Despitable me

In 2005, shooting for Q2P, a film on toilets, I asked a group of men what will happen if women pee on the road just like men? They giggled. Tehelka! They exclaimed. Our culture, would be destroyed. Then, after a pause, one added, that’s a strange question for you to ask...drumroll…despite being a woman.

On June 16, Shivani Bali, a resident of Worli, was caught drunk driving at Bandra Reclamation. File pic
On June 16, Shivani Bali, a resident of Worli, was caught drunk driving at Bandra Reclamation. File pic

In 2000, I had an inverted version of this conversation while interviewing Kanchan Gawre, Mumbai’s first woman cab driver, for Unlimited Girls, a film about feminism. At the time, she drove a cab and owned two more. But, she assured me, she still took care of all domestic issues. “#DespiteBeingACabbie I haven’t forgotten I am a woman,” she assured me.

How could she forget anyway? Every time a woman does something that does not resemble the ladies in a Raja Ravi Varma painting, someone will remind her she has achieved something #DespiteBeingAWoman. Most women encounter this, yes even #DespiteBeingSheikhaHasina.

On the whole, people expressed this shock and awe when women achieved something good. But it seems we’re going to have to hear it even when they do something bad.

That is why parts of the media can’t get over the reprehensible accidents caused by drunk drivers who happened to be women. It was a front page story. If you cared to read further in the inside pages you would see that in fact, the police have initiated action against 824 people since June 9 of which a total of five have been women. That is 0.6 per cent.

Let’s leave out the Janhavi Gadkar case which ended in terrible tragedy. The other accidents could be described as bizarre, with women locking themselves up in the car. But in honesty, we don’t have much to compare with because we have no idea what transpired in the remaining 819 cases of drunk driving where men were apprehended. No avid coverage or endless consternation that a man had done this #DespiteBeingAMan was in the media.

Heck, I’ve never even read a news item which said that despite being rich, educated, a role model or any of those things, a man had an accident while driving drunk. In fact there have been attempts at a little backdoor scientific justification for sexism with reports about how women’s alcohol tolerance is lower than that of men.

An accident is an accident. A driver is in the wrong and gender has nothing to do with it, really.

We’re now seeing the same attitude when it comes to female ministers allegedly involved in corruption scandals folks cannot stop gasping that they are doing this despite being women. We hear no such hurricane of gasps when scores of men are revealed to be corrupt.

Why does this happen? Because #DespiteFeminism and #DespiteTheWorldHavingChanged, people cling to very outdated and moreover, flat, stereotypical notions of what men and women are. Not only are these notions out of step with reality, they are unfair to both men and women. Women can be as bad as men and men can be as good as women – and that works the other way round too.

Some people thought that it was overreaction for the Telengana IAS officer Smita Sabharwal to send a legal notice to the national magazine that described her, as making a “fashion statement with her lovely saris and serves as ‘eye candy’ at meetings.”

Actually no. What’s too much is going on talking about women in stereotypical terms. And if people are not called out on this sexism, then behen, there will be no respite from despite.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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