“We are just the ‘fallen women,” says my best friend as we giggle discussing yet another random encounter with a man. But the tag of the ‘fallen women’ is not to put ourselves down, or for that matter any other woman who chooses to lead a lifestyle considered ‘risky’ by conventional means. Rather ‘fallen women’ is almost a badge of honour that she and I proudly carry upon ourselves. It carries within it meanings of sexual liberation and the ability to make a choice for myself, both of which are privileges that generations of women before us have made available to us through sustained determination.
Yet, when I first read the account of the girl who has accused comedian and filmmaker Aziz Ansari of sexual misconduct, I immediately heard myself thinking, ‘she could have very well ‘chosen’ to not go ahead with him’. Grace (the fictional name attributed to the girl by the publication that carried her account), it clearly appears, belongs to that same strata of liberated women that my friend and I are so proud to be a part of. She clearly carried within her the agency to decide whether or not she wants to walk up to a man she admired, whether or not to text him for the next few days and whether or not she wants to go on dinner with him and beyond that as well. The question that immediately struck me was why does she now have to play the victim card, when all the while she showed signs of being the perfectly modern, liberated woman who does not need her mom to tell her what to do.
I am confident that had my mother or any other woman from her generation read the piece, she would immediately roll their eyes and say ‘what was she expecting?’ A rather thought provoking piece published by the Atlantic soon after the account of the girl was published, makes a poignant point. The author remarks that we modern women are stronger than those from the preceding generations in so many ways. Yet, she goes on say that we are weaker than them in so many others. In the times in which my mother and those before her grew up, women were taught to simply fight out (verbally, physically and in every other way) every sexual encounter that came in the way of them preserving their honour (read male honour).
But we, the modern, educated, financially independent women, we are no longer expected to be the guardians of that male honour. We have been taught to be fiercely ambitious, the ones who can claim equality on the basis of professional achievements and financial independence. At the same time, we have also grown up in times of a feminist narrative that urges us to be custodians of our own voice and choice. The same narrative of women empowerment that has taught us to strive for financial independence, has also convinced us to shake away the boundaries of conventionalism and decide for ourselves what time we want to get back home, who we hang out with, when and with whom we decide to go out on a date and what we decide to do with him thereafter.
In this context, Grace seems to fit in perfectly well in the category of ‘fallen women’ as my friend would say. Yet the question then arises is what if the significant changes in our lifestyle makes us more vulnerable to sexual misconduct or maybe less prepared for the same? Has the feminist discourse of seeking equality through the act of making a choice now begun to backfire? Should I now be on guard and not go on a date with someone I met on Tinder and chatted with over texts?
Unfortunately, there is an aspect of the movement for women empowerment that we often miss out on- the fact that it has taken place in a skewed, unbalanced manner. While on one hand we have given birth to this generation of women who are fiercely independent and assertive, have we really given birth to a generation of men who can be adequately responsive to the new age woman? When Grace went out on a date with a man she hardly knew, when she decided to go home with him after dinner, she was clearly under the impression that Ansari would be sensitive to her expectations. When she recounted the date night to the reporter she was clearly disappointed not just with Ansari’s entitled behaviour, but also with the fact that he portrayed himself as a believer in gender equality with the Times Up pin at the Golden Globes. What she clearly misunderstood is that he, like many other men that Grace and women like her have encountered, are not socially conditioned to respond to the choices of the sexually liberated women the way we would want them to.
The discourse on gender equality has often on harped upon a number of necessary steps to be taken. Make sure she is educated, make sure she is independent, make sure she earns her own living, make sure she is assertive, make sure she is strong, these are statements we have heard over and again as necessities in the remarkable social change that gender equality is expected to bring about. But why is the ‘him’ missing in this narrative? Should we not insist upon making him more sensitive, making him more responsive towards the needs of a woman, making him less entitled, making him more responsible and accountable? No amount of social change can ever be possible by placing the baggage of the necessary steps on shoulders of women alone. It is high time we decide to bring up our boys better.