The corrosive drip of bravery on woman power

caricature of a hand pulling the pallu of a woman in sari

Understand what we are doing when we call the Mumbai rape victim brave. It is not bravery to do something you know you can do. You are brave when you do not know if you can do something that you must do. Something that is beyond your ability. To call the Mumbai gang rape victim “brave” is an insult to her and an unnecessary deterrent to exercise of woman power – even if you don’t mean it like that.

Here was a woman who, by all accounts showed tremendous presence of mind to observe her attackers well enough for the police to be able to get  very accurate drawings in what otherwise is looking like a crime without witnesses. After the rape, she got herself to a hospital so that the doctors could collect evidence accurately. Both she and her colleague, from all accounts sound like people who acted in an extremely pragmatic manner, and I think it is high time the country responded with the same.

Every action of the Mumbai gang rape victim screams of woman power. One who knows her rights and has no hesitation in ensuring that her rapists are brought to justice and from all accounts does not seem to be on any kind of self-blame/shame trip. I have no idea why people insist on seeing her as a helpless woman doing something extraordinary rather than an empowered woman who was able to deal with trauma with minimum self-flagellation. I think this is about the corrosive moral expectations we have from women.

It is our patriarchal default to see a woman who gets raped as helpless, incapable of dealing with the trauma, for whom finding a hospital in a city she knows will suddenly become an insurmountable task, because she cannot really be in public, you know? It is not acceptable to our primitive little brains that a rape victim does not drop everything she is and pretend to be invisible. That she can be so audacious as to not feel shame of the wrong that has happened to her.

It is our supposed protectiveness that we “understand” how difficult this must be for her. Because…. here’s the list:

  • Her modesty has been violated.
  • Not just once, but multiple times.
  • With multiple men
  • The man who was with her was a witness to her “degradation”
  • [insert random nonsense of choice]

Get this straight. What we tell rape victims needs to be told for all the patronizing, sickeningly sweet people who seem to think her destroyed by this, which is why every action of hers is suddenly beyond her ability and thus monumental bravery.

Rape is not her shame.

Nothing prevents her from reporting a rape, just like nothing prevents her from reporting a chain snatching or domestic violence. This is her right. And she has clearly exerted it without difficulty. So where is your problem?

[Tweet “A violated woman is supposed to be waiting modestly to be rescued and not brazenly rescuing herself”]

I’ll tell you. They are coming from your own hang ups with women’s sexual “purity”. Your own belief about how decimated a rape victim is because of what happened. Your own investment in the worth and ability of a woman based on her remaining un-violated. A violated woman is supposed to be waiting modestly to be rescued and not brazenly rescuing herself, because that would simply be too forward for microscopic brains. She must be really brave to not hide quietly.

Well, I have news for you. There are luckily many women who are running their lives competently, including coping with disasters that befall them. They know that a moment of defeat and harm is not a lifetime of being inferior. They know that bad problems can be fixed. They know that law will punish anyone who harms them. This confidence, in fact is what people working for women power are working toward – the lack of stigma for rape.

Bravery is not in doing what you know you can do, even if it is unpleasant. The bravery happens when the girl believes herself destroyed and then has to face the world as a destroyed person. This woman was not it. And I for one am glad.

Bravery is when you face overwhelming odds that you do not know if you have ability for. Confidence is when you act in your interest knowing that you can do it. This is an important distinction.

The word you are looking for is confidence. Confidence in a very difficult time. Confidence to seek help and be open and informative enough that it is very effective. Cool enough in crisis to be thinking on her feet through a rape already planning justice, observing details to put the rapists behind bars. Confidence enough to not see a moment of being overpowered as a destruction of self.

It is her intellect that must be admired for her observations, her prioritization of action. She went to the hospital rather than the police – which is the correct thing to do. The hospital will alert the police, but time wasted in collecting evidence of the rape can mean less evidence. Not many rape victims have the knowledge or presence of mind to realize this.

But we simply are not used to seeing a raped woman as an intelligent warrior already seeking justice as she falls. Because we are not used to supporting a woman who will not be silenced by anything remotely related with her modesty being less than perfect. For us to feel compassion, we need the victim to be helpless, so that when she recovers, we can go back to seeing her as something less for being raped. Social stigmas die hard. Even when we try to be different, we act the same scripts we have been absorbing over our lives.

The fastest way to snatch away rights is to project them as abnormal.

The message is that normal women would feel overwhelmed by this and would not be able to approach a hospital (which to prehistoric minds only means “talk about own rape without dying of shame”) – which is complete bullshit.

[Tweet “What is achieved by creating a mass delusion that normal women don’t report rapes?”]

Anyone needing help can approach a hospital, even if it gets embarrassing to talk about things they are not used to telling strangers. Nothing prevents it, no insurmountable barriers prevent access, and if they face difficulty, it is the system and society at fault, not them. It does not take bravery or anything more than needing help and every woman in need must unhesitatingly reach for help, just like this woman did. She is a role model, not exception.

What is achieved by creating a mass delusion that normal women don’t report rapes? Why the need to project that reporting a rape after being raped may be too much? It isn’t even true. there are thousands of rapes reported every year, and reporting rape is where recovery starts too. The letting go of shame, the professional assistance for it, the seeking of justice. It is not necessarily easier to suffer a rape and suffocate in silence secretly and nothing is achieved by perpetuating this myth.

“Normal society” must stop stigmatizing important and routine processes for seeking justice after suffering harm.

Understand that no matter how much you fix law and order, rapes will still happen. While the larger point is better prevention and prosecution and punishment, the immediate point for women is that their lives must not be damaged by it as far as possible. In my view, this “victim” is our hope for a future of empowered women who can pick themselves up and dust off adversity and move on without patriarchal baggage about their self-worth and permanent damage to identity and so on.

[Tweet “Not because they are brave or are not brave, but they don’t have to be.”]

They have rights, they have assistance and they are more than a crime they couldn’t prevent. Help is on hand that does not require any super powers. They have knowledge that lets them seek it in a way that is most effective. Not helpless victims, but competent women capable of exerting their rights to deal with what would have devastated lesser empowered women – without breaking stride. We should be on our knees in gratitude, not seeking obstacles to make her story fit an old and ugly mold.

The rape victim is talking of getting back to work. This is not her “bravery”, but her sense of purpose with what is important to her that does not have time to wallow in things that have no relevance to who she really is. There is no requirement for her to get back to work urgently. I dare say after all the media headlines, no one would be forcing her to return to work. She wants to get back to work. [Tweet “Are you recovered from her trauma enough to cope with her not being permanently damaged by it?”]

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About the Author

Vidyut
Vidyut is a blogger on issues of National interest. Staunch advocate of rights, learning and freedoms. @Vidyut

3 Comments on "The corrosive drip of bravery on woman power"

  1. Now they are nabbed they must be hanged in public park within 2 weeks thru fast court case and no mercy be given .Howver if they are dragged in courts for months its no use.

  2. Now they are nabbed they must be hanged in public park within 2 weeks thru fast court case and no mercy be given .Howver if they are dragged in courts for months its no use. Read how Civil Society dealt reape cases in fiction “The War of Middle Class ” written by me .

  3. Mahima Bhargava | August 25, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Reply

    You have put everything here that I wanted to yell at media and people bravoing her with special mention of her will to return to her work etc. Same are my feelings when ‘Nirbhaya’ was given this name, it gives an expression that she was fearless when she was actually supposed to be in fear.
    Role model is the right word that you have used here, I hope everyone starts seeing her as a ‘normal’ person and not like some goddess, after all isn’t it easier to emulate a mere mortal than a goddess.

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