Hindustan Times has come out with a web series (#LetsTalkAboutRape) where some of the famous Indian personalities are writing open letters to talk about sexual assault in India. As a part of the series, the second letter is an open letter by Mary Kom to her three sons. She talks about the sexual violence that women face and starts by speaking about her own experience of being molested.
Conversations about sexual violence or consent, gender roles, victim blaming do not generally form the fabric of our households. Misplaced notions of consent, or ideas of masculinity are internalised by all of us in such a space where there is shame associated with talking about certain topics. This needs to be challenged for the creation of a gender inclusive safe space and Mary Kom’s open letter to her sons does exactly that.
The aspects which Mary Kom brings out resonate with our work, especially our #ShareYourStory campaign. The message of the campaign is for families to have open conversations about sexual harassment in order to counter the mindset in which violence against women is rooted. Further, we just ran a campaign #StandWithMe which initiated conversations around creating gender inclusive safer spaces for which aspects such as consent, inter-generational dialogue are essential.We, at Breakthrough our delighted by this letter and wish to amplify the voice, the message, the issue it is trying to raise. Here are a few excerpts from the open letter where Mary Kom says it like it is and we lover her for it!
But sexual crimes are also steeped in our mindsets and I would fail in my duty as a mother, if I did not tell you – all great sons of this country – that we alone have rights to our bodies. Respect women when they say ‘No’. Don’t stalk them to death because they have said ‘No’. Rape is not about sex; it is only about a misplaced sense of power and revenge.
What these string of words beautifully articulate is a woman’s autonomy over her body. Nobody is entitled to any control over a woman’s body except herself. Further, in a society where rape is often perceived as a manifestation of sexual repression or rather simply ‘men losing control’, this articulation points out how it is nothing but a misplaced sense of power. A sense of power bestowed upon men in a patriarchal order where women are identified as property owned by men.
You grow up in a home where we teach you respect and equality. Your father does not go out to do a nine-to-five job – like you see your friend’s dads doing – because one of us must always be there for you. Between my training and my work now as a Member of Parliament, I have to spend long hours out of home. I have the utmost respect for your father who now dedicates his time for me and for you all. You will soon hear the words “house husband” but remember that’s not a slur; neither is it derogatory. He’s my strength, my partner, who walks with me through every step I take.
In a patriarchal society, gender roles are strictly defined. Care-giving or simply taking care of children is a responsibility which always understood to be a woman’s role. What Mary Kom is challenging here is this stereotype and also highlighting how important it is for two people to be partners rather than ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ with roles defined in a marriage.
I know I can beat a molester to pulp and that might help me fight the deep sense of being defiled but why should it even come to that? Desire is beautiful when it is reciprocal. We have often heard the explanation of ‘boys will be boys’. Let’s build a society where girls can be safe, secure and respected.
As women, we are often offered the solution of learning ‘self-defence’ to ensure our own safety. While yes, there is nothing wrong with being prepared to help yourself in a difficult situation, but to advocate it as a solution is problematic. To have, a woman boxer, articulate this is a much needed reminder that the problem is not a woman’s inability to defend herself rather a system which views them as weak and inferior.
Lastly, another idea that Mary Kom beautifully frames is that of consent. The idea of consent has often been misplaced and distorted in our learning from various sources. By writing about desire using notions such as body autonomy, consent, Mary Kom has managed to send out a very powerful message.
As Mary Kom writes to her son’s she ardently points out that them being boys justifies nothing. Join us this week and the coming week as we discuss and engage with these ideas more. Help us advocate for the importance of inter-generational dialogue. Share your story. Create spaces for open conversations and get these conversations going. Come be a part of a fight against sexual harassment and an attempt to create gender inclusive safer spaces.
The italicised text are excerpts from Mary Kom’s open letter published by Hindustan Times.