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An outrageous, but somewhat predictable editorial malfunction in India Today led to some confusion about whether the magazine wants to object to objectification of women or encourage it.

Sex sells, so sell it

As everyone knows, India Today has difficulty selling content and must rely on pictures of scantily dressed women to attract readers, who, of course come there for the content. But things went a bit too far when the survival mechanism provided a collection of "wardrobe malfunctions" of 2013 - which predictably had little to do with the clothes in question and were more about parts of the body even risky clothes intended to keep covered getting accidentally exposed.

I think the note telling men that it was a new year gift to compensate for an otherwise rough year that saw them deprived of acceptance for a good lot of "fun" went missing somewhere. Regardless, I'm sure readers get the message loud and clear. Don't misbehave with women, but if they wear clothes that accidentally display interesting bits, it is quite fashionable to create a show out of it.

Not being the kind of people who'd drape their own shirt over a woman unwillingly bared, India Today decided to topple off to the other side. Surely a woman accidentally showing more of her body means she wants people to stare at it, yes? Isn't this what every red blooded mard should do?

editorial malfunction <strong class='StrictlyAutoTagBold'>India</strong> Today

Essentially, India Today has "packaged" opportunities to lech at women. While the actual "malfunction" can't be shown, nothing prevents showing the clothes, explaining what happened, and leaving it to lecherous imaginations, right?

So, while media may be "leading" the fight against sexual exploitation of women, apparently expecting them to not create special packages for lechers is a bit too much. After all, it is the lechery that is bad. Cataloguing missed opportunities of getting an eye full is journalism.

Wardrobes may have malfunctioned, or it may simply be clothes that ended up revealing more than designed, but the editorial malfunction at India Today seems to be by design.

Or perhaps, India Today has had enough of objecting to objectification of women.

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On comments and other dialogue around the slutwalk think this is a misguided movement. Never mind that it spread like wildfire around the world because people saw its significance. "misguided" is an incredibly patronizing way to describe what essentially amounts to a difference of opinion. It is quite unrealistic as well, to assume that people who have devoted significant amounts of time thinking about the protest, its impact, its need, its origin, its name..... are somehow stupider than you, because you have decided. This is not a voice of wisdom, and it polarizes a dialogue, where the core need for greater dignity is actually not disputed at all. I hope people are better able to verbalize specifics, so that we all gain from the thoughts and conversations generated.

The assumptions that there will be women in various stages of nudity is something I find really strange. But even if it were true, clothes used AS a protest certainly cannot be called daily wear. I cannot imagine how people think that their world is going to be flooded with women flaunting skimpily dressed bodies and invading their space. Really, this is the realm of wishful thinking. Where are these women going to come from? Who are these women going to be who will overnight change their fear for safety to become provoking?

There are those fixated on what the walk is not. For example, it does not do anything for the minorities. Or that the Dantewada women gain nothing from this. Or vicious contempt that it is a "middle-class" thing of no use to the poor. I'd like to respond that middle-class women are people too. They have every right to protest something that is an issue for them. It is not their responsibility to protest every injustice against women ever in this country. As far as I know, the slutwalk is extremely inclusive of gender, caste, class, age, etc. I accept that some women from minority communities or repressed lower class/caste communities may not feel comfortable attending. The critics miss the point. The protest is still useful for a massive number of women, and the social change it aims for helps all women in the society, not just those who walked. If the streets become safer, even a little, even lower class women who did not feel comfortable attending the walk are safer.

The other thing is about villages and small towns where the protest doesn't reach. I think this is flat out wrong. Thoughts percolate. Delhi took the initiative, now there are noises in Mumbai about a slutwalk. Soon other cities may follow. If big cities do it, in a couple of years, larger towns may think of organizing their own, and so on. The other difference is that the big cities also are houses of media, which is a very big factor in influencing thought. If the media in the cities finds value in evolving attitudes toward women, those attitudes are going to reach in different forms to homes across the country - through the kind of stories of films, language used in soap operas, sensitivity shown in news reporting, coverage of the walks, debates and discussions on TV.... the possibilities are endless. It is futile to expect a switch be thrown that updates the entire country in one shot, and it is futile to say it will have no impact just because other areas are not directly addressed. We, as a country are connected. Thoughts travel.

The protest is that women DON'T need to be provoking to be objectified and abused, and the comments certainly seem to be illustrating the point. I am yet to find a single supporter of the slutwalk saying that the streets should be filled with near naked women. It is a tribute to the nudity obsessed mind that a stray mention in the variety of clothes possible has been made into the uniform, or that of all the hundreds of pictures of slutwalks around the world, the only ones being reacted to are ones with skimpily dressed women.

I have written extensively in support of the walk and I remain convinced that no matter what the result, it is still a step ahead. I am not a feminist. I am a believer that hidden dysfunctional dynamics in our society need to be brought on the table for change to happen - for men, women, kids, politics, terrorism, education, police, healthcare.... anything. Wrong doings thrive out of sight. I don't see this as a "women's issue" at all. I see this as a big social concern - an increasingly unsafe, judgmental and intolerant environment. And women may be its most common victims, but the decay ranges from politics to education. The questioning of the right to pass judgments is going to create awareness on judgments in other areas too (a guess based on my study of people, not data)

About the name, I think the name needs to be one used as a judgment. This is a protest, not a popularity contest. If naari shakti variety names were reality, the protest would not be needed at all. If calling to naari shakti type attitudes were effective, the protest wouldn't be needed either. We have been tossing rhetoric about women's power for ages. Everything should have been sorted, no? No. It takes all kinds of messages to reach all kinds of people. The protest takes the reality happening in streets, trains, buses, homes, markets, offices, colleges.... and places it firmly in public view. Look. this is happening.

There is no one format that says, "Look, this is how you should protest, and no other". For those stuck on the idea of nudity and it creating a dangerous world seriously need to read up on the twelve Manupuri activists defiantly stripped naked to protest rapes by the Indian Army. Yes. Totally naked, on the street. According to your logic, Manipur would be the rape capital of India. Not true. Statistics show that that one protest was more effective than anything else done so far. And yes, for those who don't know, Manipur IS in India. This is not an imported "neo-feminist farce".

The discomfort is natural when a massive bluff is called. the bluff that women are respected, when they are not. There is similar discomfort around other massive calls to face reality. I see it as a good sign, because the message is reaching, even if it isn't understood yet.

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Patterns of assumptions and stereotypes manipulate collective responses. Patterns based on things we refuse to acknowledge or even are aware of. "Strong man", "Caring mother", "damsel in distress", "hen pecked", "old coot", "shrew" and more aren't just common terms, they are common ways in which we see people and there are patterns. There are scales of gender, power and fear for everyone.

To see the astonishing impact for yourselves, observe a group discussion in any group - no matter how "equal". Observe when decisions are made. Sure, everyone is speaking freely, listening attentively, regardless of gender. But here is what you will see. It will be the voice of the powerful male in the group expressing an opinion, post which the matter will seem concluded. Consciously observing, as you are, you might even find really astounding moments, when most people in the group may disagree with him, yet they will be left accepting this conclusion. And no, it makes no difference if you point this out. They can't "stop" - you will STILL observe the same pattern.

There are many, many such ways where we can quickly get an understanding of what our unconscious beliefs are, from how they manifest. Specially visible when "logic" was actually going in another direction.

I'm not blaming men or anything. They are doing it as unconsciously as those following them.

Five predictions:

  • A woman will have to fight very, very hard to get her stand accepted as a decision, something a man will be able to shake with a careless word.
  • Observe who was the last person to speak in favor of a certain action before it got adopted, and you will know who holds the string of the group.
  • A single woman disagreeing in a group is likely to be ignored. A single man disagreeing in a group is likely to be convinced.
  • Women are cannon-fodder. In a high risk situation, a woman are likely to be the leaders, till more is known, and men takes over with "expertise".
  • When members of the group are speaking to a group, check their eyes to know who they are speaking to. Likely male.

You can tell the group you are observing them for these five things, and you will STILL be able to see them. Unconscious processes are, d'uh, not conscious. Can't be changed, only accepted, and they evolve if thinking changes. They can't be "acted out" - they are too spontaneous and all pervading. Once you see it, you'll see it everywhere, including yourself.

See who interrupts whom, who overrules whom, who may judge others without causing offense, and the map of power in any group of people is clear.

You can have an organization with the most women and with the most women speaking that is led by a man or a few men who have the last word. A notorious example to come to mind is the women's group Femen - that does nude or topless protests to draw attention to women's rights. Inspired and controlled by a man, femen does not accept protesters that don't fit their target body "look".

Countless political parties - even led by women at times fail to challenge problems faced by women when it comes to challenging male behavior. Sonia Gandhi had infamously responded with what seemed to be genuine anger when women workers of the Congress complained about sexual harassment within the party by leaders. From declaring that she would remove anyone found guilty to vanishing into the depths of everyone's memory has been a telling statement of how much power a woman can wield when it comes to wielding it against the male privilege.

Women are increasingly taking on more power in the world, and its a large scale observation you can make - becoming professional, influential, powerful, etc invariably accompanies many male influences - be it power suits, or coarser language. Increasingly, women are smoking - something that used to be a male thing. Short hair often coincides with increased "professionalism". Show me the liberated man who exercises his right to wear a skirt to work.

Quick Quiz: For a man to wear feminine clothing is an undermining of his mascilinity, so, for a woman to wear masculine clothing is.... what? Speak louder, I can't hear you!

I venture to say here, that somewhere in our minds, we associate the male with power and influence. Our so called liberation is also another subjugation by deeming the feminine not good enough in terms of betterment in life.

Think of all the women of power that you admire. Imagine them. What do you notice? Is it anything feminine? Or is it the successful integration of masculine traits?

Many women are deeply disturbed when I say this. They are the ones still fighting a failing struggle for their femininity. They still haven't pushed their instinctive responses far enough back in their mind to forget them altogether. Words like this make them feel a sense of helpless loss.

[From an email]

"All this struggle to become equals.... its false, isn't it? We are only struggling among ourselves to become better than other women at aping men."

Our gold standard is men. Ambitions of women empowerment begin and end with measuring them against men. Same rights, same privileges, same freedoms, etc etc. As though there is something to be envied about the largely insecure and increasingly incompetent male population these days.

I don't hate men. Love them in fact, but I don't believe they are paragons, and I am not blind to the emotional challenge to the whole masculine identity that "development" brings. They are as insecure as we are, because of these same facades. What we get overruled for, they get overburdened with. Everyone in over their heads. Low honesty. Lots of defensive judgments of others, particularly for being different. The problems happen when this inherent bias gets exploited to harm women because the odds then really get stacked against the women. Which is why, even when we are all humans, have emotions, feelings, etc the list of injustices against women for being women far outdistances injustices against men for being men.

A mistaken war of genders starts, where men oppose attempts to create space for justice by magnifying their own experienced suffering. this is as much an attempt to relate as feeling ignored, but it serves to sabotage the well being of women, because these objections too come with the bias heavily supporting the man's word. Hurt men feel victimized, and abusers enjoy the screen.

Other times, people mistakenly attempt to create justice by setting "equal" standards. This is of course trying to create for women, the "gold" standard of men.

In the times of my life when I was able to set my own standards of what would be good and right in my life, I achieved exceptional things. I led a nomadic life, I had affairs, I lived in the high Himalaya, bred horses, trekked in exotic lands, healed animals, I did all kinds of things men wouldn't have dreamed of. If my ambition was to arrive at that gold standard, I'd have missed out on a lot.

When our goals are our own, there is no insecurity, because they are real, meaningful, and look doable from where we stand, because they are measured in effort, not result. Our relationships prosper. No longer is another woman quietly measured in a race for power. No longer is a man someone to win the approval of.

Someone today called me a feminist. It is as appropriate as calling me an atheist. As a compliment, both are equally irrelevant, because they talk of things I'm not interested in. If it comes to being on the side of an issue, that is where I am. Normally? No.

A kind of enemy's enemy is my friend? No! I'm not against either God or Man. Let them do what they will. My purpose emerges from within me. I'm free.

By free, I don't mean that I never fall into this unconscious subjugation. Of course I do, like every other person, unless they grew on some island alone. By free, I mean that by acknowledging it, by accepting it, I free myself to unhesitatingly accept when I do it, and if it is dysfunctional, I am able to move on without feeling "wrong".

I find that men are often much more tuned to femininity than women are. Possibly because they are interested in women, and not men. In many ways men suffer this progress more, because they are the gold standard, but their world is increasingly cracked in many places. The overt, spectacular privilige of being a man, of receiving unquestioning service and nurture is eroding, but they are privileged still - only in ways that don't feel enough. They don't FEEL privileged. I have lost count of the number of men who speak less than happily about modern trends in thought for women, which is a caveman thought on a superficial level, but on an experiential level, there is little of the feminine self to gravitate to. In their words, I hear deprivation and abandonment under those sarcastic, defensive layers of protection of their vulnerability. What does it mean to be a man, if no woman with awareness of her womanhood is around?

And men are going through challenging times. Not only do the women do whatever they want, they wear whatever they want, get maternal leave without scolding, earn and contribute to household incomes as much if not more, are fine managing their kitchens, and can speak their needs easily. Their traditional role is changed, but the measures of self-worth remain and are increasingly taken to higher standards.

So here's the deal.

I am hoping for more freedom for women.. After being overtly suppressed for centuries, it is natural, but not necessary to spend another while quietly imitating in order to feel empowered.

Its like the Elephant, who as a calf was tied with a string and as an adult was perfectly capable of breaking the string, but believed that it was his limit.

Please note before you argue that village women suffer a lot, etc. This article is specifically speaking of women in a certain "development hit" environment, where their potential to celebrate the opportunities available to them is vastly undermined by the assumptions still caging them in. But the circumstances are certainly there.