Ranjona Banerji: How irresponsible! Dorab Sopariwalla makes a ‘wishy-washy’ remark on women & lower income groups on NDTV 24×7

02 May,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Patriarchy raises its head in the unlikeliest places. Like on Thursday night on NDTV during a discussion on gender vote shares this election. Statistics have shown that more men vote for the BJP and more women vote for the Congress – this is not news, it has been mentioned before. Election analyst Dorab Sopariwala – normally very astute in these matters – made a remarkable assertion on the vote share in Bihar in this election where in the third phase more women than men voted which could be bad news for the BJP. Men vote for the BJP, said Sopariwala, because it is seen as muscular and therefore masculine. Women vote for the Congress because it is “wishy-washy”. Oh yes, before I restrict this to a feminist rant, he added for good measure that lower income groups also prefer the “wishy-washy”. Talk about putting your foot in it.

 

Whether the Congress is wishy-washy or not, is not my concern. But this idea that women prefer the “wishy-washy” and men the “muscular” is not just gender stereotyping, it also puts many other gender assumptions on their heads. For one, it could be wishful thinking that women like the wishy-washy – many claim that Indian men are wishy-washy anyway and that is what Indian women are used to. Or it could be that wishy-washy Indian naturally look with awe at the “muscular” and “masculine” BJP and therefore gravitate towards it. Or it could insidiously imply that women are by nature wishy-washy and cannot make “masculine” choices – perhaps Sopariwala has based his psychobabble observations on the amount of time some women take to decide which pair of shoes to buy. I joke perhaps, but I do not laugh.

 

And as for the lower income groups, my what a travesty of democracy they are: consistently heading towards the wishy-washy when they could easily be like big, strong, masculine men and pick the muscular BJP. I would have thought that lower income men were more muscular than soft pudgy higher income men but it could be that I am also stereotyping. Perhaps muscular men would naturally pick the wishy-washy since that apparently denotes the feminine – satisfied perhaps in their own masculine muscularity.

 

The mind boggles. But whatever the interpretations, the underlying implications are unacceptable. Those who appear in responsible positions on large media platforms need to be careful about what they say and how they say it.

 

**

 

The revelations about Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s relationship with a TV anchor have thrown the media in a quandary. So far, the personal lives of politicians have been tiptoed around. There may have been plenty of gossip but not the sort of media hysterics that happens in the US or the UK for instance. But since his political rivals and therefore the media made so much of Narendra Modi’s lately acknowledged wife, Singh’s l’affaire de coeur could hardly been ignored.

 

So where do we go from here? Is everyone fair game? In the case of Amrita Rai, the journalist with whom Singh is involved, she claims that her email was hacked into and personal pictures posted on social media. The trouble is, once you are in the public eye – and a love affair with a public personality is that much – then all gloves are off. The dirty tricks departments of rivals will be doing what they can to mess up your game. C’est la vie.

 

Still, even within the media, there are questions being asked. Has the Indian media bridged that last gap? Are we going to get into everyone’s personal lives now? Also, has there been a difference between the way TV and print have covered the story? Rai is after all a TV journalist and there is a tendency to look out for your own.

 

Pradyuman Maheshwari has some ideas on the issue in his column for Mid-Day: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/is-news-tv-soft-on-diggy-raja/15267088

 

If I would add anything it is this: I am no fan of Narendra Modi but the story of his ignored wife is an old one and of little relevance to his brand of “masculine, muscular” politics. Had his political rivals not made so much of it, Singh could have cooed his way into bliss in blessed silence. And most importantly, Singh’s wife has passed away. Rai is separated from her husband and in the middle of a divorce. So there is no impropriety here to create a massive story.

 

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