A number of campaigns against sexual harassment endorse the stereotypes they set out to debunk
ByÂ Kavita Krishnan
THE STING OPERATIONÂ by TEHELKA brought to light several medieval myths that our âprotectorsâ nurture about women and rape. Embarrassed Delhi-NCR police officers have promised âsensitisationâ as a corrective to such attitudes. The trouble is: what kind of attitudes will be promoted under âsensitisationâ? The Delhi Police ad campaigns suggest that even when they think theyâre being âsensitiveâ to sexual violence, they are promoting rather dangerous patriarchal notions ofÂ mardangi(machismo). A recent campaign against sexual violence has actor-director Farhan Akhtar, saying, âMake Delhi safer for women. Are you man enough to join me?â
Such misplaced notions of manliness are evident in many womenâs 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, âThere are no men in this picture… or this would not happenâ and urges âreal menâ to âsave her from shame and hurtâ. It suggests that 1) sexual harassers are not âreal menâ (asli mard), 2) women facing harassment feel âshameâ and 3) only âreal menâ 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, itâd be difficult to sustain the notion that she is experiencing âshameâ. 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.