As a woman, situated in a supposedly “intellectual” set up, I feel the need to emphasize that an environment where a woman’s sexuality predominates all other aspects of her personality and life, it is not an intellectual environment, and people who engage in these discussions are not intellectuals, they never will be. You are what you think. And if the most interesting topic your mind gets attracted to- to discuss, debate, observe, and if need be invent- is the association of everything a woman does, wear,think or write to a man then I am sorry, you are not an intellectual, you are a pathetic and twisted piece of machinery produced by a society which treats women much as a parasite would treat its host.
Oh,you have a “progressive” image, or you don’t have a progressive image but you perform phenomenally, neatly juxtaposing theoretical jargon with commonsense knowledge, or you command respect because you are a good orator, or that you insist that you are a feminist- it really and honestly does not matter.
And let me now illustrate why.
Every person exists for herself and himself. I was under the impression that this fact was obvious. It’s not apparently. So men exist for themselves and women exist for men. I am not saying this, but most men seem to be under this impression. And the primary field under scrutiny here becomes the body of the woman or of course her sexuality. So one friend covers her head with a scarf in order to escape the sun,I do it sometimes to escape dust. We do it for our own self- for our own bodies, but men being inherently parasitic, assume that this is being done to impress one of them. Long woolen kurta- courting a “conservative” guy; “western” clothes- courting a “progressive” guy. Because you know, this is what we women do the entire day- make strategies about how best to win over men.
And in my experience there is no difference in how “conservative” and “progressive” men treat women.So far as respect for their body and individuality is concerned none exists. My research topic pertains to written narratives from Kashmir. One “progressive” gentleman however did not let me answer the query over my topic and said that my topic was “Ethnography of Kashmiri Men”. By now I am more or less habituated to men passing comments on women’s sexuality and body, however, that my intellectual pursuit- my mind- which I prize so dearly- is being reduced to some sort of sexual fetish really, really pushes a button. Especially when this seems to have become a routine affair- likening my research interests to some or the other man and his supposed political ideology. I cannot explain in words how demeaning it is for an individual like me, who prides her independence of thought more than anything else in the world. Never underestimate the power of a large number of stupid people. Where did I read that?
Not that I am alone in having this type of experience. Another friend – let us assume she is a Bosnian Muslim, was being relentlessly pursued by a couple of –let us assume Serbian Christian men- she was told by a progressive gentleman that “Srebrenica 1995” is going to “happen” to her. Ha.Ha.Ha. Srebrenica 1995, a brief Google search will tell you, is the massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Serbs. Because as women we are also looked through the prism of territory and as the upholder of “our” community’s honor. We are territories, waiting to be conquered. Listening to these comments is like having actual blood sucking leeches crawl all over you.
Or should I talk of another progressive gentleman who likened one girl’s excruciatingly painful physical ailment (induced by stress) to her being sexually deviant? The same girl received sympathy from another gentleman who thought her real physical pain was caused by heartbreak! I’ll admit this instance (because I witnessed it) was extremely hilarious, because on watching him knot his eyebrows and think deeply I lost track of the explanation I was going to give him and watched with amusement as he mulled over the heart break my friend never had. This was not disrespectful by any means, but it still reflects the same trend- associating everything in a woman’s life with a man. If you have ingrained since childhood that women exist as appendages to men, no amount of reading Judith Butler will help.
What men don’t realize is this- they think they are being very witty and all knowing when they make such remarks, what they don’t realize is every time they say something like this, we respect them a little less, each time they strip us women of our individuality- we strip them of it too. But it seems that the“brilliant minds” that inhabit these “intellectual spaces” cannot understand this fairly simple thing. Or maybe they don’t want to. It’s much easier to be a parasite and prey on someone’s personality- that too in a group- than to establish your own individuality. All I can say is this, every time I encounter any such great scholar, the urge to scream “Pest Control!” is overwhelming.
Apoorva Kaul is a Research Scholar at South Asian University, New Delhi. A foodie at heart, she loves reading, writing and travelling. Written narratives- be it history, literature or memoirs are her passion.