An object held too close to the eye can never be identified correctly. For centuries we failed to identify sexism when it had been there all along. Future enlightened generations will see things more clearly
History, to some extent, feels like it has been written on the pages of biasness with ink of masculinity. And biasness, particularly towards women, has been protracted by historical doctrines and popular myths for centuries. Greek mythology is not an exception. It encompasses many facets of human personality and engages in various aspects, ranging from origin to the nature of the world as a whole. In the midst of an array of gods and goddesses encompassing many personality traits, elements of human nature and guidelines to live life, one aspect was cruelly overlooked – biased views on genders other than the male.
Medusa, associated with monstrosity and ugliness, is a Greek mythical character. The myth depicts her as an epitome of malevolence. She used to be a beautiful lady. One day, Poseidon, God of Sea, saw her and unable to control his lust, abused her sexually in the temple of Athena. An infuriated Athena transformed her into a gorgon as punishment. She bore snakes for hair and unenviable power to turn anyone that laid eyes on her into stone. But if we put this tale into perspective through the lens of contemporary society, she is a victim. She is an unfortunate scapegoat in a tale aimed at educating people against adultery. Poseidon, the abuser is not punished.
Why did Athena not realise that Medusa was a victim, and her abuser was the one who should have been punished? Perhaps, men were the ones penning the pages of history, oblivious to another gender’s perspective.
While constructing historical tales, men were utterly blinded and unable to see the true picture and comprehend fairness and righteousness. The question I would like to raise is: Why was one gender mercilessly punished for having to suffer the abuse and monstrosity of another? I believe this is the outcome of the failure to see society from an angle other than that of the male-centric view.
A couple of days ago, I was in a café, or should I say ‘chiya-pasal’, for my usual morning cup of tea. I have been going there for almost a decade now, and I have been a witness to zillions of their guffs. That particular day, a slim-built man, probably in his fifties, someone I saw every morning, started eve teasing two college girls. The politics-oriented pessimist talks of a group of five old men tilted suddenly towards the pleasure derived from eve teasing. Red in embarrassment, the girls left in a hurry.
The proceeding topics after the girls’ departure among the men were: the dress code of these young girls is an embarrassment to society; it will be hard for the parents of such girls to find a suitable husband; the girls are ill-cultured, how could they be smoking in public. The discussion wavered across various topics that they deemed were beyond the social norms established for girls, all the while failing to even understand and reflect on their own actions and dogma.
I am sharing the aforesaid event to highlight the irony that we often do things without understanding our own prejudices and potential impact of our actions. Misogynist views and chauvinistic talks are often expressed as an outcome of well-drilled day-to-day thought patterns. And also as a go-to tool for casual fun with no remorse for what has been said or done. The armour used by many people to defend chauvinistic talks and eve teasing is they did it with no ill-intentions but rather for light fun. And there were no intentions of sexual assault. When and where do we, as a society, begin to accept such activities as sexual crime and not some innocent source of fun for men?
It is appalling to witness male impunity and how it is okay that ill-intended sexual innuendos are accepted as humour. The deep-rooted problem lies in our beliefs. Nepal provides legislative protection in its constitution for women and the LGBTI. But the challenge is materialising the rights on all forefronts of society with no discrimination. If sidelining female and the LGBTI community was an error of judgment on society’s part, is it not high time to let go of such precepts?
Albert Camus, a French philosopher, has talked about an absurd predicament of his absurd-hero Sisyphus, who rolls a boulder to the top of the mountain only to see it roll down to the foot of the mountain again. He has to endure meaningless punishment for eternity. He finds happiness by accepting the position he is in and revolts not by refusing his role but by doing the meaningless task despite understanding its absurdity.
Are genders other than the male, with their role and position in the society designed by male similar to Sisyphus? The quintessential road of time and progress is broadening to accommodate women and the LGBTI community. But for some, this has been a hard pill to swallow.
An object held too close to the eye can never be identified correctly. For centuries we failed to identify sexism when it had been there all along. Future enlightened generations with new views and better understanding will see things more clearly. But for the present times, our generation has to address the issues identified using contemporary lens – materialisation of women and LGBTI rights in society. Also, let us start by waving goodbye to chauvinistic talks, misogynist views, regressive jokes intended at women and the LGBTI, needless stereotyping and eve teasing.
A version of this article appears in print on September 23, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.