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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Do men see women only as daughters or sexual objects?

Why is such affection only reserved for granddaughters, not grandsons? That’s because everyone understands that men are there to work, and to infantilise them in this manner would undermine their professionalism. Women are rarely taken this seriously.

Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit was embroiled in a controversy over inappropriately touching a female journalist The journalist on Twitter said, “Unprofessional behaviour – and completely uncalled for to touch a stranger without her consent, especially a woman.” (Source: Twitter)

In an episode of breathtaking irony that would be funny if it weren’t so offensive, Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit was embroiled in a controversy over inappropriately touching a female journalist while addressing a press conference over his name being linked to a university sex-for-degrees scandal. The journalist took to Twitter after the press conference to express her displeasure over the Governor patting her cheek in response to one of her questions. She wrote “Washed my face several times. Still not able to get rid of it. So agitated and angered Mr Governor Banwarilal Purohit. It might be an act of appreciation by you and grandfatherly attitude. But to me you are wrong.”

She elaborated with further details of the incident in an open letter. In response, Mr. Purohit said he did it as an act of appreciation for her question (which he didn’t even reply to), and because he considered her his granddaughter. While public reaction has been generally in support of the journalist, many have called her statement an overreaction, and have argued that an affectionate or grandfatherly pat on the cheek (even without consent) is 0nothing to get so worked up about. Some have suggested she wash her face with acid or get plastic surgery. Some have called it a publicity stunt, and the age-old chestnut, that it cannot be sexist or offensive if it is done with love, is repeatedly trotted out. At worst, it is argued to be no big deal, and at best, it is something the ungrateful journalist should have appreciated.

Consent be damned, and the fact that Mr Purohit is a constitutional dignitary, not a back-slapping colleague seems to have escaped his defenders. The question is being framed as: Was this a paternalistic act, or a predatory one? Even ignoring the rather widespread sexual abuse of children that blurs the line between the two, the real question should be: Does it matter? Let us for a moment, assume it was paternalistic, and genuinely intended as such. Does that make it any less offensive or sexist? The answer is: No.

As women professionals know all too well, when someone says you are like their granddaughter, it does not mean that they see you as family. It means they see you as a child. And good children don’t ask questions, they don’t demand accountability, they do as they are told, they know their place in the hierarchy. Infantilising someone (the necessary corollary of paternalism), is not an act of appreciation, it is disempowering.

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It is also, in this case, extremely sexist. No male journalist would have received a pat on the cheek. Is such affection then only reserved for granddaughters and not grandsons? No. The reason is that everyone understands that men are there to work, and to infantilise them in this manner would undermine their professionalism. Women are rarely taken this seriously. Subramanian expressed this succinctly when she said she wanted answers, not a pat on the cheek. So what, people ask. Why are women always complaining? When someone harasses or rapes then we have a problem, and when someone treats us like their daughter or granddaughter, we STILL have a problem? What are men to do? At the heart of these questions is the idea that to men, women are only either daughters or sexual objects (or sometimes both).

You can either be infantilised or sexualised, to vary the old goddess-prostitute theme. Take your pick and don’t complain. Can a woman in this country be allowed to say she doesn’t want your grandfatherly affection, without then being presented with an alternative of sex? Can she say she simply wants to be treated as a professional doing her job? Can we conceive of a discourse where women don’t have to be wives, sisters, or daughters to have their personal autonomy respected, but simply by virtue of the fact that they are human beings?

For far too long, we have been subjected to the idea that paternalism is a good thing. A valued tradition, the Indian way of life. It is not just women who suffer from this, though they certainly bear the brunt. Youth of all genders are routinely shut down, their opinions discounted, as being disrespectful of age and seniority.


The subtle way of doing this is what is called the “Beta Curse” when your winning argument is decimated with one single “Beta, you are like my child.” The not-so-subtle way is of course, “Don’t argue with your elders. Have you no respect?”

Paternalism is the basis for the family unit, we are told, which would apparently crumble if individuals were allowed to live freely. But workplaces are not families, and neither is public life. It is bad enough having to tackle patriarchy at home, so please spare us these professional patriarchs outside.

First published on: 19-04-2018 at 09:18:35 am
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