* Interview taken by Archismita Raha, Debomita Sadhu, Siddharth Sonkar, and Shivani Kabra
As we live in the internet era, some people do not want to identify themselves as feminists even though they support women’s rights. In fact, there is even positive backlash in the form of pages like MensXP. Why do you think this is happening?
But that has always been the case. The reason is that women are a subordinated group. They are a group that is not given any dignity. So, standing up for women’s equality, for humanity, is denigrated. So, people who are ambitious do not want to be associated with it. If men approving you is how you get power under male dominance, then identifying with women is disfavoured. I don’t think it is any more with the internet than otherwise.
Surely, every mode of communication plays a role in shaping the discourse. What this means is that there can be more communication between like-minded people and that can exhilarate abuse, and does; but this has also made it possible for women and other subordinated people to find each other and raise their voice in a much more powerful way than it was possible before. Anonymity works both ways you know; it can protect perpetrators, but it also can protect victims.
How do you view the ‘Me Too’ movement? Is it a mere catharsis or is it something more?
It makes harassment public – something that was till now excluded from public view. It means that many more women can see that it isn’t just happening to them, it’s happening to other women as well; and this makes it much harder to continue with the abuse. How many men in the US today do you think feel that they can do the same thing with the women they have been sexually harassing all this time? I have been around some of these men; and I know they are scared. I have seen these men for years; have been around them on Saturdays and Mondays – now they look scared. They knew what they were doing all these years and now they are not doing it. I think that this movement is a very powerful tool for change.
How do we address the inherent power dynamics that exist in an educational institution?
You just have to do it. You need to find enough support around people who want to get this done, ensure that the students find each other when they need, find support from faculty, and find support from lawyers who are not necessarily part of the power structure of the school. There is no magic, but people who are similarly affected need to support each other. Stop living out of fear.
The institutions are responsible for equality in their campuses. I think taking that up is much better than everybody going to the state.
Do you agree that positive sexuality is the contribution of the queer movement? The feminist movement largely looked at sexuality in terms of subversion and not in a positive way traditionally.
That is not true. The women’s movement began opposing sexual abuse in the name of a positive sexuality that could emerge when sexual abuse was not the dominant model. So there has always been a positive view of sexuality at the core of the women’s movement.
Do you think that women’s movement is also about alternate life choices like the queers?
That is about liberalism. It is not fundamental to the women’s movement. It just happens to be that many feminists are also liberals.
What are your comments on the ‘pro-sex’ movement and the curbing of sexuality?
The people actually curbing the power of sexuality are mostly the people who are pro sex as it is currently structured, who are in favour of the sexuality of subordination and domination. They are denying the reality of sexuality. They are not doing anything to end sexual abuse, which is necessary for actually liberating sexuality. You can’t have an authentically liberated sexuality if you are being abused! Behind the denial of abuse, especially in the name of ‘pro sex’, there are many people who are defending rapists, who think sexual harassers are poor unfortunate people called to account for their sexual desires, and that going after rape and prostitution is sexual repression. That’s where the streak is honestly, that’s where the actual fight is being engaged. And you have got to reverse it.
What are your thoughts on the Indian law on martial rape with an exception only for children?
Marital rape needs to be a crime irrespective of age. If somebody is a child, they should not be married anyway. They aren’t old enough to begin with. Sex in marriage with a child is rape. As to adults, there is nothing about marriage that guarantees that sex is equal or mutual. When you have a prohibition on rape in marriage, what it means is no matter how much force is used, it isn’t recognized as rape because of the status of their marital relation. The assumption is that they are intimate but the measure of the intimacy is the measure of the impunity and that needs to end.
Privacy has a way to keep the public-private split, which is to keep the woman subordinated in the private space by saying that if she is being violated there, then going public about it is going to be prohibited. What does that mean? That means all that men have to do is violate women in private and then they are exempted. The public-private split is a fundamental institution of male dominance.
Sexual assault should void privacy. I am not talking about other aspects. I am not saying that government should be able to put surveillance cameras at your house, or that police should be able to enter your house freely. That’s fascist. What I am saying is that as far as the relation between men and women are concerned, the concept of privacy has historically operated to assume that whatever happens in private, it is as if it is equal; as if no one is being hurt in there. That is in fact the primary space where women and children are being hurt. Indeed, not being allowed to be born, being killed at birth, that all happens in this so-called private sphere.
In your works, you advocate for rape jurisprudence to move away from consent. To a layman, this sounds incredibly counter-intuitive. Consent is all pervasive; consent is the determining factor for voting. Can we absolutely disregard consent from rape law?
Consent with regard to whether you are allowed to vote is not about consent. It’s about if you are old enough to vote. When it comes to rape, put age and inequality in rape law for everybody so that it becomes a sliding scale rather than having a system where when you are 17 years 366 days old and the magic that the academics call ‘agency’ descends from the sky on you and all of a sudden you are an adult. It’s nonsense.
So, by denying the idea of consent are we also denying female agency?
Of course, not. It’s life that’s denying females so called ‘agency’, which by the way is postmodern jargon that pretends people have power that they do not have. For example, a girl gets raped. She goes to the state and says ‘I was raped’. Now, if I say, ‘I believe her, she was raped’, am I denying her agency? It seems to me that she exercised her agency by resisting what was being done to her and attempting to hold someone accountable for it. Why isn’t that all of a sudden agency?
The people who invented this slippery piece of postmodern jargon have this so called ‘pro sex’ idea which means to be in favour of dominant subordinate sexuality as it currently exists. That’s the sexuality they are for. In other words, you know a woman in prostitution is apparently exercising a vast amount of sexual agency. Even if she is a victim of intergenerational prostitution of a de-notified class and living on the street; all of a sudden, she has agency. When she is being sold and someone else is pocketing the money, she apparently has agency. Now we know this is what freedom for women looks like. This is what power and expressing it looks like. This is self-actualization, fighting against femininity!
So, rape should be defined through the language of coercion; and for coercion, there is no need for the usage of actual force. It is the inequality that determines coercion. So, a lot of cases of sexual harassment, that includes rape, are not recognized because there was no proof of physical force. Mere presence of a relation of inequality is not what we are looking for; that inequality also needs to be used for being rape.
Does the fact that there are so many diverse views within the feminist movement hamper the ultimate goal of equality? Does it work like ‘divide and rule’?
Not necessarily. I think we should have differences. We just need to see if those differences/divisions have certain people supporting dominant power? And some of them do. It’s basically a career move on their part. I think that should be called out when it is the case. But other than that, there has been a lot of diverse contributions that people are making that are critical of male dominance and that are not there for advancing their own career goals but are actually talking for women in diverse ways. That is a very positive thing to have.
(The interviewers are students of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences and members of the JILS editorial board 2017-18. The interviewee had visited NUJS as a lecturer for the Shri M. K. Nambyar Endowment Lecture 2018.)