Is Rani Mukerji echoing a 'modern' approach to victim-blaming?

If you're teaching women, and not men, how to behave, you are basically defending the status quo.

 |  3-minute read |   31-12-2018
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So, the centuries-old problem of women’s sexual harassment has apparently been solved by actor Rani Mukerji. The solution she offers is simple in its straightforwardness — just train women to fight back.

Speaking at a year-ender panel discussion recently, Rani said that if one woman were to beat a harasser up, he would learn such a lesson, he would never touch another woman. After all, she added, we can’t count on others to be nice to us. Martial arts should be made compulsory in schools. Also, at the end of the day, it’s mothers (and apparently not fathers) who are raising such faulty sons.

Rani is not alone in her views. What she was espousing appears to be the progressives’ approach to victim-blaming.

‘Why did she not fight back?’

‘If a woman is strict enough, no one will dare approach her’

‘Why not slap him right there instead of crying later?’

Many people saying these things genuinely think they believe in women's empowerment. They just want equality to come out of the barrel of a gun.

They are wrong.

First, of course, are the obvious problems — even if a woman is a martial arts champ, there is no guarantee she cannot be overpowered. A five-year-old child being assaulted by her uncle cannot very well kick him expertly and be done with it. If martial arts is to be made compulsory in schools, boys will learn it too. What then happens to Rani’s neat solution?  

Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma tried to reason with Rani, but not too much success. Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma tried to reason with Rani — but not to much success. (Photo: YouTube)

But there are deeper issues here.

First, we seem to want women alone to be responsible for their safety. If she is assaulted, her 'fault' is, she didn’t fight back.

Second, we would rather live in a world where everyone is trained in combat and life is about who can overpower whom physically, instead of teaching men to behave better.

Third, we are pretending that fighting back does not have consequences.  

Tackling sexual harassment is not about who is more powerful physically. It is about centuries of patriarchy teaching people that ‘men will be men’, and that women should take care to not anger/provoke/tease them.

We need to teach people that a woman’s body is hers alone — and everyone, in every situation, must respect that.

When we try to talk about women learning self-defence, we deflect from the core point that a scenario where she needs to defend herself should not be the normal.

Men feel entitled to women’s bodies because patriarchy has taught them sexual gratification is ‘due’ to them, and only certain kinds of women need to be 'respected'. Indeed, Rani’s — and before that, another 90s actor, Preity Zinta’s — views tell us how powerful conditioning can be, where even women blame women for what happens to them. It is this mentality we need to demolish — and Krav Maga can’t do that.  

Rani Mukarji and Preity Zinta's views prove how powerful patriarchal conditioning is. Rani Mukarji and Preity Zinta's views prove how powerful patriarchal conditioning is.

Also, speaking out or fighting back are not exactly easy options. It invites instant — and brutal — backlash. ‘Punishment’ varies from malicious gossip to character assassination to acid attacks to murder. When the offender is a family member, or socially or professionally more powerful than the attacked woman, 'fighting back' becomes that much more dangerous.    

Knowing martial arts is not much use in a world where fighting back can mean losing your job, your ‘reputation’, your life.

Our society is built by people like us. Instead of making counterintuitive and insidious arguments about what women should do, the good folks of the world need to come together and focus on what men should not do.

If you are doing anything else, you are not working to build a fair world. You are coming up with ways to defend the status quo.

Of course, it's likely Rani Mukerji was also trying to promote Mardaani.

But what’s your excuse?

Also read: How Dipika Kakar beat the odds to win 'Bigg Boss 12'

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