A fresh calendar year can bring with it so much promise, as dangerous as it is to be superstitious about it. Most people like to start new things, and even more people use it as a chance to leave certain things behind. This year, I’m very consciously bringing a “negative” emotion forward. I refuse to put my anger about misogyny and sexism in the past. Yes, it takes a toll on me. It makes me grit my teeth, stay awake raging, bear grudges. But no, I won’t give it up.
As this year turns, I finally feel this anger has a place to go: it is a hot, molten metal being poured into the mould of a weapon, made from the alloy of many. I finally feel like being an angry woman is not an aberration, but the status quo. I feel like after a lifetime of shouting that the emperor has no clothes, people are finally conceding that they too knew all along – but didn’t know it was okay to know.
Now, my anger doesn’t overpower me. I’m comfortable giving it space, even making more space for it, so it is less reactive, and therefore more capable. Recently, in what was neither the first and probably isn’t going to be the last time, it was brought to my notice that photos of me were being circulated on an online account sexually objectifying women. Once the account was reported and taken down, I went looking for more such accounts, and reported as many as possible. There are hundreds if not more, on various platforms. All of them steal images of women and caption them provocatively. Someone pointed out a potential danger to me: if someone were to see me in public and assume not only that I offered sexual services but that he was entitled to them, I would be at physical risk (this is a risk that sex workers experience constantly).
But another thought troubled me far more deeply. Not everyone will react with indignation alone to having her photos stolen. Some will feel profound, potentially dangerous, shame. Others will face consequences from their families. As someone well-meaning but with obviously undeveloped political sense said, “It could ruin ladies’ lives.” Yes, it can. It’s all well and good for someone like me to keep posting selfies no matter how many creeps there are on the Internet, or someone like the musician Sia to release her own nude images so no one could else profit from them, but there is a huge majority of women for whom such criminal activity has manifold consequences. Women whose pictures were stolen from matrimonial profiles, for instance. Women whose first taste of liberty came with a cellphone or a social media account they thought was private. Women held hostage by love. I didn’t get to my anger without wading through shame, without having my own education truncated, without being ostracised. I came from the same frog-pond too.
So this is why I’m staying angry. Because there’s still a deficit. I’m just helping hold the fort down until all the women have arrived at the same conclusion. And they will.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on January 4th 2018. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.