Category Archives: Gender

In Response to Shenaz Treasurywala’s Open Letter

by Rahul Sen

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Shenaz Treasurywala’s open letter to the prime minister and other ‘powerful and popular men’ in the country like Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan et al has been circulating in the social media, generating sensation and lauding at different quarters. Apart from the sloppy sentimental politics that the letter tries to slap on the face of the readers, there is, probably, no single important point made in the whole text. The letter, in other words, is a patriarchal rant; reaffirming, reassuring and reinstating patriarchy and a structured epistemological oppression at different levels.

After my initial response on Facebook, I have been accused by someone as being a cynic, deliberately misreading the letter, seeing everything negatively and churning out wrong meanings out of it. This is true. My mind has been corrupted and tainted to see things crookedly and I will continue to vex and question other minds too till they are equally infectious. Let me take up each issue at one time and level my allegation against them, as I see it.

1. The letter is written to men who are ‘powerful’ in the eyes of Shenaz, to whom she makes an appeal – of ‘saving’ and ‘protecting’ women of the nation. How perfectly keeping in tune with the agenda of the present right-wing administration, of saving women into passivity, inaction and non-agency. The horrors of such a protectionist spiel imprison women in the name of empowerment.

2. In letter is naive and innocent in its assumption that women get raped ONLY by men. In Shenaz’s compulsory heterosexual world, lesbian rapes never happen. This further invisibilizes the number of same-sex rapes that happen, go unreported and shunted into silence.

3. In 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was executed in West Bengal for raping a juvenile girl. It sparked a huge row over the validation of capital punishment then. But interestingly, did it stop rape in West Bengal? Does capital punishment at all help in preventing crime? Shenaz’s insistence and push for capital punishment is illogical, banal, non-sensical and pointless.

4. Shenaz, in her letter constantly refers to western outfits, skimpy clothes, miniskirts and pushes an argument that these cannot be the parameters of rape. While it is true up to a certain point, it makes a blind assumption that ONLY women who wear skimpy clothes are being raped. From the classist and elitist vantage of Shenaz, Kamduni or Badaun did never happen; or frighteningly, even if they have happened, they are too trivial to be taken into cognizance.

5. Shenaz’s position is not too different from the rabid rightists in her pro-censorship stance. Her call to ban Uber is beyond my comprehension. This shifts the attention from the individual (the rapist) to the organisation which has the dangerous potential of diluting the crime and the malaise.

6. The most disgusting point made in the letter is a conscious valourization of the US, where she feels ‘safe’ to wear short skirts; this seeming egalitarianism of the US in terms of its gender friendliness is a dangerous push of its imperialistic, hegemonic and exceptionalistic agenda; nothing different from the kind of homonationalism that the US propagates.

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Feminism, apart from being a political stance has become a fashion statement. Everyone is a ‘feminist’ and a gender-activist these days trying to bring about equality and change. This, coupled with celebrity endorsements and support has given birth to kind of ‘pop feminism’ that is exclusivist, flawed, apolitical, masquerading as faux-liberal and faux-empowering. From Kalki Koechlin to Farhan Akhtar, Lady Gaga to Emma Watson, and now Shenaz Treasurywala – in the name of posing a threat to the status quo, feeds the trend. In the present day Indian context, where the Right has taken over every aspect of life; where media and society has heralded Modi as the ‘first feminist’, what we need to do foremost, is, resist such neoliberal rant and protectionist spiel and up the ante against the moral brigade trying to coax politics and sexuality, and the politics of sexuality.

To read Shenaz Treasurywala’s open letter, visit: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/actor-shenaz-treasurywalas-open-letter-to-pm-amitabh-bachchan-srk/1/406410.html

Purging Desire: Sport, Masculinity and Homoeroticism

by Rahul Sen

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Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence. In other words, it is war minus shooting.” ~ George Orwell, The Sporting Spirit (1945).

On June 14, 2014, I witnessed an over-flooding of my Facebook newsfeed with status updates about Netherlands’ defeat of Spain in the FIFA World Cup 2014 in which the latter suffered a historic defeat with a score of 5-1. What was more appalling was the number of rape-analogies that were drawn in many of these status messages indicating a symbolic emasculation and feminization of the defeated team. Hash tags such as – #orange #revengeissweet #thrashing #raped or #rape #revenge #Netherlands – were widely deployed along with those status messages that disclosed a language of bestiality, monstrosity, savagery, aggressiveness, patriarchal and masculinist pride.

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Sport has always maintained a circuitous liaison with the politics of sex, sexuality and gender. Rather, it would be convenient to say that the politics of gender encoded in the arena of sport is problematic; fraught with issues of patriotism, desire and nationalism. Predicated on the bedrock of competition, aggressiveness then becomes the hallowed virtue of the sportsmen and the team whose defeat of the opponent is taken as a token of colonialist pride and supremacy; the joys of invading territories and land. If violence is taken as the other name for patriarchy then sport emerges as the most powerful manifestation of the patriarchal self.

At a surface level, the most striking feature of this patriarchal institution is the rigid gender-segregated nature that it maintains. The binary of man-woman, male-female, masculine-feminine with the former always reigning over the latter, is nowhere, perhaps, perpetuated so rigidly and explicitly as in sport. Apart from the exclusion of any gender variant person into the arena, one can hardly name a sport where women (with all its problematic significations) enjoy equal privileges as men. The media, then, being a partner in crime plays a pivotal role in invisibilizing even the handful of games where women take part. I can tell this with confidence that not a single person who is not associated with sport (or even those who are very much into it) can name a female cricket player who too represents the nation or state in tournaments. This institution (like many others) does not like to entertain any shade of grey or ambiguity in terms of gender; the intersex body always being excluded from its domain. When the Pinki Pramanik rape allegation came to fore in 2012, what seemed more important was to prove Pinki as a ‘man’ based on the deep seated presumption that women cannot rape women or as if the right to ‘rape’ is an exclusive prerogative to be enjoyed by men. But there was a more dangerous politics of misogyny working underneath this endeavour to prove Pinki as a ‘man’; it would then mean that all of Pinki’s national and international achievements would go to the treasure house of ‘men’, snatching from female repute in sport and adding more to the list of masculinist achievements.

Although, sport emerges as an institution that champions and reifies hegemonic masculinity, it cannot be taken as a monolith. There is hierarchization within sports as well with some games being more masculine than others. This is more true of outdoor, competitive games than indoor ones (like chess); rugby and soccer, for instance, are deemed as more masculine than cricket which demands more grace and sophistication. However, all of them are sewn with the thread of a latent misogyny and embedded homophobia. Although, in the recent times there have been gay athletes who have come out and flaunted their sexuality; sport’s entrenched association with homophobia is quite evident and not unknown to any. Even though, Google came up with a rainbow doodle against Russia’s anti-gay law, in solidarity with queer athletes and highlighting a quote from the Olympic Charter that read: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play”, one can hardly recall any instance where an inter-sexed body ran the race or swum the pool. What was and has been the cynosure of attention was/is the male body with rippling muscles, bare aggressiveness and steaming pride all set to devour its opponent.

In 2013, when Emerson Sheik, a Brazilian soccer star, uploaded his photo of kissing a male friend on Instagram, sport’s discomfort with same-sex intimacy was set ablaze. Homophobic slurs and slogans were brandished against him from not only the sport community but also from viewers and fans. However, Emerson’s own response comes across as even more terrifying; condemning the attack against him as an “idiotic prejudice” he went on to say that it was “Emerson the person, not Emerson the footballer” informing his own subconscious homophobia (and discerning the game as free from any gender-variance) and latching onto the same, old public/private dichotomy. What seemed discomforting for the sporting community was the kind of ‘touch’ that Emerson had indulged in; such a ‘touch’ is certainly not desired for by the sporting community. ‘Touch’ comes with its own politics and significations in sport; homosocial unit, though it seems, time and again has competitive sports (like football or rugby) and also others have revealed their embedded homoerotic strain. Think of the spectacle that we consume – sweaty bodies pouncing upon each other (after casting a goal or taking a catch); hugs that are tighter and more passionate than we experience; bodies jumping onto the back of other bodies; some bodies lifting other bodies from the ground in an act of wistful embrace; kissing too features occasionally in such a sight – yes, this is not a gay orgy that I’m describing but a sight that is very common in sports. Biting the opponent or inflicting corporeal pain is not uncommon in sports too. Such an act would be deemed homoerotic and face outright condescension and censorship outside the field; but within the field it comes across as a hegemonic masculine act to reward the teammates and purge themselves of all kinds of gender-deviance and aberrant desires with the field emerging as a purgatario. This is the apparent paradox and fraughtness on which sport thrives; desire, here, is pitted against desire. The desire to emerge hegemonically masculine is, therefore, set against the desire to indulge in a homo-sexual/social bodily exchange. It almost serves as a patriarchal ritual to exorcise latent same-sex desires and all other forms of subordinate masculinities.

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Sport has always bordered on this slippery ground; between homophobia and homoeroticism, between the desire to emerge masculine and the desire to symbolically sodomize/penetrate the opponent with the field/playground emerging as a highly erotic zone that has been couched under hetero-patriarchal ideological legitimation. Heading towards a post-queer world, if we live by the battle-cry that ‘we are all queer’ then sport is perhaps the most living example of this. The Luis Suárez incident should not be seen in isolation; it is implicated in the larger discourse of gender politics.