum gender equality chart, French women rank low in political empowerment, earn 26 percent less than men but spend double the time on domestic tasks. Among European women, they have the most babies, the Government encourages them to do so, but they consume anti-depressants the most. France spends 1.5% of GDP to provide among the best facilities for childcare, education and health to help reconcile family and working life. French women get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, parental education leave, and are guaranteed the right to return to their jobs after a period of time they themselves chooses. France legalized abortion since 1975 (see how it happened at this link http://www.financialexpress.com/news/the-manifesto-of-343-sluts/1045813/0) and declared the state will reimburse 100% the cost of abortions from April 1, 2013. Also, 15 to 18-year-old girls will be offered access to free and anonymous birth control.

French philosophers and writers like Simone de Beauvoir and Helene Cixous have influenced the acceptance of feminism in developed countries, yet French patriarchy makes sexism an attitude that men live by. French women are traditionally demure and poised, never coarse and vulgar, yet in contemporary society they hunger for liberty. French men hold the door for women to pass through and pour the wine at dinner. This finesse is cultural, but it forments male chauvinistic behaviour. In spite of having 50% women ministers in President Francois Hollande’s government, French society is still pro-men, as summed up by Elsa Dorlin, associate professor at the Sorbonne, “In civil society, there is a hugely anti-feminist mentality…."

To download above article in PDF French women love liberty

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/french-women-love-liberty/1098720/0

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