I don’t get it.
There have been a multitude of discussions on the subject of women, particularly reproductive rights and sexual assault incidents, and I am trying to make sense of it all. As any avid feminist (or woman/human, for that matter,) I have been following them carefully, sharing the frustration, sadness and anger of each issue or victim. With each instance, I feel an increased sense of desperation and outrage. As The Independent put it: “2012: The Year When It Became Okay to Blame Victims of Sexual Assault.” This has never been more the case, since I discovered, that the Delhi gang-rape victim had passed despite fighting for her life in the face of a horrific tragedy. I am speechless and yet full of words.
Growing up in America as an Indian-American female, I have only had the privilege of being surrounded by open-minded individuals and strong women who have inspired and empowered me. I know many sexual assault survivors who have healthily rebuilt their optimism, esteem and outlook on men and the world. I assumed and hoped that, by the time I grew up, certain injustices and limitations imposed on women would be a thing of the past—that by now, things would be different. Things could only get better and better, right? Lately however, this what I have observed, along with the rest of you, between my two countries: women being dismissed, because of their physical appearance, dressing or intoxication level; a sudden war on reproductive rights; religions questioning a women’s responsibility for domestic or sexual violence; and rape after rape happening, on top of utterly weak remedies and punishments. As a young woman about to enter the “real world,” I do not know what to do. I am an empowered woman, but seeing all this, I am feeling helpless.
There is a tiny, bleak and insecure voice in my head that asks how securely I can walk myself home after a night out with my friends. Although I believe otherwise, I wonder if I am “inviting” attention when I wear shorts or a v-neck of a certain length. I am concerned that one day, I will not be able to receive the reproductive care I choose to have.
Worse of all, I am anticipating that if ever I am, or anyone I know is, wronged, I may just have to deal with a lack of true justice. Last month, a 17-year-old girl in India was gang-raped, only to be met by shrugs and suggestions to marry her rapist or ask for a financial settlement. Last week, she committed suicide. It would be naïve to think that it is only women in India who deal with sexual violence apathy or skepticism. In the United States, a judge responded to a case of a man who threatened, beat and raped an ex-girlfriend, as an instance in which the woman did not ‘put up a fight’ and that her body would have protected itself if it truly did not consent to the physical assault. Even today, with the voice women have, we are still teaching the world that a woman never “asks for it,” or refuting the meaning of “legitimate rape” or “sexual etiquette.”
It is easy to look at an isolated event in one country, and attribute the problem to that country’s people, religion, government or culture. Momentarily, it makes us feel better about our own situation, so that we can move on with our lives. We all know that is not the case—just take a look at these stories, in the past year, and you’ll see an entire map of the world.
The problem is that, violators often get away with it. There is little ownership assumed on the violators’ parts, to address this. It is the same reality everywhere, just at varying levels and degrees in different countries. I will honestly admit that despite being an Indian-American, I am more educated on American politics than Indian, so I will not to pretend to know more than I do about the latter. However, I do believe that any public needs to see governments and leaders take action, beyond sympathetic speeches, and needs to witness proper executions of justice and actual implementations of the law. Justice, in a circumstance where one is entitled to it, should not be a question. The men in the Delhi case, who committed such inhumane atrocities, should face the most severe of consequences for their actions. While after-the-fact retribution should be applied, there should be proactive changes as well. Any and every culture must be educated about the place of a woman—in families and societies—as being equal, and that a decision made for/on behalf of a woman without her consent, is wrong.
Like many others, I am outraged at the recent events. I am sure I am not alone in trying to make sense of what this all means. On one hand, I am proud to see the passionate, collective assembly of women and men in Delhi—their collective voice has not let this matter slip through the cracks. On the other hand, I still fear the implications for women in the long run—in regards to both of my countries’ societies and futures. Is this what they meant by the world ending, for women at least? I cannot tell if this has all been a step back or the beginning of a worthy fight. I hope it is the latter.