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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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41 Responses

  1. Cade DeBois (@lifepostepic)
    Cade DeBois (@lifepostepic) January 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm |

    I don’t know what exactly Graff means by “sex-selective abortions that delete women before they are born”–the troubling anti-choice propagandistic/possibly racist and colonist rhetoric embedded in that statement aside, is this something pervasive in Indian culture specifically, and has this been studied/documented? And are these women who feel so utterly powerless that they are choosing to abort future daughters out of fear of how their daughters would be treated in their society? Or women being forced/bullied/coerced to have abortions by men who want male offspring? Because the two of those are very different to me. The latter would be in keeping with Graff’s sentiment of how men control women through gender-based assaults.

    The former is a bit more complex and while it is relative of how men try to possess, control and assault women, we ought to be a bit more compassionate that there would be women who are so desperate in their circumstances that they would rather have no female children rather than risk that female child being subjected to whatever horrors they have been themselves or have witnessed. To me, while gender is clearly involved, that is not really very distinct from a woman who chooses to have an abortion here in the US because she fears that child would only know the poverty she has known and that she would be powerless in her circumstances to protect that child and provide a better life for it. And we feminists support that choice, yes? We acknowledge that the problem here isn’t a woman choosing abortion but the poverty that makes her circumstances so intolerable, yes? Why would that be different with an Indian woman who had the same fears, except not about poverty but about gender-based oppression and violence? The woman isn’t aborting that future child because she herself is misogynist, but because she thinks any daughter ought to be free of those horrors. Who with any compassion or reason could fault her that, when we look honestly and unblinkingly at what this recent horrific rape-murder tells of what women in that country face?

    1. karak
      karak January 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm |

      Not to be rude, but sex-selective abortions in India and China have been huge, juggernaut-like issues for at least several years, maybe even decades. I’m… slightly surprised you’re unaware of it. And, in India, the most common reason given (when they can get people to admit to it, it’s technically illegal) is that women are literally not just worthless, they’re expensive, because parents have to pay their dowery and their daughters are completely given into their husband’s family. Families cannot afford the expense, and in addition, sons take care of their parents, inherit, give heirs, and the like. Daughters do not.

      So, as to your question of why, exactly, these women are aborting their female fetuses, I think the best answer is “all of the above” sexism, social pressure, trying to protect a future possible daughter from victimization, etc.

      And your series of questions isn’t really thought-provoking–it’s something we’ve been over and over and over again here about abortions, sex selection abortions, disability-selective abortions, and come up with nuanced thoughts and solutions, keeping in mind that the commentariat here has a goodly percentage of White and Western people and we’re talking about once-colonized PoC and that’s kind of a poisonous relationship to begin with.

    2. SlipperyWombat
      SlipperyWombat January 10, 2013 at 5:40 am |

      I don’t know what exactly Graff means by “sex-selective abortions that delete women before they are born”–the troubling anti-choice propagandistic/possibly racist and colonist rhetoric embedded in that statement aside, is this something pervasive in Indian culture specifically, and has this been studied/documented?

      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303657404576361691165631366.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

      And yes, it does call into question the value of choice in the face of the gendercide. But “choice” as we apply the term to abortion in the West isn’t analogous to what is going on when pregnant women are facing enormous coercive pressures in favor of sex-selective abortions.

    3. sarkywoman
      sarkywoman January 14, 2013 at 12:42 am |

      There have also been cases where a Woman has been murdered by her husband/in laws for having committed the “crime” of giving birth to daughters.

  2. matlun
    matlun January 9, 2013 at 2:18 pm |

    The NYT article was brilliant.

    However, don’t the two articles at least partly make a different analysis?

    Sohaila Abdulali: “I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina”
    E.J. Graff: “But conceiving it as primarily a sexual violation places the burden on women to protect their bodies’ purity.”

    As I read EJG, she is implying that seeing it as a sexual violation is problematic. Perhaps she is just arguing that this is a consequence of rape culture myths, but I much prefer SA’s approach. Ie even though it was a sexual violation, this has no valid impact on her virtue or honor. She rejects the basic connection between “sexual purity” and her value as a person.

    It seems to me that this is a much more fundamental rejection of rape culture. As she puts it, we should simply “take honor out of the equation”.

    Graff makes many of the same points, but for me the phrasing in the NYT article is much more direct and powerful.

  3. Marni
    Marni January 9, 2013 at 4:04 pm |

    This BBC article is very well written:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20938125

  4. DP
    DP January 9, 2013 at 4:52 pm |

    This story makes my brain and my soul (if there is such a thing) ache. Normally repeated reading of the details of a tragedy numbs me to them. I cannot get over the details of what was done to this young woman in India.

    Abdulali and Graff are absolutely correct in their analysis of this – from speaking to people from India and Bangladesh, the consensus seems to be that acts like this one and others are carried out as a form of control and punishment on women who dare to leave the home, entire society and take jobs as full economic citizens. The young woman was a nursing student, and because of the patriarchy men target her ‘sexual virtue’ or whatever has punishment….

    I just cannot comprehend the minds of other men, other humans, who can even conceive of this act without feeling nauseous.

    I don’t really have a point here. I just feel terribly sad and essentially powerless to change it.

    1. (BFing)Sarah
      (BFing)Sarah January 9, 2013 at 5:06 pm |

      I don’t have anything to say other than I feel the same way: sad and powerless.

  5. Tobysgirl
    Tobysgirl January 9, 2013 at 5:11 pm |

    There is a very good interview with Arandahti Roy (on Britain’s Channel 4) available on Information Clearinghouse. She points out that rape is legally used by Indian government troops in “troubled” areas of the country, such as Kashmir, as a means of terrorizing the local population. What happened to the young woman on the bus is unspeakably outrageous, but the Indian government uses rape every day as a weapon.

    1. hotpot
      hotpot January 9, 2013 at 6:05 pm |

      I don’t see how that’s relevant. The US military commits murder and abuse on a regular basis, you don’t hear people saying “Steubenville was horrible but…”

      1. MCH
        MCH January 9, 2013 at 11:31 pm |

        I don’t think Tobysgirl is saying “the gangrape was horrible but…” I think the’s saying “and”. To illustrate the larger fact that the whole of India has a problem with the way it treats women.
        Not that India is unique in that regard.

      2. librarygoose
        librarygoose January 10, 2013 at 4:20 am |

        I did though. I had actual real life people say to me that Obama’s drone policies meant I had to not be horrified by the death of 20 children here.

    2. Priya
      Priya January 9, 2013 at 8:40 pm |

      I love The God of Small Things, but other than that, I really have no use for Arundhati Roy. BTW Tobysgirl, while India’s army and police force commit terrible abuses every day, those abuses are not legal. Seriously, if you don’t know anything about India, please just be quiet.

      Roy is an asshole for saying the following about the Delhi gang rape:

      The real problem is why is this crime (Delhi bus rape) creating such a lot of outrage is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor, like the vegetable vendor, gym instructor or bus driver actually assaulting a middle class girl.

      While the victim of the Delhi gang rape would eventually have made it into the middle class, she was born into a poor family of labourers. She wanted to become a doctor to lift her family out of poverty and her father sold off his ancestral land in order to pay for her education. She actually came from the same class and geographical background as her attackers. Like them, she was poor, from the rural Hindi-speaking heartland, and, judging by her surname, of relatively high caste (guess what Westerners – caste isn’t the same as class. There are plenty of poor high-caste people, and some rich low-caste people).

      Even if the victim had been genuinely middle-class, so what? Would that make the atrocity she suffered less outrageous? Everywhere I look there are people who make excuses for men who vent their violent rage on women. Some are vulgar Marxists like Roy, who think that depradations committed by members of the lumpenproletariat are mitigated by their class background. Some are religious patriarchs who fear ceding even the slightest ground to women. Whatever the reason, violent men – black men, white men, brown men, rich men, poor men, right-wing men, left-wing men – always seem to find people who will excuse, minimize, and outright deny their crimes.

      1. SlipperyWombat
        SlipperyWombat January 10, 2013 at 6:05 am |

        I love The God of Small Things, but other than that, I really have no use for Arundhati Roy.

        I feel the same way. It is somewhat ironic given her rather damning portrayal of the marxists in The God of Small Things. I remember picking up Power Politics in a book store shortly after it was published and being disppointed that her 9/11 essay was just another Chomsky retread.

        Maybe she will write another great novel one day.

        On a sidenote, I am in Afghanistan and had to spend 6 weeks at a small infantry combat outpost recently. At the small library there I was shocked to find copies of both The Handmaid’s Tale and The God of Small Things mixed in with the usual crappy selection of scifi and Ludlum novels.

  6. hotpot
    hotpot January 9, 2013 at 6:02 pm |

    I have really struggled to understand where this idea comes from that a woman’s value or virtue is related to her virginity. This is not just something from India. In countries around the world there are lots of men who share this attitude.

    The only thing that I can come up with is that it is an outdated holdover from a time when people needed to deal with the asymmetry of information between fathers and mothers about a child’s paternity. It was a way for women to ‘prove’ that any children they would have with a particular man would be his. Not only did this require women to be virgins at first marriage, but it required women to be practically shut up and under the watch of the husband at all times.

    In the Ramayana (brought up by Aswini Anburajan, a writer linked from the Prospect piece), the gossip against the King Rama’s wife Sita begins like this:

    a spy overhears a washerman shouting at his wife asking her to get out of his home, kicking her brutally, his eyes red with rage. “You have spent the day in another man’s house and you can go back there now. I am not going to keep you in my house.” His mother interferes and tells the man his wife is innocent but he won’t listen to her. “I am not Rama,” he says repeatedly. “He can keep his wife who lived in the house of his enemy the Rakshasa, but not I. I won’t keep a wife who has lived in another man’s house.”

    King Rama overhears this story and decides he has to send his wife away because he values his ‘honor’ above all else. There are sexist assumptions here on multiple levels. But at the root of it, the story only makes sense if the real issue is fear by the husband that his wife slept with “another man” in that one night, and therefore might conceive another man’s child.

    However, this explanation is still not fully satisfactory. It implies an extremely commodified view of marriage and human worth, and a much greater paranoia about paternity than we have in modern society.

    1. Marni
      Marni January 9, 2013 at 8:26 pm |

      But it isn’t just the paternity issue, is it? Women should be mindful that they are chattel in every sense, meaning that a woman who allows herself to be ‘used’ by another man is devaluing her owner’s personal property. I guess the man’s honour is supposed to be foremost in her mind at all times, since the sole reason for her existence is to serve him. But yes, it is interesting that many old stories come down specifically to ‘man’s Honour, woman’s Shame’ (like Tristan and Isolde).

    2. Alara Rogers
      Alara Rogers January 9, 2013 at 9:03 pm |

      No, that’s pretty much exactly it.

      A meme has a life of its own. The idea that a woman is “tainted” by having sex with a man she’s not married to was invented in order to make sure that a man knew who his children were. (I have a personal hypothesis that the entire fact that human males “father” as opposed to merely mating, something that is actually really rare as a species norm among mammals, may be something that affected the species in a way that created patriarchy, because god knows, a tomcat doesn’t give a shit whether those are his kittens or not.) But it wasn’t maintained by people saying “Logically, a man needs to know who his wife is sleeping with in order to maintain confidence in his paternity!” but “Women sleeping with men who aren’t their husbands are dirty!”

      An example of how a meme comes to exist for a particular reason and then continues to exist when the reason behind it is nonsensical is the notion that being fat is because people are lazy. In American culture, in particular, if you commute to work by car and work at a desk — like many, many people — it actually indicates that you are taking time *away* frm your work if you take time to cook a healthy meal and exercise. People who are dedicated hard workers, totally focused on their careers, are more likely to be fat than people who have plenty of free time, and this has been true for at least fifty years. But amidst all the other toxic ideas we have about people being overweight, the idea that fat = lazy has persisted, even though the original reason would have been that nearly all work involved physical labor, and nowadays, physical exercise is a luxury that many people can’t afford because they are working too hard.

      So the idea that a woman is dirty because she has had non-marital sex came into existence for a reason (not a good reason, in my opinion, but a reason nonetheless), but now that paternity tests exist and it’s easy for a man to find out who his children are regardless of who his wife sleeps with, the idea that women being dirtied by non-marital sex *still* exists.

      1. Tamara
        Tamara January 10, 2013 at 3:13 am |

        I would say the reason why human males care about paternity is property. Tomcats don’t have property. I’m sure there’s writing on this but I haven’t got it handy.

        1. EG
          EG January 10, 2013 at 9:11 am |

          That would only make sense if patriarchy had already been established, and therefore property is owned by and inherited from men. If property is owned by and inherited from women, paternity doesn’t matter.

        2. Bonn
          Bonn January 11, 2013 at 1:20 pm |

          Hmm. I’m thinking of Heian Japan, where upper-class women owned property (although there were complications if she had no male relatives/husband for a host of reasons) and could inherit it. But as I recall this was because the husband probably had several wives, and since he was going from house to house, it made much more sense that the houses belonged to the women. And while a single woman could f*** around, a married woman certainly could NOT (though they did anyway). Paternity was still super important, despite all that, since your goal was to marry your daughter to someone fabulously powerful (like an emperor) to make babies. Being the grandfather of someone like an emperor (through marrying your daughter off and producing a baby) got you a lot of power.

          So it was still patriarchal, but women could own property and paternity was still a thing.

      2. John
        John January 10, 2013 at 8:40 am |

        because god knows, a tomcat doesn’t give a shit whether those are his kittens or not.

        I don’t know about tomcats. However male lions and tigers, on taking over a new pride or territory by evicting the former males, quite commonly kill all the cubs they can. The cubs were, of course, sired by the previous males. This also causes the females to come back into estrus.

      3. Foxy
        Foxy January 10, 2013 at 8:41 am |

        No you are not correct.Male lions frequently kill cubs of other males to bring female lions back into heat.Most male animals care about paternity

        1. Alara Rogers
          Alara Rogers January 11, 2013 at 1:06 pm |

          Humans don’t go into heat because they don’t have an infant.

          Male animals who kill the infants of other males still don’t care about paternity. They care about getting laid. They won’t kill their own young because they are already mating with that particular female when she is in estrus, otherwise the young she has wouldn’t be theirs.

          The human male behavior of actually caring for children, and being interested in whether or not they are yours to the degree that women distinguish whether or not a kid is theirs (ie, women will be kind to a child who is not theirs but will not usually be comfortable with the idea of raising it or supporting it unless they’ve deliberately made the decision to do so), is *weird*, particularly because a human woman is no less interested in sex just because she has had children, so mating with a woman who has had another man’s child is not only possible, but in a society that doesn’t slut-shame women, it happens all the time.

    3. Colin
      Colin January 10, 2013 at 1:04 am |

      The whole Rakshasa business is also a bit dodgy. They seem to be a fantastical racist portrayal of the indigenous peoples encountered by the early Hindus as they colonised India.

      1. Foxy
        Foxy January 10, 2013 at 1:48 am |

        I dont think you are true.You are falling into the disproven aryan invasion theory

        1. SlipperyWombat
          SlipperyWombat January 10, 2013 at 6:20 am |

          I dont think you are true.You are falling into the disproven aryan invasion theory

          This myth has been pretty often repeated by people from the region I have known. I just looked at some sources and it seems that anthropolgists generally agree that Indo-Aryan migration into the Indus Valley was a real thing. Can you cite a source for this being disproven?

      2. Priya
        Priya January 10, 2013 at 9:22 am |

        The Ramayana, as with all ancient texts, contains some pretty nasty stuff, but the idea that Rakshasas are a racist portrayal of India’s indigenous people is bullshit. For one thing, the main Rakshasa antagonist, Ravana, is of a higher caste than the hero Rama: Ravana is a Brahmin and Rama is a Kshatriya. Hindu texts don’t portray protagonists and antagonists in a Manichean way; the Rakshasas are not the equivalent of the orcs in the Lord of the Rings. There are virtuous individuals among them (even Ravana possesses some virtues), and the description of their capital city makes it clear that they’re cultured and civilized.

        As for racism, Rama is a paragon of masculine beauty, and he’s described as very dark-skinned. India is terribly colourist today, but wasn’t necessarily so in the past.

        As long as the Ramayana has existed, Indians have critiqued its more problematic aspects. There is even an implicit critique of its sexual morality within the original text itself. The Ramayana contains an epilogue of sorts, in which Rama meets his wife Sita again after her long exile. He’s willing to have her return to him, so long as she provides proof of her chastity. She declines to do so, and asks the earth to swallow her up instead. (Sita is a goddess and the earth is her mother.) After she disappears, Rama, who has thus far been rather cold to Sita, wails and laments his loss. I’ve always read this as a critique of the masculine values that prioritize female chastity above all else.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune January 10, 2013 at 7:53 pm |

          After she disappears, Rama, who has thus far been rather cold to Sita, wails and laments his loss. I’ve always read this as a critique of the masculine values that prioritize female chastity above all else.

          Really? I’ve always read it as a furthering of the whole Proper Wife trope. I mean, she might not have pulled a full-on Sati-style suicide, but it was otherwise largely the same: death before dishonour, etc, and I always thought it was a pragmatic decision of “how long before he does it again? how much more do I have to prove?”

        2. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune January 11, 2013 at 1:33 pm |

          The Ramayana, as with all ancient texts, contains some pretty nasty stuff, but the idea that Rakshasas are a racist portrayal of India’s indigenous people is bullshit.

          Priya, I actually wanted to disagree with you on the racist/not-racist thing, because I see it very differently from you. I’m not sure if you’re south Indian or not – I’m Tamil – but I do, and have always, seen the Ramayana as an explicitly colonising text in a way that none of the other puranas etc are. Maybe it wasn’t always read that way, maybe I”m informed by the bullshit I’ve put up with from north Indians over the years, but it’s always seemed to me that there was a vast amount of judgment implicit in the Ramayana’s Northern-Hero-Conquers-Uncivilised-Southerners. And I mean, sure, Ravana’s a brahmana and Rama’s a kshatriya, but doesn’t that just drive the “we’re so moral even our lower castes are better than your higher ones” moral home even harder?

          I don’t know. I really dislike the Ramayana on so many levels – as a south Indian, as a feminist, etc, etc. Maybe that’s warping my view.

        3. Priya
          Priya January 13, 2013 at 11:06 pm |

          Really? I’ve always read it as a furthering of the whole Proper Wife trope. I mean, she might not have pulled a full-on Sati-style suicide, but it was otherwise largely the same: death before dishonour, etc, and I always thought it was a pragmatic decision of “how long before he does it again? how much more do I have to prove?”

          I don’t necessarily think that Sita died when she was swallowed up by the earth; I don’t think a text that features a super-intelligent warrior monkey really adheres to a strict standard of realism. :) What I find potentially proto-feminist about the ending is that it features a mother who flatly refuses to send her daughter back to an abusive husband. It’s distressingly common in India for the natal families of abused women to tell them to “adjust” to the abuse, and the ending to the Ramayana provides a counter-example to that.

          I’m not South Indian, but I’m well aware that North India has often had a domineering relationship with the South, and that North Indians are often condescending jerks to South Indians. I’m not sure that one can project contemporary North-South relations back into the distant past though. The Ramayana is pretty popular in South India, and I don’t see why South Indians would create their own vernacular versions of a racist account of their own subjugation.

          Like you, for most of my life, I’ve intensely disliked the Ramayana (the idea that Sita was the ideal woman that I should want to emulate gave my 9-year-old feminist self heartburn). Three books, all edited by Paula Richman (Many Ramayanas, Questioning Ramayanas, and Ramayana Stories in Modern South India) have caused me to modify my view of it somewhat, though it’s still far from my favorite text.

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune January 14, 2013 at 12:29 am |

          What I find potentially proto-feminist about the ending is that it features a mother who flatly refuses to send her daughter back to an abusive husband.

          Hmm, I guess I see how it could be read that way. Personally, I always thought that the feminist angle on that ending was that Sita chose to take the third option, rejecting the dishonoured wife/grateful forgiven subject dual role she was offered. But it always seemed weaker than the traditional narrative to me.

          The Ramayana is pretty popular in South India, and I don’t see why South Indians would create their own vernacular versions of a racist account of their own subjugation.

          I don’t know, I think that any marginalised group tends to internalise narratives of the supremacy of the dominant group… there’s no lack of Indians talking about what a force for good the Raj was (and while there were benefits I still maintain they were incidental and accidental), or African-Americans extolling slavery for that matter (I shit you not).

          Three books, all edited by Paula Richman (Many Ramayanas, Questioning Ramayanas, and Ramayana Stories in Modern South India) have caused me to modify my view of it somewhat, though it’s still far from my favorite text.

          Ooh, that sounds intriguing…I know there’s other narratives of Sita than the ones I’ve been exposed to in the Kamban- and Valmiki-ramayanas, which I know best, but I’ve never been able to find them. I’ll keep an eye out for those!

    4. Angie unduplicated
      Angie unduplicated January 10, 2013 at 10:38 am |

      Abusers are known to scapegoat. I suspect that the exaggerated insistence on erroneously placing the seat of all virtue in the birth canal is an out for any and all forms of dishonorable behavior by the male of the species who exited from that canal and who might want to claim contamination. Any questions about societal scapegoating can be answered by a parallel study of Southern white scapegoating of African-Americans. Criminals pejoratize their intended victims and robbery of women in sexist societies is preceded, accompanied, by slander.

  7. DouglasG
    DouglasG January 9, 2013 at 6:36 pm |

    Have you noticed that Mr Savage (Dan, not Michael) seems to be drifting closer to your way of thinking lately? This is about the third topic I’ve seen recently about which he’s posted in a way that seems closer in alignment to you than he was a year ago.

  8. Foxy
    Foxy January 10, 2013 at 8:29 am |

    Aryan migration did occur but there is no significant evidence it is a invasion.Razib khan of discover blogs has blogged extensively about it.I cannot post links from my tablet but according to recent research all subcontinent people are made by

  9. Foxy
    Foxy January 10, 2013 at 8:33 am |

    indian people are formed by miscegenation of two diverse populations one is ANI also called ancestral north indians more likely came from mediterraen and ASI ancestral south indians

  10. Foxy
    Foxy January 10, 2013 at 8:37 am |

    The statement about rakshas being racist is totally wrong because the ashuras or rakshas referred to originally are iranian tribes with lighter skin and red hair which was specifically mentioned

    1. EG
      EG January 10, 2013 at 9:14 am |

      You think you can’t be racist against people with white skin and red hair? The Irish will be thrilled to hear it.

  11. Foxy
    Foxy January 10, 2013 at 11:12 am |

    Are you serious?I know you are not a fan of me but this is too low.The above poster said that the potrayal of rakshas as dark skinned is racist.I pointed out the ashuras are iranian tribes who are lighter compared to indian tribes

  12. Foxy
    Foxy January 10, 2013 at 11:14 am |

    @EG, the above comment is directed to you

  13. Scissors
    Scissors January 11, 2013 at 4:21 am |

    I have been reading about this story over the weeks on different sites and blogs. And each time I did I found there was nothing I could comment. This is the first time I’m commenting about it. It’s just saddening and disgusting. And tarnishes India’s image. Just goes to show that media can sometimes give a very misleading picture of what really goes on on the ground. Who could possibly know from watching Bollywood movies that women and girls are so under-valued in that culture?Somebody is messing with our perception.That’s why it’s important to consult other media sources so that stories like this don’t turn us upside-down when they happen.
    I mean, we need to see these things coming. I am still so shocked!

  14. sheriji
    sheriji January 14, 2013 at 11:34 am |

    The post and the ensuing comments (and other blog posts I’ve read in the past couple of days, including some horrifying book that enjoins women, in the name of “Christianity,” to give “their” men their “balls” back) just remind me of how little we have actually traveled in terms of psychological/spiritual/gender evolution from the days of the cave-men; where men were strong and in charge, and women were property, and busy scratching each other’s eyes out competing for whoever they thought would drag the most meat back to the cave.

    “God” help us if we are actually made in his image. Is this some kind of a joke?

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