Feminism & The Cult of Silence

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that there is a ‘cult of silence’ in the country and the society you live in, especially for issues involving women’s position in society and their rights? If yes, then what are the specific issues? Is it harmful? In what way?

SANGEETA: Oppression and abuse over the years has led women into a shell, the shaming of women by the abusers, the social ostracism, has all led to a "cult of silence". The silence is not specific to any one country or culture. The lack of education, absence of financial empowerment, more so in rural areas, and years of living in a patriarchal society has made women silent spectators of their own situation in life. The ' cult of silence' comes from a sense of fear, hopelessness and powerlessness. A woman is taught to “ignore” the cat calls she faces on the street. It is given the docile name of eve teasing, when what is actually happening is mental harassment. All women have unspoken rules they follow in public spaces- and they all contribute to the culture of silence, in which women adjust their lifestyles to protect themselves from violations by men

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that there has always been a cult of silence in human societies regarding certain issues? If yes, then for what reasons? Do you think that it is actually a good thing to perpetuate such a practice? Please tell us know why.

SANGEETA: Human society is the story of two groups of power. The more powerful people have always been at an advantageous position in life. Power eventually corrupts the mind, therefore the other section of people who are not equally powerful suffer at the hands of power. This can be seen from the smallest family structure to the biggest social structure. The silence is a by-product of oppression and social injustice in any form. The culture of silence is broken when there is an acknowledgement of the subjugation of a group in society and there are open discussions about it in the public narrative. However, the public narrative is itself framed by the powerful groups who invariably benefit from the privilege that comes with the “culture of silence”. This is true for any kind of marginalization, be it based on gender, caste, or religion. Of course perpetuating this culture isn’t desirable because it keeps the hypocrisies of society comfortably hidden and doesn’t allow for rights of a significant portion of the population to be realized.

SONGSOPTOK: Is there a feminist movement in your country? If yes, then what are the specific objectives? In your opinion, is it necessary? If not, then what are the main reasons for its absence?

SANGEETA: A feminist movement is about a thought process which starts as a form of protest against gender discrimination that has been happening for several hundred years. This particular thought process isn’t country specific. It is about women, and wherever men and women have stood up for themselves- the movement exists. It is not bound by time or geography. In today’s world equality to education, job and healthcare are a given mandatory in any civilized society. However, very few countries can claim to provide equitable access and opportunities to all citizens. Oppression that happens behind closed doors, in the name of family values or faith system that is disturbing. The abuse or discrimination is often silenced in fear of shame or social stigma. The voice that stands against abuse should not be gender specific, it should be the voice of the people who are in the true sense educated and liberated in their thoughts and beliefs. The objective of this movement should be the conscious awareness in the minds of people to give women equal respect, opportunity, and freedom to live by her own independent choices which she makes as a responsible adult. There is a growing population of people in India who believe in these ideals and are speaking out, and thereby contributing to rekindling the pre-Independence feminist movement in India

SONGSOPTOK: What, in your opinion, is the position of women in the country you live in? Do they have equal rights in every domain as men? If not, then which are the main areas where they receive unequal treatment?

SANGEETA: India has one of the lowest representation of women in Parliament in the world, our female participation in the workforce is 27% and the gender wage gap is a real problem. There are millions of women who silently suffer oppression and abuse. Marital rape is still not a legal offence in India. Even if you consider the most liberated, educated, urban women who live in a world where they have a voice, and have the opportunities to make choices, they lack the basic right to safe public spaces. Thus, if we want to give a generalized answer, then no, women in India do not have equal rights as men.

SONGSOPTOK: A ‘glass ceiling’ is a metaphor used to represent an invisible barrier that keeps women from rising beyond a certain level in a hierarchy. Do you believe in this concept? What is your personal experience in your personal and professional life? In the country you live in are there glass ceilings in different professions?

SANGEETA: Opportunity for women in different professions is expanding in today's world. But the ratio of women in the workforce is still extremely low. Only 3 in every 100 CEOs in India are women. Thus, the glass ceiling is a very real problem.  According to a report, the gender wage gap in the IT sector is 34 percent. Once we see that more and more women are entering different professions and narrowing down the ratio then will be the true test of ' glass ceiling '.

SONGSOPTOK: A recent study (conducted by HuffPost/YouGov) concluded that only 20% of Americans identify as feminists, even though a whopping 82% believe that "men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” Do you find this contradictory, and if so, why? What, according to you, would be the result of a similar study in the country you live in? For what reasons?

SANGEETA: The word “feminist” has somehow become a bad word because of its misrepresentation in the public narrative. A lot of it comes from people who feel uncomfortable with honest discussions about equal rights. However, just identifying as a feminist does no good. Many people may not be vocal about their ideology, but if actions speak louder than words then the change will happen with or without the tag of being a feminist.

SONGSOPTOK: One of the main areas of the feminist movement is sexual objectification of women almost all across the globe, especially on media. What is the reality in the country you live in and / or your country of origin? What is your opinion about this? Do you think that there is a cult of silence around this issue? Why?

SANGEETA: Objectification of women still exists in all countries and cultures and my country is no different, perhaps the degree varies from place to place. The film industry with its “item numbers” further perpetuates this objectification

SONGSOPTOK: Finally, according to you, to what extent is feminism relevant in today’s society?

SANGEETA: Ideally speaking we should have overcome issues and situations which led to the birth of feminism years ago. It is shameful that on one hand we take pride in being a civilized, democratic society and on the other hand the need for a feminist movement still exists. The change is long overdue. Men and women are equally responsible in this huge need of a changed mind set. It is high time we give women in our society the fundamental right to equality.

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope to have your continued support.
Aparajita Sen


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