Why was Nirbhaya's documentary called Indias Daughter
Sexuality and honor. The film "India’s daughter" shows patterns of thought that are also deeply rooted in our own culture
The appearance of Leslee Udwin's film "India’s daughter" caused a sensation worldwide. The documentary describes the rape and brutal murder of the Indian physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh by a group of six young men in a minibus in Delhi three years ago. The British director calls the production her “gift to India” and with the cinematic reappraisal of the case represents the voices of millions of not only Indian women who are oppressed, viewed as unworthy, restricted in their rights, freedoms and opportunities - and threats from the side of their male family members, which often culminate in abuse or even murder in the case of “misconduct”. Misconduct, according to one of the rapists interviewed in the film, is still hanging around the street as a woman at 9 p.m., going to discos or bars, wearing the wrong clothes: because women belong in the house. The rapists' attorney took it for granted that he would douse female family members having premarital sex with gasoline and set it on fire.
In India, the broadcast of the documentation that came out on International Women's Day was immediately banned by the state, as it addresses all those grievances that are rooted in the conservative Indian social structures. The sad fate of the young Jyoti Singh also shows us role models and moral concepts that are not limited to a certain cultural area, but have been deeply rooted in patriarchal thinking for thousands of years and have hardly changed in certain respects.
Even in Greco-Roman antiquity, female sexuality was considered something that had to be controlled, because it was ideologically closely linked to the honor and well-being of the state and society. In Rome, six virgin priestesses of the goddess Vesta guarded the holy hearth fire, which symbolized a healthy community and, in order to guarantee its continued existence, had to burn permanently. The chastity of the Vestal Virgins was equated with the inviolability of Rome, just like Roma, the city goddess, was depicted as a virgin in armor, ready to defend her body and thus her honor with weapons. For families it was considered a high honor if a daughter was allowed to become a Vesta priestess, and the office was associated with not insignificant privileges. The girls, who were appointed Vestal Virgins for 30 years as children, had no say in this. The priesthood was subject to strict rules and a vestal virgin who lost her virginity was promptly executed by being buried alive. How practical that man could attribute disasters or military defeats to misconduct by the Vesta priestesses - after all, according to Roman belief, such catastrophes only happened when the innocence of a Vestal virgin was touched or the holy hearth was extinguished. For example, incompetent generals could absolve themselves of any guilt and instead blame everything on the Vestal Virgins, who obviously did not behave impeccably and thus would have caused the defeat of the war.
Just as the virginity of the Vesta priestesses was seen as a prerequisite for the continued existence of Rome on a large scale, on a small scale the fidelity and sexual purity of each wife stood for the prestige and well-being of the family. While husbands could have fun with slaves or paid prostitutes as they pleased, extramarital intercourse with women was considered a disgrace for the whole family. Until the 1st century BC It was still legally stipulated that the male head of the family could decide for himself how to deal with adulteresses. While Roman men at that time were able to carry out what they considered to be the appropriate punishment, including an execution, within the family, today some fathers, brothers and husbands in India use gas bottles and lighters to help women of the family who have had premarital or extramarital sexual intercourse to punish in the most cruel way. The men are always the ones who judge the behavior of others, the women, and who punish them for breaking out of the role they have given them. They determine what is appropriate for a woman and what is not, and how to deal with a woman who defies the rules. Vigilante justice is not uncommon - neither in antiquity nor in some societies today.
Even in antiquity, women were ideologically tied to the home and hearth; They were seen as the weaker sex, both physically and intellectually, and were therefore restricted in their rights and were always subject to the guardianship of men - first that of their father, after the marriage of their husband - who made certain decisions on their behalf. According to the Roman author Columella, women had to look after the house and do the work inside, while the men devoted themselves to arduous and demanding tasks such as field work, military service and politics. Textile work, spinning yarn and weaving fabrics, in particular, was a typically female activity and became a code for the moral integrity of women: spinning wool at home meant not hanging around outside and meeting other men. For this reason, woolwork was often listed on Roman gravestones alongside other virtues of the deceased: "Here lies Amymone, wife of Marcus, the best and most beautiful, diligent at woolwork, dutiful, decent, orderly, decent and domestic", is based on a funerary inscription Reading Rome. Wool as a material was part of various wedding ceremonies, which were supposed to symbolically "bind" the woman to the man. Spindles, along with mirrors, combs and perfume bottles, were often depicted figuratively as typically female attributes. And in the atrium, the entrance hall of Roman houses, not only were statues of household gods and portraits of their own ancestors venerated, expressing reverence and pride in their own origins, but also sometimes exhibited a loom as a symbol of housewife's virtue. Even in the Roman Empire, when textiles were produced in factories and people no longer had to rely on their own domestic production, woolwork remained associated with the image of the faithful wife.
A prime example of the good wife was Lucretia, a figure from the mythical and historical early days of Rome, whose story is passed down to us in the works of Ovid, Livius and Tacitus: Her husband Collatinus was out with other men one evening and, perhaps in in the heat of alcohol, they made a bet about who would have the best wife. When the men arrived late at night at the home of the Collatinus, where all the wives were staying, they found Lucretia at work while the other women celebrated and drank. Alcohol consumption was not right for women, it was a sign of indiscipline, loss of control and thus also stood for sexual availability; Lucretia's impeccable behavior, on the other hand, made Collatinus the radiant betting winner. Unfortunately, the virtuous Lucretia was extremely attractive to Sextus Tarquinius, the betting companions of Collatinus and son of the reigning king. She did not respond to his advances, however, and, spurred on by her chaste reluctance, he raped her. Lucretia put up with the whole thing because Sextus Tarquinius otherwise threatened to kill her afterwards and lay her naked body next to that of a dead slave to make it look as if she had committed adultery. Since adultery would have meant such a loss of honor for Lucretia and a shame for her entire family even after her death, she preferred to let the rape happen with her in order to at least be able to explain the truth to her husband and father afterwards . Both men absolved Lucretia of all guilt, but in the end she took her own life to cleanse the image of her family again. Sextus Tarquinius was killed because of his deed by a mob of Roman citizens, whose anger was also directed against his father, who was an already unloved tyrant; his death meant the end of sole rule and heralded the new form of government of the republic (from 509 BC).
Lucretia was therefore cited in Roman literature as a figure of resistance against the oppressor and as the epitome of female virtue; at the same time, her suicide was described as an expression of an almost masculine determination. The story is symptomatic of the in part still current ascriptions of gender-specific ideal behavior: A woman is defined by her sexuality, the premarital loss of her virginity or the - whether willful or involuntary - violation of marital fidelity makes her worthless, even an eyesore for the family . Only through the death of the adulteress can this defamation be paid. A woman was a decorative accessory for a man; she could increase his reputation through her virtue or damage his reputation through misconduct. According to the Romans, whether a woman was morally impeccable could be read from her appearance and behavior - appropriate clothing, reserved demeanor and diligence in wool work expressed loyalty and chastity. When Jyoti Singh's rapists cite what they believe to be inappropriate behavior of their victim for women as a justification for their act, they use exactly the same world of ideas. And they deny women any self-determination - even if they come from a liberal household. Jyoti's parents had celebrated the birth of the girl like a boy and supported their daughter in her education with all means to enable her to lead a self-determined life, which is not usual in India. But Jyoti's way of life, and her parents' liberality, were judged by strangers.
A woman who is considered indecent due to her style of clothing and her behavior, who has lost the appearance of virginity and thus in the eyes of others her human value, is exposed to defenseless male arbitrariness in many modern societies. Not only does she run the risk of being punished by her own family members, but is also considered sexually freely available to strangers. The woman is therefore always to blame: "If she had behaved properly, that would not have happened." Cases like group rape in Delhi are therefore not only to be understood as cruel acts of punishment for improper behavior, but also have the cause in the terrible conviction that every man can deal with "dishonorable" women as he sees fit. The fact that many rape cases remain undetected and that the Indian judiciary holds some multiple rapists accountable for just one act only reinforces the misconception of such men that they are doing the right thing. After all, in the case of Jyoti Singh, and under massive public pressure, the perpetrators are punished for their crime.
The ancient role models described in this article applied to women of the upper class - the everyday life of working women and slaves, who were owned by others, of course looked very different and could not match the ideals of the wool-spinning wife. And from Roman literature we also know prominent examples of emancipated women who were not sitting at home spinning, of successful business women, respected vestals and influential empresses. In the Roman Empire, free women enjoyed far more privileges than they had in Lucretia's time. Nevertheless, the ideals and role models on paper and in the minds of men have always remained the same. They have come down to us from Latin literature, which was mostly written by men for men. And precisely such constructed role models, which can no longer be reconciled with the reality of modernizing societies, are the basis for honor killings in patriarchal societies around the world.
Leslee Udwin's documentation not only draws attention to the oppression of women in India, the violent implementation of traditional morals, the tabooing of sexuality in the land of the Kama Sutra - it also reminded me of the age of equating female chastity with family honor, moral evaluation and social control of the sexuality of women with complete freedom of the man at the same time. The comparison with antiquity shows how closely certain thought patterns are also connected to our own culture. And even in Western Europe of the 21st century, two standards are still being measured: a woman who has frequently changing partners is quickly considered a “slut” - a man who enjoys other things every week is a “great pike”. However, we are fortunate here that such allegations are “only” made as verbal attacks.
The Nirbhaya case (the brave one, as Jyoti is called in the media) and the government's ban on the broadcast of Leslee Udwin's film have rightly sparked nationwide protests in India. Just as Lucretia, as a representative of a conservative image of women, became a symbol of resistance against the tyrant through her death, so Jyoti Singh has advanced to become the model of the Indian women's rights movement. One can only wish that the demonstrations themselves - and the hoped-for lifting of the broadcasting ban on documentation - not only initiate a rethink on a broad social level, but also initiate appropriate measures on the part of the state. In the meantime, we can start rethinking with ourselves.
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