The clock has struck. The demise of an innocent 23 year old woman from horrific injuries sustained in a brutal gang rape by six men on a bus in Delhi has rung the death knell of misogyny. Let it toll not only in India, but everywhere on Planet Earth. Men rape women every day in every part of the world, yet this particular incidence in India has set off an alarm. It is as if India, and the Indian diaspora, has abruptly awoken to the fact that men rape women, that rape is brutally violent, that rape is never deserved, and that justice is rarely served. It is not that this rape was more notable than any other. It is not that this woman was more special than any other. It is not that she is the first to be hospitalized, or have sustained life threatening injuries, or to have died after an assault. It is not because she was from a specific class, caste, race, religion, or any other demographic category. It is not that the perpetrators were crueler than any other. It is because the time has come; misogyny’s expiration date has arrived. The worldwide war on women must now cease and decease.
This war has been waged daily, for centuries. Rape is only one crime in a series of crimes the world commits against females. The varieties of violence include, but are not limited to, prenatal gender selection, female infanticide, genital mutilation, withholding education from girl children, child marriages, dowry demands, bride burnings, widow immolations, sexual harassment, cat calling, eve teasing, domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual slavery, and incest. Today we even have cyber stalking to add to the list. The domination occurs by any means possible. The cruelty manifests also in unhealthy, unrealistic standards of beauty; unnecessary medical interventions such as injections of the most acutely potent neurotoxin known to mankind (Botox) and all manners of plastic surgery; uncomfortable, impractical, disabling clothing ranging from various gradations of undress to polyester burkas, each in their respective inappropriate climates; and dating etiquette that suggests women present themselves diminutively in order to be attractive, and less threatening to men. Each of these violations is dehumanizing and obstructs girls and women from achieving and expressing their full human creative potential.
Yes, each individual man is responsible for his own behavior. Indeed, it is imperative that justice be served in every offense. The form that societal justice takes is collectively decided, hopefully rationally, objectively, equitably, impartially, compassionately, and legitimately. Even when it is not, each man has to live with his own conscience. The grotesque nature of many of these crimes indicates the pathetic states of mind these men inhabit. Even as I mourn for every woman, child, or for that matter man, who has ever faced, and who will face, violence in any form, I also mourn for the sick mentalities and deranged hearts of the perpetrators as well. It is a pitiful fate to be trapped in such wretched twistedness. Much is being discussed in the public forum about stricter laws, prompt investigation, police accountability, and death penalties for perpetrators. Yet when a rape is being committed every minute all over the world, even if our legal systems worked, we’d be overloaded with offenders. Given that most rapists are known to the victim or survivor, we’d have friends, colleagues, husbands, boyfriends, uncles, fathers, brothers, cousins, and sons hanging from every tree, as long as we have trees. The death penalty is not the answer. Primary prevention needs to be our priority.
Just as fair punishment shall be served from a communal judgment, the actual offense is also a public responsibility. The mindset that tolerates the pervasive dehumanization of girls and women stems from a collective attitude. It is created by the ready participation of men and women in misogyny. Sexism is so deeply embedded in every society and culture that we can barely recognize it as misogyny. We think of it as normal. We nursed on it, we ate it, we grew up on it, we have become it, we believe it, and it is destroying us. All of us. Boys are raised to think their own value lies in dominating others. Furthermore, domination over others earns males the praise and approval of their peers. This social component rewards males for increasingly brazen and abusive behavior as if they were achievements. And so it escalates. And too often explodes as gang rape and war. Even without overtly manifesting as violence, the need to maintain the unquestioned male privileges they were raised to believe are their birthright doesn’t allow males to embody the full range of their humanity. Men are given free reign over everything except the ability to just be authentically themselves. This is a crime against boys and men. It robs them of truly knowing themselves. Girls are raised as second class citizens in fear of men. Their value, and safety, is based on how pleasing they are to men. Females are not allowed to know or express their own value, lest they threaten a male. Ultimately females end up needing to be protected from the males who can’t control themselves because nobody knows who they are anymore. The best placard I saw from the protests in Delhi said, “Don’t tell your daughters not to go out. Teach your sons how to behave themselves.” We are all responsible for participating in this paradigm that cheats everyone of the freedom to walk as fearless, unique human beings on the earth which is equally our rightful inheritance.
The roots of this rotten inferno run deep and wide, as if stemming from the center of the earth reaching to every corner of the globe. The problem is not just in Delhi, or India, or Asia, or “developing” nations. This war on humanity is being waged worldwide. Agreed, the situation is much worse in certain parts of the world. Yet even in the United States a man rapes a girl or woman over the age of 12 every 2 minutes according to statistics from the US Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey. Those statistics are based on reported rapes. Estimates indicate that only 35-40 percent of rapes in the USA are reported to the police. The situation is surely significantly worse in regions of the world where the gender gap is wider. The World Economic Forum’s 2012 Gender Gap Report ranked countries using 14 indicators to measure the gap between men and women in four key areas: health and survival, educational attainment, political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity. India ranked 105th out of 135 countries, while the United States ranked 22nd. There’s no walk in the park anywhere. Especially at night. Particularly alone. If we take a transnational perspective, we have the blood of a global holocaust on our collective hands.
The media coverage of this particular gang rape in Delhi has been extensive. The family of the female victim has been respectfully spared intrusive interviews. The family of the male companion of the female victim has also been excused by the media. Granted he was not raped but he was also severely beaten. It is worth noting that while journalists may be behaving reverently at this time, the media bears a massive responsibility in fostering sexist attitudes towards women. The constant bombardment with images of gratuitous semi-nude women; the incessant sexual objectification of women; the daily reports of terror that keep women living in fear; the almost exclusive depiction of women as valuable only in their youth, only for their sexual appeal and function; the misrepresentation of images that have been doctored by Photoshop; the practically universal casting and portrayal of stereotyped and oppressive roles. The violations are ubiquitous. The media is equally culpable. And we, as men and women, are guilty for our support of and indulgence in such media.
As a physician I care for the insidious and inescapable impact of misogyny daily. The sexism has become so internalized it is warping our perception of who we are to the extent we are becoming violent towards our own selves. When a beautiful, witty, and brilliant university professor spends 4 hours a day examining her face and doesn’t want to live anymore because of a barely perceptible “flaw,” this is also a crime against humanity and our collective loss and responsibility. When a highly accomplished adolescent at the top of her class weighs 90 pounds (40 kilograms), thinks she is fat, refuses to eat, exercises constantly, and eventually dies, this is also a crime against humanity and our collective loss and responsibility. When a young man who was conceived in a gang rape discovers this fact, he spends more than ten years in severe self-hatred and drug abuse to cope with the knowledge. His greatest fear is he may have inherited the qualities that enabled his father to participate in such a corruption. This too is a crime against humanity and our collective loss and responsibility. When we start perceiving the impact of our socially accepted attitudes and beliefs we see the endless string of crimes we are committing against each and every one of us every day.
The outpouring of public sentiment all over India in reaction to this particular instance of rape is heartening. The spineless responses of Indian officials are disheartening. Yet, it is encouraging that, in contrast to protests against rape in the past that were primarily populated by women and girls, the current outrage over the violence against women is being sincerely shared by men as well. The overwhelming support this particular incident garnered from such a large cross-section of society that includes the public expression of solidarity by our male friends, colleagues, husbands, boyfriends, uncles, fathers, brothers, cousins, and sons is a manifestation of a massive cultural shift looming on the horizon. Men and women are fed up with misogyny and are speaking up about change. This woman who was so horrendously raped and murdered by six men died in vain. There was no sense or purpose to her death. May we all be forgiven. May she rest in peace. Let our outrage and heartbreak not be otiose and futile. The time has come for boys and girls, women and men to walk together side by side unconditionally free from fear. The countdown is on. Misogyny’s days are numbered now. May all our sisters and brothers live in peace together.