'He doesn't take no for an answer'
That’s how we admiringly describe successful men. It means he does not give up. He is a war hero who is not scared of battle. A warrior who keeps ramming ahead no matter what the obstacles. The object of his attack could be the establishment, could be a few thousand Muslim citizens of his state. This is how he proves his determined masculinity and earns the right to be a heroic figure.
That description could apply to men across the political spectrum and for that quality they have the following of those whose beliefs they represent.
But in what has been a salutary few days, we have seen that such men also do not take no for an answer when it comes from a woman they choose to pursue. Whether it is ‘Saheb’ surveilling-stalking a young woman or Tarun Tejpal assaulting a younger colleague, here are men who can’t seem to process the word No very well.
The unquestioned, unexamined masculine idea of leadership and the worship of this idea defines the kind of workspaces and social contexts we all operate in and affects the way men and women respond to each other. The public persona and personal behaviour are intertwined. Everybody loves a bad boy, no? Well, news flash. This is what bad boys do. Of course to reflect on this, we would have to reflect on so much of what we ourselves are that people have immediately resorted to telling others what to do.
So the online right-wingers, a voluble and voluminous lot, lost no time in variously saying, ‘see, see, these fellows attack Modi but see how they are.’ Brothers, can you clarify if you are saying it’s okay for Modi to stalk a young woman (irrespective of whether state machinery is or isn’t used) because Tejpal committed sexual assault? Perhaps not feeling very convinced of their own argument they decided to do a little assaulting themselves, by attacking Tejpal’s daughter online, compelling her to delete her twitter account. Feeling manly and protective now?
Because, that was the defence right? That the girl in Gujarat was being stalked for her ‘protection’ because her father said it was alright? Why ask her when a man has spoken for her?
Not that men and women of various political stripes have held back on telling the women concerned what to do. One unctuous article told Tejpal’s daughter to stand by her friend if she cares for women. Other people bemoaned ‘these women’ who won’t file a case thereby letting the men go scott free. Nothing helps to change the world more than a round of victim blaming. If you are going to bring down a hero you better replace him by becoming a heroine or a martyr, okay? Otherwise we are not going to stand up for you.
Others spoke in tragic phrases of her suffering. Calls up the image of a fragile flower needing protection. Actually, maybe the women are just pissed off as hell. But angry women make us uncomfortable. We are, though, impressed by angry men, young, old or middle-aged, because that shows they are righteous warriors.
Until we stop worshipping this notion of masculine leadership we will be stuck in shrill binaries forever, unable to find new ways to engage across genders. Men will be stuck hearing ‘a yes in her no’ and women will be stuck, looking for ‘tactful’ ways to say no, because after all, the world loves and believes in men who won’t take no for an answer.
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.