Neither Madonna nor Whore

 

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Category: Women 06 Apr 14

 

Dear Sacha, I don’t know you but evidently you are a clever, capable, accomplished, independent woman. A petite former beauty queen powerhouse in a man’s world who has busted stereotypes and has no need for archetypal labels. Neither madonna nor whore. Like the old Virginia Slims ad: A girl who has come such a long way, baby, that you could be anything you wanted.

You didn’t have to be butch, matronly, or old to be up there with one of the big boys. And yes, it’s you we were talking about at the hairdresser the other day. How proud we are of you. When, after a government minister, Chandresh Sharma, reportedly slapped, then pushed you against a car, instead of whimpering, cowed by power, you stood up for yourself, reported the slap, the push that made you blackout. I’m impressed. I see my younger self in you, the self I wish I had the confidence to be then.

I cringe at my younger self. I sat in offices with powerful people, invariably older men, and pretended to find their bombastic, sexist jokes funny. Dumbing down, limiting my vocabulary, hiding my brain behind pink lipstick, resisting the urge to smack leering men—with poor grammar, yellow teeth, deep pockets and power to shape my career— smirking at my legs. I associated being feminine with weakness, having babies as a liability.

The minister denied everything. Mysteriously, private seminude photographs of you sent to your boyfriend were released on the Internet. To look at you, one would think you were made of steel. But we know you’re human. This hurts badly. Your dignity is bruised. I hope you were encouraged to be brave by flight attendant Ronelle Laidlow, who was allegedly threatened with losing her job and got felt up by another government minister, Glenn Ramadharsingh, and reported him. People like Sat Maharaj—to whom entire communities look for guidance—dismissed a reported slap on a woman’s face and shoving her so hard she blacked out, as a “private marital matter.” Women who still feel powerless in their lives and dependent on men to get ahead herded together to throw darts at you for “moral” reasons, while, immorally, not recognising that yes, you could have been killed with that knock to your head.

Many men—owing to your beauty, independence and the fact that you wouldn’t look at them twice—tried to degrade and dehumanise you by salivating over you. Human hearts are tangled and mangled because we are complicated; but freedom from fear is a basic human right, and slapping someone or pushing them is a violation of a human right.

Instead of crumbling in shame at the images of you being circulated amongst shameless, salacious men in this country who do nothing to protect women, you held a press conference, claiming a smear campaign, making no apologies for the photos you sent your boyfriend as your inalienable right to privacy, and calling on the Prime Minister as a woman to protect you.

Brilliant.

How the talk of you came up at the hairdresser: As I walked into the salon my hairdresser—I’ll call her Susan— expertly spun around a middleaged, very attractive woman to face the mirror. But there was something wrong with her. She had a cast on her arm. She said she “fell.” Even after the haircut that would have any woman bouncing out of the door with confidence, she quietly asked with downcast eyes if she could sit down in the lounge for a bit.

There was a good chance she hadn’t fallen. That someone did this to her. That this salon with women became her refuge for a few minutes. While Susan lathered, conditioned and blow-dried my hair, Susan told me about her mother. Her father drank, womanised and spent almost a decade beating her mother senseless.

The incidents spilled out: the time her father threw her mother against the fridge; splattered blood on the TV when he threw it at her; dumped the hot meal which he said had too much salt over her mother: gravy, meat, vegetables, lovingly prepared, pouring down her face like sewage; questioned about a woman, decided he would drag her down the hill like a rag doll, her body rolling in cement, stone and broken glass.

She ended the story with a sudden murderous glassy look in her eyes. “Nobody is going to ever hit me. If they do, forget the police. I will kill them. See all those little girls growing up seeing their fathers or any man beating, abusing, shouting at their mothers and other women in their lives? Guess what? They’ve grown up.”

In a week, two separate women cut the careers of two powerful men to shreds; men who, oddly, while protesting their innocence, resigned; meaning there was too much egg on their faces to do otherwise. The latest shot of you in a smart, long-sleeved form-fitting sexy black dress, smiling and walking towards your shiny car in the sunshine with your head held high, warmed my heart.

You’re a fighter. And you won’t let them see you cry.

Meanwhile, the older woman with the lovely haircut: where is she? You did this for her, and for another generation of women. You helped men to think twice before they physically, verbally or sexually abuse a woman. Bravo.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur