Thursday, March 30, 2017

Battle of Legs?

Every once in a while, an incident washes up our shores where the dominant social order reflects in our social behaviour. Recently when the British PM, Theresa May met Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, the front page of Daily Mail read ‘Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it’. It didn’t take long for the media to swerve in the familiar path of misogyny. The focus was on their nude stockings, red nail paint, pointed stilettos and crossed legs. The paper indulged in an ogling spree, calling them the finest weapons at their physical arsenal. 

‘Finest weapons at their command? Those pins!’

The article referred to one pair of legs as ‘long extremities, demurely arranged’ and the other pair as ‘flirty, tantalizingly crossed….a direct attempt at seduction.’ Poor Theresa and Nicola! They had to use their legs instead of brains to resolve the complicated Brexit issue. Yes, Theresa May has legs. So did Tony Blair. Even Obama. Trump has legs too.

Let’s play fair. The article was written by Sarah Vine, a woman journalist who defended by saying it was a ‘fun piece’. If David Cameron can be mocked for looking portly, why cry ‘sexism’ when the shoe is on the other foot? Equality, after all, cuts both ways, she asked.
Well, the columnist has her right to pen a ‘fun piece’ and indulge in what she finds funny. And some scrutiny of public figures is natural, even expected and overlooked. But I doubt if the paper would joke about David Cameron’s paunch or a receding hairline on the front page featuring a strategic meeting. This is not to wish that Cameron should have been treated the same way but the fact that he wasn’t smacks of duplicity.

Anyway, this is not the first. In keeping with the double standards, the US Presidential campaign was a text book case of misogyny. Little surprise that during the campaign, top sellers included misogynist goodies with lines like, ‘Hillary will go down faster than Bill’s pants. Trump that Bitch. Good Luck Hillary, don’t blow the job.’ In addition to that, cable news made jokes about how Hillary’s voice made men cross their legs. And what’s more, Reddit groups repeatedly laughed about Clinton supporters voting with their vaginas. Flip the coin and wonder what Trump supporters voted with, eh? 

It’s an unending series. I remember when French girl, Marion Bartoli climbed through the crowds to hug her father after winning the title, a Radio 5 live commentator thought it was the right moment to say, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘you are never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?” Rather nauseatingly, the commentator didn’t have anything to say about Andy Murray’s face, but he was deeply disturbed by Bartoli’s looks. As it happens, social media took it a step ahead. A blogger taunted, calling Bartoli ‘too ugly to rape’. Suddenly her accomplishment paled in comparison to her appearance.
The sub-text was obvious. Sexism. 

It was same old ditty, albeit with different lyrics when Serena Williams won a title. She was body shamed for showing her nipples. In fact a twitter poll asked how many saw Serena get 'hard' while playing and 71% responded in the affirmative.
 Whether it’s Serena Williams, Sania Mirza or Smriti Irani, every time a powerful woman makes a point, it disturbs the dominant social order. Rather inadvertently, successful women get shamed socially in order to keep them in their ‘place’. And hell hath no fury, if a woman achiever like Kangana Ranaut asserts herself. Then she’s playing a ‘woman’s card’. Bring on her periods, her past affairs and tell her to leave the kitchen if she can’t face the heat. 

All said, it’s a fact that women are judged for their appearances. Both, by men and women. It’s so deep seated that we don’t even realize how it becomes a part of our psyche. More often than not, each time a woman achiever asserts her position, the dominant social order comes into play by pronouncing judgment. Sometimes in the name of safe-guarding community interests. Sometimes in the name of making jokes. And sometimes in the name of free speech. Excellence, as Oprah says, is the best deterrent. 

Photo Courtesy: Guardian News


  1. Well said , but no matter how societies evolve, some things especially sexism remain unchanged. Also, it reminds me that women are perhaps the worst enemy of other women:)

  2. This casual sexism is so rampant, most don't even realise it till it's pointed out to them. But I'm glad this is no longer accepted as normal and something women have to put up with.

  3. You are right Alka....Thats why I dont totally agree with posts that talk that women empowerment is lacking only in India....Its there everywhere.....On the other hand these kind of articles only show the limited thinking capabilities of the journalists and their narrowest mindedness aka dumbness .....Even during such serious discussions what matters to her is the red nail polish and pointed stillettos....

  4. I have come to the conclusion that misogyny is a biological compulsion. To get men to stop judging women for their physical traits, despite all the success they make have, is like reversing the effect of human genes.
    One can only educate to make the problem less pronounced. But eradicating it is perhaps a lost cause.

  5. A very incisive piece.Says a lot about this dratted misogyny and the low tricks some journalists play.

  6. Seriously? Men don't have legs or what? I don't know why they focus on these things instead of their brilliance...In a way, I feel glad I am not following political news or for that matter any news as much as I used to. Sometimes, I feel like yelling, Grow up people. I know they won't.

  7. Very well put Alka.Terse and to the point.Sexism abounds everywhere.The more powerful you become, the more it stalks. Women doing this to other women...well, I think we are our biggest enemies.

  8. Alka, nearly everyone near and dear to me is a female (I will spare you the list) so I am seriously partial to womankind. Biases apart, I have found women are by and large a notch higher in sincerity, faithfulness, competence and dependability, both in official and social circumstances. They can get fierce too if they choose to be so. Those incidents you have highlighted are atrocious, unacceptable, reprehensible and in extreme poor taste.