By Ian Pinto
Some time ago I came across this lovely film, The Battle of the Sexes (2017), which portrays the happenings primarily in the tennis world during the early 1970’s. During this time, the women’s liberation movement was gaining ground. Patriarchy was being challenged and the face and nature of society were slowly being turned.
In such a situation, Bobby Riggs, a retired tennis player and compulsive gambler backed up tennis officials’ decision to pay women less than men. He openly declared that women were weaker than men and their game was not even half as exciting as that of men. Besides, not many people went to watch them. He embodied the popular philosophy of the time, male chauvinism, and even went as far as calling himself a “male chauvinist pig”. The film neatly brings out the clash of the sexes; the clash of opposing ideologies: male chauvinism and women’s liberation and the clash of culture: modernism against traditionalism.
Riggs challenged the then, women’s number one, Margaret Court and defeated her with ease in straight sets. In doing so he believed he had once and for all established male supremacy and proved the point that women were in fact, ‘lesser’ than men. If a woman in her prime couldn’t beat a retired sportsman, then no female athlete could claim equal recognition, pay or anything as compared to men. Riggs however, grew overconfident and challenged the pioneer of women’s equal status in tennis, Billie Jean King. Billie agreed to face him with great reluctance. The match was highly publicized and even dubbed ‘The Battle of the Sexes’. Billie went on to defeat Bobby and thereby sending out a loud and shrill message to the whole world: women were not less than men.
Even though that infamous tennis match was dubbed ‘The Battle of the Sexes’, the real battle has been raging probably since Man’s fall from Original Grace. When God created man and women He made them complementary to each other (Gen 1:26-28). He never ordained that man should dominate woman. But through sin and in sin, man not only dominated the world, he also dominated woman.
In the last 60 years however, thanks to movements like women’s liberation, issues like equality of the sexes, respect for women, salaries and so on, have come before public consciousness and have increasingly grown as a topic of discussion and debate. Progress has been terribly slow, but has nevertheless happened. The recent case of the Weinstein scandal only serves to reiterate my point of the snail-pace of progress.
In India – a land of diverse cultural and religious traditions, each with its own way of honouring or subjugating women – the situation isn’t very pleasant. In fact, it’s quite appalling. The Nirbhaya case among innumerable others are still fresh in our minds. Everyday’s news has a report on violence against women. What could possibly be the cause of all this madness?
In order to answer this question I think it is imperative that we ask and answer another question: “When does a male child realize he is superior to a female?” It may seem odd but it is vital. A child is unable until a certain age to distinguish between male and female. Even when it does so, it is only able to identify differences and similarities. The child has no idea of superior or inferior. When and how does he begin to realize that he is superior then? Obviously socialization and upbringing play a major role. By observing the way his family or the society or community into which he is born and raised functions, he begins to form ideas, mould character and design behaviour.
A child is likely to treat women in ways that he has seen growing up. Therefore, I think that treating a woman as you would treat your grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, relative or partner would solve half the problems. But a huge obstacle arises: what about those who don’t treat their grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, relative or partner well? If a person is unable to relate to women who share his blood in a healthy manner, it is very improbable that he will treat other women well.
The Indian male psyche is corrupted. Thanks to media’s unbounded desire to “sell”, women have become objectified in nearly every area of life and this denigrated image of women is often splashed all around commercials, billboards and the like. With so much negativity around it takes a determined effort to shun the alienation of women and regain the primary relation. A detoxification of the mind is the need of the hour and stringent and binding laws will do much to aid the process. Besides breaking down stereotypes through education and conscientizing people regarding the media, stronger steps have to be taken. Actresses need to come out stronger and put an end to an objectification of themselves, and mostly their bodies, through the media. I think actresses would send a strong message if they all decided that they wouldn’t do “damsel-in-distress”, item songs and carnal appetizers at all. If the public don’t want to see them for the character they play but only for the skin they show, then no amount of money could compensate for the objectification they undergo.
The status of women in India is on the rise but aside from external forces, women, especially those with power and capability must stand up for their rights and dignity. It’s not enough that male chauvinism be condemned, female helplessness must also be equally condemned. It is only then that we have hope of regaining our Original Grace and settling the “battle of the sexes” once and for all.