A Guest Post by Nosheen Kapoor
Shame is a very powerful emotion. It is a pity that it is not universal. Yes, this emotion, the first cousin of guilt, is bred in women long before they become women and is discouraged in men long before they become men. Ever heard of a man ashamed of his ‘manhood’? Every man learns to outgrow this emotion as he grows more manly, yet every women is conditioned to deem her being as a temple of shame and honor.
Perhaps this is the reason why even in this apparently progressive age, rape is still an unapologetic act of manly grandeur rather than a recognized cultural crime. It may be illegal to rape but surely it isn’t unmanly to do so. In fact, rape is one crime where the victim undergoes a lifelong trial and the criminal a temporary one all because of the politics of shame and our cultural aversion to the idea of sexually active women. A man’s sexuality is to be celebrated and satiated too but a women’s sexuality is to be hushed and repressed.
Many people, both outsiders and some of the initiated insiders, call India a sexually repressed nation where sexual frustration builds up in men and leads to aggression and violation of women. However, more than repressed, India has so far shown itself to be a sexually repressive state because if it were so repressed (and mind you, that sexual repression is culturally enforced among women than in men) then there would have been an equal number of sexual crimes against men committed by women as they are now against women. But this isn’t true. The problem with our society is unequal distribution of shame and the selective expression of it. Men can induce shame in a woman and some of them can even empathize and emulate the emotion to a certain extent but usually it is the women who has to carry the burden of it on the behalf of the opposite sex as well. So a woman will burn in shame at being raped or molested or even when ogled at but men will crown themselves kings of mankind by being able to get away with such kind of behavior.
In the light of the recent case, while the strictest and the most deserving punishment should be meted out to the rapists, there should also be a nationwide re-evaluation of this species specific manifestation of shame. We must as human beings ensure that violation of this degree or any kind of womanliness does not go unnoticed and a strong precedent is set to restore the idea of shame in every man, rapist or not. So that shame is never used as a pretext to teach a lesson to a girl but, on the contrary it prevents a man from stooping to his self-delusional sense of ‘manliness’. And for women it is time to stop accepting lewdness in men as an ingrained personality trait and take action even at the slightest act of disgrace done to them. From teasing to touching, molestation to rape, all are offenses of varying degrees turned into socially forgivable and forgettable conducts and that’s exactly what has led to such an outrageous crime in our country.
What has been done to the girl is a heinous and an inhuman act but if the absence of shame in men that continues prevails in the underbellies of our cultural consciousness and conscience is destructive and dangerous for generations to come. In Salman Rushdie’s novel titled, Shame, he says,
“You can find shame in every house, burning in an ashtray, hanging framed upon a wall, covering a bed. But nobody notices it any more.”
Trouble is we notice it and endorse it far too much almost consider it as sacred, in one section of society what Simone de Beauvoir called, the second sex and do not acknowledge it at all in at all in the first sex.
There is public outrage today because our strings of tolerance have snapped even though pretty late. But such public outrage should accompany every rape that goes unpunished and more than the lawmakers we as a society on the whole should undertake a paradigm shift and typecast sexual offenders as lowly and weak-links of society.
If it is time to hang heads until death, then it is also time for heads to be hung in shame.
PS: If you think about it, I am a very broad-minded person who gives space to diverse perspectives.