- Posted August 23, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Speaking up about sexual violence
Non-White Women's Dual Battle
I am an Indian male and here is my take on this whole incident.
In itself, Michaela Ross' iReport article is unfortunately neither surprising nor very provocative. It talks about the unfortunate experiences of a White American woman in India's misogynist society. And while the omission of the positive experiences that she has also had can be debated, the article was written as part of CNN's focus on sexual harassment and thus, need not have talked about anything else.
But there is a bigger picture here and it starts with the title. Not only is it provocative, it's provocative in the most cliched of ways. Despite the fact that the only things about India that are ever reported in any detail in Western publications are poverty and misogyny, the title feigns naivete to boldly claim to tell you the real story, the inside scoop. And then, what could have been a serious look into Indian society's inherent misogyny or at least her personal memories of a trip full of disillusionment, it followed the same hackneyed colonial-style narrative of the "White woman in fear of the dark-skinned rapist" trope. Never does the author mention that her problem was not only shared by, but is an inescapable reality for almost all Indian women. There is also no mention of any positive interactions with Indian men or pretty much any interaction with Indian women, though, like any race-conscious writer, she does spout out the necessary disclaimers about India being a beautiful country and enjoying seasoning in food. In true colonial-inspired style, she was in India to view the natives in their natural habitat and was shocked that it affected her so personally. She didn't think it was even important to talk to other Indian women about this, much less share her anxieties and maybe look for support.
The more interesting thing about this article is the kind of responses that it has drawn from so many different people, mostly women. In these responses, you find African-American, Korean-American, Indian-American and Indian women dedicating at least half and often the entirety of their articles talking about how generalizing Indian men is the wrong approach to take.
This is not a new story. This is the age-old problem of non-White women having to fight two battles trying to restore their dignity.
These women could have talked about their own struggles with sexual harassment if the original article was not a narcissistic, (half the article was not about sexual harassment but her PTSD diagnosis) prejudiced narrative and instead a frank and honest look at the problem. Instead, these women had to spend their time and energy defending their roots and fearing for their families.
Minority women often have to fight their battles on two fronts. At home, they have to fight to lead a life of dignity. They have to learn how to navigate the archaic, patriarchal views held by many in their cultures.They have to learn how to carve a way for themselves in the midst of this injustice. But they also have to fight another force, the force of the self-righteous Westerner who is usually White.
These women then have to fight to safeguard the dignity and survival of their families, their homes. Too often, the tone of these arrogant, self-righteous Western observers follows two patterns. It's either an indirect threat to attack the homes of these poor native women, ostensibly to liberate them from the tyranny of their males, all the while being ignorant of or wilfully not acknowledging how these women are from societies which have been ravaged in the past AND the present by their own Western governments and corporations. The other pattern is to entirely ignore the efforts and voices of the people, especially the women, and indulge in self-absorbed musings about the inferiority of these 'native' cultures, albeit recognizing that the delicious food can be their only redeeming value.
If anybody from the Western world is truly interested in fighting gender-based crime and injustice in the developing world, they should stop forcing minority women to fight two battles, one for themselves and the other for their families. These women might live in cultures that oppress them but they love their families just like you do. They also love parts of their culture which are amazing and supportive. You don't do anybody any good by taking that away from Indian, African-American or other minority women. Respect their choices. Criticize the oppressive parts of their culture while not endangering the safety and dignity of their brothers and lovers.
Remember that no matter how much of a White Knight or member of a more evolved culture you fantasize yourself to be, these 'poor' women, whom you are trying to save, have justifiably enough evidence to be very afraid of you. You are not the saviour. You are the threat.