Let’s pretend this is about an ad campaign that’s gone viral. Let’s pretend it’s anti-Hindu. Let’s pretend we only care because the international press cares. Let’s pretend it misses the point, because the wounds look fake, and the women look fake, and we all know airbrushing is evil. Let’s pretend it’s disempowering and disrespectful. Let’s pretend that it’s all very misleading, because what ‘Save Our Sisters’ really cares about is trafficking, not battered women, and those are two completely different things, as is rape, and how many women’s issues can we care about at the same time anyway?
Let’s pretend that when you were younger, and you heard the neighbours fight, you always called the police. Let’s pretend you didn’t stand by the window, and wonder at the rising hysteria in their voices, and wonder how a badly parked car or a burnt dinner had led to this. Let’s pretend it never happened in your home. Let’s pretend this is all about some goddess/whore polarity anyway, and dismiss it, because that’s some feminist theory you read in college before you realised what being a woman really meant. Let’s pretend that the laws are water-tight.
Let’s pretend you never spent the night at a friend’s, or at work, or on the terrace of your flat because you were too afraid to go home. Let’s pretend that it’s complicated, because he really does love you. Let’s pretend it’s because he drinks. Let’s pretend the children can’t hear, and the neighbours can’t hear, and your friends won’t hear, and later, when they see you in full-sleeved clothes in the month of July, bruises hiding in plain sight, let’s all play let’s pretend.
Let’s pretend it was only that one time anyway. Let’s pretend it was his fault. Let’s pretend that it was yours, because you should have walked out the first time it happened. Let’s pretend some people just ‘have a temper’ while others don’t, and let’s pretend you shouldn’t have said those things, and that he shouldn’t have grabbed you, and you shouldn’t have hit back. Let’s pretend we’re equals.
Let’s pretend that women help women, and don’t blame each other for the failings of men. Let’s pretend that the failings of men have nothing to do with their mothers and sisters and wives, and less to do with fathers and friends. Let’s pretend your children don’t imitate their parents when they role-play at school. Let’s pretend it was because you couldn’t have a son, and he felt let down; or because you had too many, and he became insecure.
Let’s pretend that your abuser never saw them, or ignored them, and you think these images are stupid because they can never show how ugly you looked with a black eye and a cut lip. Let’s pretend that the first time you saw the pictures, you didn’t think of make-up and models, of temples and myths. Maybe you thought of Dorian Gray, wondering how your bruises had appeared on the face of a goddess. Just because the images of battered deities don’t change the abuser, let’s pretend they don’t affect the abused.
Let’s pretend that we do not remember the one Hindu goddess absent from this essay: Kali, whose violence and bloodlust challenge the idea of unquestioned patriarchal divinity. Let’s pretend her tongue sticks out in consternation at having stepped on her lord, and not because she is high on power and pleasure. Let’s pretend it’s true what they say — goddesses and women do not wreak havoc, they cannot cause change.
Let’s pretend to talk about ‘the images of models dressed as goddesses simulating abused women’ — because, what other way is there, to talk about women who don’t bother hiding their bruises?