We were cruising along Baseline Road. All of a sudden, the driver lost his cool. Showing me two teenage girls walking along the pavement, he snarled: “Somebody should teach these sluts how to dress properly!”
The two girls wore t-shirts and three-quarters, just as he was. Of course, he isn’t a ‘slut’ because of his gender. I thought it would be wiser to steer the conversation back to stereo systems, and did so.
I thought of this incident after hearing about the uproar over the Enrique Iglesias concert in Colombo. Iglesias was here on December 20 as part of his world tour “Love and Sex.” The Colombo concert was organized by Live Events, a company co-owned by cricketing giants Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
The uproar was caused by a woman throwing her bra at Iglesias. According to some reports, it was more than one woman. Some are said to have rushed to the stage to kiss and hug the pop star.
In this country, we are always learning. This is common behaviour at pop concerts in many parts of the world. If one were to compile a record of all female fans who have thrown their underwear at pop stars, the resulting to me would be bigger than the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
But many Sri Lankans don’t seem to have a clue, judging by the comments made online. Gossip columns harangued the two cricketers for the outrage and the fans for their ‘obscene acts.’ But the jewel in the crown of this idiocy came from none other than our President himself. He reportedly said at a meeting in Amparai that the organisers should be whipped for this outrage. He castigated the bra tossers but apparently felt they should be spared this cruel, mediaeval punishment. But the organizers shouldn’t be spared.
Not to be outdone, ultra-right politician Udaya Gammpanila asked the president to do what he suggested. All this reminds us how, during the previous regime, the then sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage was equally outraged by a group of Ukrainian cheer leaders at a Dambulla cricket match.
Gammanpila and Aluthgamage can be dismissed as politicians of little or no consequence. But Maithripala Sirisena is our national leader. He was elected to office in a dramatic manner by people eager for change – not merely for the sake of change, but to bring out profound changes in the thinking and behaviour of our politicians.
But the focus of this drive is entirely on political corruption and violence. Where ‘cultural policing’ is concerned, I can see no difference between the incumbent president and his predecessors. His puritanical outburst is in line with an entrenched tradition of making sure that women do not step out of line as icons of cultural purity. One can recall R. Premadasa, a former president, ordering the police to use gum tape on women pedestrians wearing split skirts.
It’s interesting to wonder what might have happened if the bra-tossing occurred during the former regime. In all probability, Mahinda Rajapaksa would have ignored it – not because he was any less a puritan than his successor, but because the organizers would have been his cronies. Or he might have suggested that the women be whipped instead of the organizers.
But these are facets of the same old problem we are stuck with – leaders who think that a woman who wears a split skirt, or one who throws a bra at a pop star, is a national crisis and a threat to the country’s culture. Their outrage and reactions only serve to increase violence against women. The biggest argument that rapists and their lawyers have in this region, including India, is that women ask for it by not dressing modestly. That’s why politicians like Premadasa, Gammanpila, Aluthgamage and now (unfortunately) our President are no different from that teenage three wheeler driver when it comes to misogynistic attitudes towards women.
As far as I’m concerned, the ‘Iglesias incident’ signifies a change in a segment of our society. The nature of the act speaks for itself. A female fan throwing her underwear at her pop idol is a phenomenon produced by Western pop culture, which is no longer Western. It has become universal. Whether this is good, bad, or an evil to be eradicated, is a matter of personal opinion. The Japanese, an Asian people with very strong ancient traditions, are not outraged when Japanese females behave similarly at Japanese pop concerts, because their culture is more eclectic, and open to change, than ours.
They know the act to be symbolic and symbols can do harm unless you blow them out of proportion. Tossing one’s underwear at a man isn’t ‘normal’ behaviour. By the same argument, nor can an abduction and elimination of civilians by paramilitary forces during the tenure of a democratically elected government be called ‘normal.’ But I can’t recall anyone saying in an outraged voice at a public meeting that those who abduct and kill should be whipped. By any stretch of the imagination, wouldn’t it be better to have a bra tosser as one’s neighbour than shadowy types who use Defenders or white vans?
The trouble here is that personal opinions are formed on the behalf of the citizenry by our politicians. What the President said at a public event should be understood in that context. Politicians fear change..
Change means that voters begin to think in a new way. Who knows how the new-fangled thinkers are going to vote? This of course is over-reacting. This doesn’t mean that our bra-tosser is a political radical. She could be very conservative in her politics (just the kind of person who voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier and later for Maithripala Sirisena) but she got carried away at the concert, because the president and Enrique Iglesias are, after all, two very different people, and she will react to their public performances in totally different ways. But she will regain her senses once the concert is over. Let’s hope that the President too, will have a reflective moment later on. Or that he has advisers with enough sense and spine to tell him he was wrong.
Ranjan Thursday, 31 December 2015 14:58
Good article well written, well done.
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