Why don’t we listen to women when they talk about abuse?
Have you ever wondered why women are always labelled angry or vindictive when they talk about their rights or of being abused? Or, when they react to something instead of being silent spectators?
These past few days, I have actually been pondering a lot on this. Perhaps, the derogatory comments on social media made against Tanushree Dutta who is talking about how she had been abused are one of the triggers. But then that’s not the only incident which makes me come to this conclusion.
I have seen it happen to women around me, to myself too. I have seen how everything we do is viewed in the negative connotation when we refuse to toe the imaginary line that men and some women believe we must toe. I remember how I have been called arrogant when I refused to be bullied by the men in my team. There have been instances when a female boss upbraiding her team for their bad performance or lapses has been called names. Not only that, whenever a woman does anything which remotely resembles authority, it is insinuated that she must have periods or mood swings and hence the ‘outburst’. Yes, when a woman speaks it’s always an ‘outburst’ when for a man it’s ‘sensible talk’.
This actually happens to women whenever they try to make their presence felt or any time they speak up for themselves. I think nobody sums up what I had been thinking better than one of my favourite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi when she says,
“In our world a man is confident but a woman is arrogant. A man is uncompromising but a woman is a ball breaker. A man is assertive, a woman is aggressive. A man is strategic, a woman is manipulative. A man is a leader, a woman is controlling. A man is authoritative, a woman is annoying. The characteristic or behaviour is the same, what is different is the sex. And based on the sex, the world makes assumptions and the world treats us differently.” – Chimamanda Ngozi in the Chatham House London Conference 2018.
Every time a woman comes out to speak about her rights, she is subjected to negative scrutiny just as Tanushree Dutta is being subjected to now. Instead of letting a woman tell her story, slanderous comments are made against her. She is belittled in every way possible, her accounts questioned. She is labelled as spiteful and out to destroy a man’s reputation. She is made to provide a character certificate because she chose to not coke on the abuse anymore. It’s probably why most women choose not to speak about the abuse they suffer at home or at the workplace because who is going to believe them anyway?
Most of the time when I write about women’s issues or share women-centric content on social media, there is at least one person who labels me angry. Or that because I am a woman I have to keep complaining or as one of the latest comments on one of my posts puts it ‘women will keep whining until the last day‘. You know what makes me angry? Comments such as these, this ignorance and absurdity. Walk a mile in a woman’s shoes and then you’ll know.
Whenever a woman does anything which remotely resembles authority, it is insinuated that she must have periods or mood swings and hence the ‘outburst’.
If we talk about rapes, we whine. If we talk about gaslighting at home or at work, we whine. If we talk about being overlooked at work for promotions or increments owing to being married or mothers or not ‘pretending’ to work till 2 am in the morning, we whine. Any step we take professionally or personally which opposes the tide is seen as wrong. It’s like we just can’t catch a break. I understand that being in a privileged position in society, both at home and at the workplace, as most men are they can’t possibly fathom what we deal with on a day to day basis. But does that give them a right to mock our genuine concerns? Does that give them a right to ignore what we have to say as if we are children who don’t know right from wrong? I think not.
It’s funny how men have a free pass in redeeming themselves in society even if they are accused of rapes or murders. But the rules are very different for a woman. If a woman speaks up, more often than not it is at the cost of her career and her peace of mind. The general disposition that it must be the woman’s fault, or that she’s overreacting doesn’t help either. Also, the unfair conclusion that the woman must be bitter or out to get revenge for not being acknowledged by a man, makes it even worse.
As you read this, two women are being discussed extensively on social media and across news channels. Women, who are in two different continents. Tanushree Dutta and Dr Christine Blasey Ford. But there is a lot in common between them. Both have spoken up about being abused and both are being vilified and mocked. Instead of telling them that we believe you. Instead of telling them, let’s help you gain some closure or let’s help law take its course and the guilty party punished, what are we doing? We are questioning their motives and hurling choicest of abuses at them. We are calling them names like a woman enjoys talking about being abused. But as a society, we have failed them both. And in doing so, we have deterred other women who want to come forward.
Believe her when she speaks. #Women #IBelieveHer Click To Tweet
Let’s assume for a minute that they are wrong, that there is a hidden objective to their coming out in the open. But why are their motives questioned and their accounts rejected even before a proper trial, even before they have had a chance to tell the entire story? Why can’t even women believe their fellow women? Does a man get a free pass for abusing women if he does some charity work in life or if he occupies a powerful position? Or, does a man has to always get away from blemishes on his character no matter what he may have done?
If a woman speaks up, more often than not it is at the cost of her career and her peace of mind. #Woman #IBelieveHer Click To Tweet
Why can’t a woman’s experience be taken as it is instead of the woman being looked through a negative lens? Why is it that a woman has to keep shouting at the top of her voice but still nobody would listen to her because the truth is just so uncomfortable? That abuse happens at the workplace and at homes is not unknown. That most women shirk away from speaking up when abused because the perpetrator is often a powerful male, a male wielding influence is not unknown. Then why can’t we just listen instead of being so vile towards women who find the courage to speak up even if after years?
I think nobody sums up better than Laura Bates when she says,
“As long as we as a society continue to belittle and dismiss women’s accounts, disbelieve and question their stories, and blame them for their own assaults, we are playing right into the hands of those who silence victims by asking: “who would believe you anyway?”.”
As I said before, it’s not only about when a woman talks about being harassed. This kind of vilification is done everytime a woman wields her authority or her choice. When a man oversteps his professional boundaries, it is seen as taking responsibility but for a woman not so much. When a woman calls out to someone who touches her inappropriately in a public place, she is told to not create a scene or to not exaggerate. When a woman reacts to being humiliated in any sphere of her life she is told to not overreact.
It’s 2018 for crying out loud, we are not going to take things lying down whether you like it or not. It’s high time men stop getting away with all that they have been at the cost of women’s rights.
I know there are those who always come up with the point about women falsely accusing men, about men being victims. But to them, I say what Trevor Noah put so very beautifully. Ask the men and women around you these two questions. Ask how many men around you have been falsely accused of something by women. And then ask how many women around have been eve teased, catcalled, abused, harassed and subjected to prejudice owing to their gender. The startling difference between the two should give you the answer as to where you need to focus your attention. The answers should tell you what your conscience should.
So, think carefully about what you are going to do. How are you going to react the next time a woman talks about being abused? How are you going to react when a woman talks about women’s rights or feminism? Are you going to label her angry, spiteful and characterless or are you going to do what is right?
Pic Credit | By Doidam 10 via Shutterstock
This post is part of the #FeministMondays series (previously called #IAmAFeminist series) on the blog. Inspired by a TEDx talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists, I intend to talk about the need for feminism through my posts, posts on my experience and observation as a female. I intend to talk about issues concerning women.
Join me and let’s work towards a world of gender parity. Remember, each voice counts. Tell me your story.