I am often told that I am ‘overreacting’ when I speak about the prevalence of sexism today. I wish that were true, but sadly, the problem of gender-based discrimination remains something worth talking (nay, shouting) about. A case in point is the latest research carried out by the UN, revealing that almost 1 in 4 men surveyed across six Asian countries admitted to committing acts of sexual assault. If this is not a shocking enough statistic on its own, the reasons the offenders gave for carrying out such inhumane acts make for deeply unsettling reading.
The majority of men referred to a sense of sexual entitlement; believing that it was their express right to have sex with a woman, regardless of whether she consented or not. Other excuses in a similarly disturbing vein were boredom (yes really!) or as a form of punishment towards a woman when the perpetrator was angry or in a bad mood (in other words, women being used as emotional and sexual punch bags). The most frightening element of this, to me, was not the abuse itself (shocking as it is) but rather, the fact that these men did not seem to see any wrongdoing in their actions. Rape as a form of ‘fun’ and ‘entertainment’ was commonly cited in the report, which brings to mind the deeply distressing image of a group of men sitting around together comparing anecdotes about the women they had just assaulted.
So why this sense of entitlement? Why the treatment of women as possessions rather than equals? Certainly, the portrait of the ideal man as tough and controlling surveyed is a big part of the problem. The idea that in order to be a real man, you must treat members of the opposite sex like dirt is misogynistic, misleading and hugely insulting to everyone. Equally, the stigma surrounding victims of sexual abuse remains strong – particularly if it occurs within the family. Victims of sexual abuse are often shamed into silence; wrongly blaming themselves for the perpetrator’s actions. In a culture in which chauvinism and abuse are the norm, this silence will only grow stronger.
Both of these issues need to be tackled simultaneously in order for the violence against women to stop. The UN report has highlighted a number of mechanisms to do just that. These include a zero-tolerance policy on violent acts against women, as well as changing perceptions of what it means to be a man and educating young people about sexuality and equality from a young age. Perhaps the greatest shift however, is amongst the native citizens themselves. As is evident in the Dehli rape case, people are starting to stand up and fight back against gender inequality. So yes, there is a turn against sexism. But is it an overreaction to demand more? To continue to fight until the incidents outlined above are just a distant memory? No, I think not.