Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 11am

#8March: International Women's Day - A cynical public relations exercise?

It’s March 8 and its International Women’s Day yet again but as a man I feel completely disingenuous just repeating those words.

The reason? In 2015 it’s more apparent than ever that gender inequality is rife throughout society and that one day of remembrance and activism isn’t going to change that.

I guess a lot of women might say to me in response “well Saurav, it’s our one day to be noticed, for people to actually put action ahead of words.”

I can’t help but be cynical about this, sensing nothing but societal hypocrisy because people do very little for women most of the time, focusing their attention on issues that disproportionately affect men and organise parades of events where men can speak about - but not see - how women are being differently affected by the same issues, sometimes ignoring issues that particularly concern women.

The problem is that days like ‘International Women’s Day’ suddenly cull attention amongst those who feel they need to organise an event and coax attention out of a struggle that pervades every day of every woman’s life all around the world.

How much of that marketing budget could have gone towards the running costs of a domestic violence shelter in India, for example?  How about the costs of a rape crisis center?  Why is the profiling of a trans, bisexual, disabled or working class woman inextricably linked to the size of a PR machine?

Women are meant to be grateful for the small crumbs that are offered in March, whether expounded by the Prime Minister, female MP’s, business spokespersons, commercial advertisements or full page Forbes magazine spreads.

These are expected to suffice to sustain them for the rest of the year.  I do not believe any of these people or institutions actually care about women beyond using them as a PR opportunity. 

This ethos is simply not followed through the rest of the year.  It should be obvious that the awareness, discussion and celebration need to continue past early March.

You need to pay attention to women 365 days a year and not just on the one day which has their name on it. After all, women’s rights are for life, not just for International Women’s Day.

I arrived at these views on the long path of research and preparation for a forthcoming book ‘The Butterfly Room’ which details domestic sexual violence and abuse within South Asian culture as well as discrimination towards the LGBTI community.

It was on that journey that I realised as a man just how prevalent misogyny is in our enlightened modernistic 2015.

For example, pervasive attitudes (both implicit and explicit) embedded within our global culture make themselves apparent in ways such as: “When it’s a woman, rape is often just an accident”

In other words women should be held responsible for being raped because they allow themselves to be violated; either because they drink too much, hang with the wrong person for too long, stay out too late, dress a certain way, write certain provocative posts on their Facebook feed.

“Nobody is forcing a woman to get married, they let themselves get forced”

Well it’s happening anyway sir. A recent study by Plan UK revealed that every single day, across the world, 38,461 women and girls are being forced into marriages against their will.

Many of these lives are exchanged for money or to settle an unrelated debt. This number doesn't even include the unbelievably young girls that are forced into prostitution on a daily basis.

“Girls who date right don’t get taken advantage of”

Yes women are still seen as having to act a certain way in male presence.  If they regress to looking like eye candy they are meeting an image of sexual servitude, if they are independent, forthright and opinionated they are somehow ‘a bitch’ who is getting a bit uppity for their own good.

Likewise if a woman has the freedom to dress how she wants, the unwritten male rule is that she should be responsible in doing so.

“She’s a Nobel Prize Winner and a humanitarian? Who cares she’s got big knockers”

Yes beauty (or perceived lack thereof) is still being placed way ahead of ability.  It doesn’t matter how intelligent, personable, erudite and kind a woman is, she is still being classed (at least subconsciously) according to her looks.

Mass media bastardises the image of the woman; the product sells if sex is pushed as the selling point and that means a ‘beautiful’ woman. When it is decided to actually promote ‘normal’ women that is seen as the anomaly and ‘brave’ which is a crying shame.

“Domestic violence isn’t high enough in priority”

That is, compared to murder and rape investigations. Through law and disorder and cases where it literally is too late, women are given the subliminal messages that ‘unless you’ve already been raped, are dead, or better yet, both, don’t even bother complaining.’

“If you’re in the workplace, shut up and work and preferably keep looking good while doing it”

Female employees are being subjected to physical, verbal, and sexual harassment more than ever in the work place. Staff and customers are constantly being ranked in terms of “hotness” and anyone piping up to complain is swiftly given the ‘whistle blower’ albatross to hang around their necks.

“Stay slim while we completely malign your image and vilify your ambition”

Predominately in entertainment circles as a woman you will be airbrushed, lightened, photo shopped and even anatomy-shopped to fit into the male narrative of women being strong but ultimately sexy, thin and sending a very clear message that if your boobs aren't big enough, your eyes aren't bright enough, and a small vehicle can't drive between your thighs, you shouldn't be presented in mass media platforms for public consumption.

“Even if sex doesn’t sell, let’s keep undressing women and objectify them”

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling me secret holiday getaways, yogurt, shampoo, toothpaste or even sun cream, mass media seems to care more about the erection than the rights of women, constantly objectifying them to purvey the facile argument that good looking women use these household items and will sway the undecided market buyer to part with their cash.

“If a woman (did this) she probably deserved it”

Yes misogyny is everywhere we just like to obfuscate it as much as we can.

Whether a single mother, a woman who walked out of a violent marriage or is divorced there is a ‘fembot’ culture which assumes a woman is an angry feminist whose idea of equality is destroying men and probably deserved her loneliness due to her rampaging individualism.

“If she explodes with rage and indignation, she is probably on her time of the month”

Isn’t it facile to suggest an indignant woman, angrily raising her voice and opinion when nobody else does is constantly told she is ‘nagging’ or is ‘hysterical’ and that somehow her ‘pushy’ valid point is more down to her period than her moral repugnance at your actions?

When I first started getting word out about ‘The Butterfly Room’ which deals with an Indian woman being abused by her husband, I was astonished by the number of men coming to me to say it would be one sided because “more men are being abused, manipulated, harassed and beaten by women these days than the other way around” and that “today’s independent woman doesn’t stand for any shit and won’t be pushed around”.

Yes there are a number of so-called ‘fake cases’ in India, for example, where overzealous wives are sullying the reputation of their husbands by dragging them to police stations crying rape. Guess what critics? When a man is domestically abused he might lose his reputation but when a woman is domestically abused she more often than not ends up in a coffin. How about changing that narrative?

One last note and this is particularly important: a feminist does not believe in the usurping of the male dominated world and the eradication of the man as a species and orthodoxy but rather to address the gender imbalance. A woman is not hysterical, pushy or a nut because she wants equality with a man in society and the workplace.

Until at least some of the above is dealt with every day in some tangible form, International Women’s Day will remain a PR stunt mired in ’24 hourology’ which seems to be a cancer at the heart of today’s society.

London-based Saurav Dutt is a poet-writer, independent film producer, screenwriter and socio-political commentator.  His work has been featured in The Guardian, The Independent and Mail on Sunday.  He is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction, most notably 'Broken Sky' whose book proceeds helped brain injury/stroke awareness charities and homeless charity organisations.  His forthcoming book 'The Butterfly Room' details LGBTI discrimination and domestic violence and abuse issues impacting the Asian community and will be released in Spring 2015.  His books have been short-listed and featured at the London and Frankfurt book fairs, BookExpo America, LA Times Books Festival and the International Kolkata Book Festival amongst others. www.sauravdutt.com

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