Have you ever heard an insult so fresh and imaginative that it’s a bit exciting and also cancels out some of the sting of the insult with the joy you feel over it’s creativity? Hmm yeah, this is not one of those.
On Sunday, BJP leader Shaymapada Mondal reused every tired trope in the book in his flurry of insults against Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. While yelling about how Banerjee “appeases” Muslims, he said that she has become a hijra, like the ones people see in trains.
While there is of course no logic connecting those two statements, there are age old links between women in politics and implications that they are “not real women”. Calling Banerjee a hijra is, I suppose, this dude’s uncontrollable misogynist reaction to seeing a woman in a powerful position.
Being a hijra is of course not an insult in itself, but using the term with derogatory overtones and insinuating that Banerjee is not a woman is. It’s strikingly similar to the insults people used to lobby at suffragists back when white women were lobbying for the right to vote in the United States: there were entire campaigns, posters and drives that focused on how “manly” suffragists are and how they’re not real women. The anger stemmed from the fact that women were encroaching on what had always been a very male space, and men couldn’t process that without fear and hatred. When you look at these posters and ads now, you sometimes find them a bit funny in a thank-god-we’ve-moved-on way, but every now and then, you heard about a man like Mondal and realise we haven’t really come that far after all.
Mondal also went on to reuse the done-to-death trope of the insane woman in his street corner diatribe. He said that didi is of “unsound mind”, and that one day they would have to “take her to Ranchi” (apparently it’s common knowledge that this is a euphemism for a mental health facility). Calling women insane just for the heck of it is a practice so old it makes the head spin. In fact, the feminisation of madness is deeply rooted into language itself: for example, the word “lunacy” has its roots in the idea of madness affected by “the lunar cycle”, and its Old English equivalent means “moon sickness”. The word “hysterical” comes from the Latin hystericus, meaning “of the womb”. These heavily gendered words are just lobbed at women who threaten men by their visibility and power, and have been for centuries. It clearly isn’t a trend that’s on the wane, but it’s exactly the reason why we need to call men out on both the fact that they lobby insults at women in the first place, and on the very specific and very deliberately chosen kind of insults they choose to direct at women.