12 Oct 2016 13:03 IST

Gender, through the male politician’s prism

Trump’s openly sexist position evokes a sense of déjà vu in India, which is routinely held ransom to misogyny

There’s barely a month to go for the US presidential elections and it looks as though there will be no end to the different segments or groups that the Republican candidate Donald Trump will or has vilified. Never ever known for his support for gender equity or respecting women, on the eve of the finale, video tapes have surfaced dragging him to a new low when it comes to sexist comments.

So much so, the UK daily, The Telegraph, even headlined one of its articles on Sunday thus: “Donald Trump sexism tracker”, and offered its readers “every offensive comment (made by Trump against women) in one place”!

Big bounty

When you scout either the mainstream or social media for the sexist comments that Trump has made over the years, you will unearth a treasure trove. From his slurs on rival Hillary Clinton for husband Bill Clinton’s infidelities to calling women (as The Telegraph article points out) “fat, pig, dog, slob, disgusting animal,” he has done it all. And these are only a few of his abuses directed against women.

He finds breastfeeding “disgusting”, and thinks that when you put women and men together in the armed forces there will be sexual assaults — he tweeted in 2013 justifying the 26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the US military, with only 238 convictions. “What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” He insulted his Republican rival and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina by reportedly saying: “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?”

Déjà vu

The list is endless. To us in India, and unfortunately so, Trump and his sexist comments, and the crass and infuriating manner in which he mouths these offensives, brings on a feeling of déjà vu. There are many examples of our male politicians, cutting across party lines, heaping either direct insults or slurs on women in a thousand different ways.

Talk about politics and gender, and you still bristle when the most famous balkati (women with short hair) comment made by the Janata Dal (United) leader Shard Yadav, a repeat offender by the way, springs to mind. Opposing the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament, which is yet to see the light of day, he said if such quotas were to be set aside for women, the balkatis of India would corner Parliament seats. His country cousin Mulayam Singh’s gross attempt to play down rape by saying that rapists should not be hanged “because boys make mistakes” had Indian feminists and activists of both genders up in arms.

Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh’s shocking comment, “sau tunch maal” (which loosely translates as ‘100 per cent desirable material’) while describing Congress MP Meenakshi Natarajan at a public meeting in 2013, had stunned the nation. What is worse, and adds insult to the injury while giving you a valuable insight into the psyche of these male politicians, is that Singh was actually praising the woman MP as a “a simple and honest person”. He bragged that he was a seasoned smith who could differentiate between a fake and genuine product! Makes you want to tear your hair out in both anger and frustration.

Back to culture!

From the BJP camp too we have any number of examples. Haryana’s chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar had said before the October 15 Haryana polls that “if a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way”. Later, when asked if young people should not have freedom of choice, his response: “If you want freedom, why don’t they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are western influences. Our country’s tradition asks girls to dress decently.”

The culture line is advocated frequently by many in the saffron entourage. If a woman wears short skirts, or is seen in a bar or pub, she is asking to be raped, is the twisted logic. While most women will froth at such comments from our politicians, surprisingly, there is a huge segment of men, both young and old, in India, who relate sexual advances and even rape to the woman’s mode of dressing, her behaviour, or her being out till late in the evening. So our politicians, when they make such atrocious comments, are only playing to the gallery.

Some segments try to sweep such comments under the carpet by maintaining that India is still “tradition-bound”, with lack of education, and such inane excuses. Even if you accept this facile argument, what about the most developed and advanced nation such as the US throwing up a serious presidential contender who is publicly seen to have such contempt for women? Who is obsessed by their physical appearance and doesn’t hesitate to rate them on their “beauty” quotient? How one half of America responds to this, we will find out soon enough!

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