A number of campaigns against sexual harassment endorse the stereotypes they set out to debunk
THE STING OPERATION¬†by TEHELKA brought to light several medieval myths that our ‚Äėprotectors‚Äô nurture about women and rape. Embarrassed Delhi-NCR police officers have promised ‚Äėsensitisation‚Äô as a corrective to such attitudes. The trouble is: what kind of attitudes will be promoted under ‚Äėsensitisation‚Äô? The Delhi Police ad campaigns suggest that even when they think they‚Äôre being ‚Äėsensitive‚Äô to sexual violence, they are promoting rather dangerous patriarchal notions of¬†mardangi(machismo). A recent campaign against sexual violence has actor-director Farhan Akhtar, saying, ‚ÄúMake Delhi safer for women. Are you man enough to join me?‚ÄĚ
Such misplaced notions of manliness are evident in many women‚Äôs safety campaigns. Another ad Delhi Police has been using for several years has a photograph of a woman being harassed by a group of men at a bus stop with some men and women simply looking on. This poster proclaims, ‚ÄúThere are no men in this picture… or this would not happen‚ÄĚ and urges ‚Äúreal men‚ÄĚ to ‚Äúsave her from shame and hurt‚ÄĚ. It suggests that 1) sexual harassers are not ‚Äúreal men‚ÄĚ (asli mard), 2) women facing harassment feel ‚Äúshame‚ÄĚ and 3) only ‚Äúreal men‚ÄĚ can protect them. Can such ideas of machismo reduce violence against women? Or are they the root of the problem?
Interesting answers emerge as one widens the lens. Campaigns centred on sexual harassment rarely feature women who express their anger and protest sexual harassment in public places. Perhaps if a woman is shown angry, it‚Äôd be difficult to sustain the notion that she is experiencing ‚Äėshame‚Äô. Shame, in this case, conveys vulnerability and need for protection, reinforcing the need for a male protector. Publicly displayed anger or violent self-defence by women, on the other hand, is deeply unnerving.