Just not funny


The issue of women’s empowerment often gets reduced to mere discussions on sexual violence against women. Rather than obsessing on it as if it were the only concern, it is necessary to put in place macro-policies and change social perspectives on female empowerment in a holistic manner. The persisting failure to do this was brought into sharp focus last week when Janata Dal (United) chief >Sharad Yadav made a comment in Parliament on dark-skinned South Indian women, saying that they are ‘as beautiful as their bodies’ and adding that they ‘know dance’. On the surface, it sounds merely facetious, but such statements are dangerously wrong at several levels. The first question that arises is why during a debate on the Insurance Bill the member would find it necessary to drag in a comment about women at all. It was hardly apposite to the occasion or relevant to the issue being discussed. It trivialises women and sends out the message that flippant remarks about women, their skin colour or bodies are par for the course. Second, the remark comes in the wake of several denigrating comments about women made by members of Parliament and senior politicians — across the political spectrum — in the last couple of years alone. To make matters worse, Sharad Yadav responded to Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani’s criticism with the highly offensive comment, “I know what you are.” After days of defiance, he was >forced to clarify that remark on Tuesday.

Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi has rightly said that she felt frustrated by the number of people who have tried to downplay the remark by saying it was a ‘compliment’ to South Indian women. Therein lies the bigger problem — the complete lack of awareness that condescending jokes or remarks about women reveal as much about deeply-ingrained patriarchal attitudes as do overt acts of violence or domination. The senior political establishment in the country constantly betrays this lack of understanding of what constitutes non-discriminatory attitudes to women. And their stance exposes how deep the problem really runs. It is one of the biggest reasons why women continue to get a raw deal in police stations and court rooms, in workplaces and homes. Besides laws that address women’s safety, what is urgently needed is a code of conduct or set of rules that will apply to public officials and politicians, which can ensure that gender-biased comments and jokes are weeded out of the public discourse. Parliament is hardly the place for misplaced and misogynistic levity.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 7:25:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/just-not-funny/article7008150.ece

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