By Sharanya Gopinathan
I was just thinking the other day how exasperating it is to always have the same exact criticism about most initiatives that aim to reduce sexual violence against women, from stricter sentencing to capital punishment to creating public sex offender registries. Whenever I hear of such a move being discussed to tackle India’s “rape problem”, I want to say the same few things: the focus of your attention should be changing the societal norms that contribute to rape culture and on educating boys and men on issues of consent and sexual autonomy, it should be on making sure rape doesn’t happen in the first place and not in punishing rapists excessively after the fact, and it should focus on telling boys not to rape rather than policing women’s actions and behaviours in order to “protect” or “save” them.
That’s exactly what this new PSA, by a Delhi-based advertising company called FCB Ulka, does. The campaign features young boys flipping those endlessly helpless “save the girl child” campaigns by asking people to “save the boy child”: from becoming the kind of man who rapes and assaults women. It also has a moment where the boy asks his father to treat his mother with respect, because it’s by observing gender dynamics and actions within the family that boys pick up the behaviours that will influence their own treatment of women when they grow up. It hits all the right notes: it stresses on the fact that it is boys and men who rape, that the values imparted to them within family units during their formative years influences their adult behaviour, and that it is up to parents to teach boys not to rape.
It kind of reminds me of this lovely piece by Marlon James wrote late last year, called Why I’m Done Talking About Diversity (or Why We Should Try an All-White Diversity Panel). The provocative sub-head was an interesting point he elaborated upon in the piece, and was rooted in the fact that he was tired of being the sole black person on panels supposedly about increasing diversity. He said that diversity was not something people of colour needed to work on, because their work already was diverse: white people had a diversity problem. They were the reason for the lack of diversity and the people who perpetuated, so since it’s their fault and their problem, let them introspect and figure out how to fix it, since they were the ones who needed fixing.
I feel something similar, if not a literal and direct parallel, when it comes to issues of sexual assault and how to tackle it. While I understand that no one can or will meaningfully address the issues that concern women better than women themselves, sometimes, I feel like being flippant and saying that it’s not women’s problem to fix: it’s men who need to change their behaviours and actions, not women.
So I love the idea of this ad that puts the onus directly on those who actually commit the crime and the circumstances which encourage that behaviour in men, driving home that this is something men need to fix, instead of making it seem like this is an issue women should tailor their behaviour in response to.
You can watch the full video here: