Last week, actor Siddharth made news for the wrong reasons. Commenting on a tweet by badminton player Saina Nehwal, he called her a ‘subtle cock champion’. When it sparked outrage, he said it was a reference to a ‘cock and bull story’ and did not imply that Nehwal was the implied champion of ‘male genitalia’ at all.
Well, was this from benefit of hindsight or a backtracking due to the huge outcry? We will never know.
For now, Siddharth has apologised to Nehwal and said, “Dear Saina, I want to apologise to you for my rude joke that I wrote as a response to a tweet of yours, a few days ago. I may disagree with you on many things but even my disappointment or anger when I read your tweet, cannot justify my tone and words. I know I have more grace in me than that. As for the joke… If a joke needs to be explained, then it wasn’t a very good joke to begin with. Sorry about a joke that didn’t land.”
In May 2021, a clip surfaced online of actor Randeep Hooda (yes, another actor) cracking a casteist, sexist joke on Dalit leader Mayawati, effectively questioning her ‘attractiveness’ and making a veiled reference to her reproductive organs. It can be heard here.
The 43-second clip was recorded in 2012 and just for the record, I’ll repeat verbatim here what Hooda, with his slightly slurred speech, said about Mayawati: “I think I’ll tell a very dirty joke. It’s a sex position for God’s sake. We take it too seriously. There is…there was Ms. Mayawati… She’s walking along the street with two kids, two boys… and there was a man, like our man here…He asked her, ‘Are they twins?’ She said, ‘No, no, no…he’s 4, he’s 8.’ He (the man) says, ‘I can’t believe someone has been there twice!'”
The audience, shockingly also including some girls and women, breaks into raucous laughter.
Hooda was removed as UN ambassador for the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), United Nation’s environmental treaty, after his ‘joke’ backfired. Till date, he has not tendered an apology but in fact, shared a cryptic post with the picture of a tiger on his social media soon after. To go with the image, Randeep wrote a famous dialogue from the movie ‘The Jungle Book’ which was delivered by the character Sher Khan: “No matter how fast you run, no matter where you hide, I will catch you.”
In December 2012, then President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit stoked a major controversy by describing women participating in Delhi protests against the gangrape of a student as ‘highly dented and painted’. Expectedly, a section of the population erupted in protests and the comment caused massive indignation. More predictably, Abhijit Mukherjee “withdrew” his comments and said they were not meant to hurt “any particular section or any particular sentiment”.
But what he had said was already out there and deserves to be repeated. Abhijit told a vernacular news channel, “Those who are coming in the name of students in the rallies, sundori, sundori mahila (beautiful women), highly dented and painted.” He said, “Giving interviews on TV and showing off their children. I wonder whether they are students at all,” adding, “what’s basically happening in Delhi is something like pink revolution, which has very little connection with ground realities.”
As his “insensitive” (‘abusive’ would be a better adjective) remarks sparked outrage, with even his sister Sharmistha expressing “utter shock and anguish” and apologising on his behalf, Abhijit “withdrew” his comments.
But the damage had been done.
Why do such incidents keep happening with predictable regularity? Do all these men target women like this, commenting on their bodies, on how many times they have engaged in sex, how many times they have given birth, whether they are ‘champions’ of ‘subtle cock’, how they are ‘highly dented and painted’ because they know that the majority of us enjoy such outrageous comments and references? Do they take it for granted that they will get away with making such crass ‘jokes’ because let’s face it, we are still a very patriarchal (warts and all) society and most of us, the men for sure but also some women, find them ‘funny’ and ‘irreverent’?
May be these men realise that they can take liberties with women in general and ‘certain women’ in particular because after all, a large section of the population ‘appreciates’ such ‘jokes’ and remarks. They do it despite knowing that they are walking on thin ice, commenting as they are on sexual preferences and positions and concomitant outcomes. They do it in the comforting knowledge that perhaps they will get away with passing such comments and may be even get to make more disparaging remarks, because who will dare object to such abusive words/phrases/statements, given they are coming from a celebrity/public figure with a sizeable fan base/following?
They say the ‘trickle down effect’ is potent and so, when the current leader of our government (PM Narendra Modi) has a record of calling a prominent woman politician (Sonia Gandhi) a ‘jersey cow’ and her son (Rahul Gandhi) a ‘hybrid calf’, is it any wonder that other, less powerful but equally misogynistic men take refuge in thinly-disguised abuse? Here, to be clear, the offensive bit is not that Sonia and Rahul were called ‘cow’ and ‘calf’ respectively (we are after all animals, only of a different species and this author, for one, does not subscribe to speciesism) but the implication was that calling them that should be read as insulting, provocative even.
Targeting women’s bodies and the choices they make regarding and related to their bodies falls in the category of ‘abusive’, ‘sexist’, ‘misogynistic’ — no matter who does the targeting, no matter how powerful and no matter how long ago. Calling out such actions will serve as a deterrent and make other, potential ‘offenders’ rethink their stance. The more we register our protest against such behaviour, the tougher it will be for it to be repeated and emulated.
Turning a blind eye towards and ignoring conduct like this will only embolden such abusive mindsets and misogynistic pronouncements. It’s time to say enough is enough. It’s time to reclaim the narrative around women’s bodies and change the discourse about the choices women make with and about their bodies.