Misogyny among Tamils

Misogyny is an integral part of Tamil life. I deliberately deter using the word culture because it’s as flawed and as subjective as morality.

When asked to comment on the portrayal of women in Tamil cinema, one wouldn’t even know where to begin; and however begun, the end is going take ages to arrive.

With stalking and eve-teasing glorified as wooing, lecturing on attire a pretext of ‘protection’, casting them only as eye-candies or damsels in distress in an otherwise meaty story-line, portrayal of women in Tamil Cinema is highly misogynistic and shameful. Heroines have long been batting eyelids at the macho hero, even if they have proved their prowess in acting in far better ways than their male counterparts.

Occasionally there are exceptions like Gowtham Menon films that show working and independent women and single mothers in a refreshing light. Pa.Ranjith went several steps further in portraying women in powerful roles, in a never-before-seen non-patronizing manner. Still, one has to admit that we are nowhere near gender parity, when it comes to Tamil movies.

However, it’s totally unfair to hold only the movies guilty. Delving deeper we find that the mindset can be traced to each and every Tamil household, irrespective of caste, more so with the so-called upper castes, where the all-encompassing burden of upholding the caste pride falls on the women. They are expected to dress, talk, act, menstruate, and marry in ways fully conforming the rules put forth by their castes, so that the men are free to act liberal and appear progressive!

Girls are regarded as Appa’s pride and treasure; Most Tamil dads like to see their daughters as their own mothers. It is not uncommon that girls carry the names of their paternal grandmothers. Happy homes find the daughters lording it over other members of their family, by being the cherished and pampered one of the father, the head of the family. However, when it comes to the girl’s free will in education, falling in love, or deciding her own career and future, the patriarchal system shows its ugly face, with the father becoming the tyrant of the realm.

Fathers hitting or verbally abusing mothers in front of their daughters is not uncommon either. Pampered daughters are blinded against any act of domestic violence against their own mothers, and until long after they are married and experience a similar situation in life, they remain ignorant and insensitive.

When a daughter attains puberty, it is a grand celebration with pomp and show. The Manjal Neerattu Vizha conducted for a Tamil girl is nothing but the loud and blaring broadcast that she is now ready for reproduction.

Long after the realization in practical life that it’s nothing but a natural occurrence, Tamil families are wary of letting go of this act of utter humiliation thrust upon their daughters.

Barely out of teens, a vivacious girl is decked up in loads of jewellery ( a sneak peak to how much dowry she’d be worth) heavy saris, flowers and made to sit coyly as guests come and see the girl and offer presents; all because she has begun ovulating.

It doesn’t stop there but culminates in denial of freedom to play out-doors, (in some cases higher education also), forced marriages, and gruesome killings, in the name of so-called honor of caste-hindus.

It is to be noted that with the murder of Ilavarasan, Shankar, and countless other Dalits who were loved and married by caste Hindu girls, Tamilnadu has become as horrendous as its northern counter parts and their Khap panchayats.

Judging women according to their geographical background could just be brushed aside as a ludicrous mindset, if only it didn’t fuel the existing misogyny.

There is this repugnant portrayal of urban women as vamps and rural women as innocent or forthright babes, not realizing that it’s totally unjust either way. Differences if present are certainly not what is comprehended in general.

Say for instance, the movie ‘Thangamagan’ was highly regressive and was called out unanimously for its ugly and judgmental portrayal of two women who hail from different backgrounds, ultimately glorifying the regressive one.

Women define themselves in numerous nuances that are completely invisible to the eyes of the Tamil society that only sees what it wants to see.

Leave alone silly movie-makers, torch bearers of contemporary tamil literature are clearly unabashed in flaunting their sexism either. Here again, one doesn’t know where to begin, but wishes to point out the case of prolific writers making fleeting statements about “women writers” a term, which is by itself sexist, and erotic writers who take Nabokov a bit too seriously by stretching their inspiration to similar real life experiments.

So all in all, the women identity among Tamils has a lot to be upset about and feminism is something still largely mocked at. However, what’s heartening is that Tamils at least are brutally honest about it, not so easily deceived by elitist chivalry (as dire as crude sexism). Also, with an increasing number of young minds following rationalists and progressive- minded writers on the social media, positive changes are seen in the status quo, implying that evolution is in progress.