First published on Huffington Post India, received over 4K Likes
I heard the PM talking at the Gold scheme launch today. I observed that he was making these terrible blunders, one after the other and I was wondering just how bad it could get. Turned out, it was quite bad if not baddest. What did he do wrong? Well, he used gendered language.
“In India, women don’t have anything, house, car etc are all in the name of husband or son. But she has the gold. The way social structure is, gold is a big weapon of women empowerment. She won’t have home but she is owner of gold. Even the son would not question it, ‘it is mother’s’ they say. This is positive aspect of our culture that has provided for this women empowerment…we should carry on with this culture, our mothers and daughters should continue to feel safe knowing they have gold…” Said the nation’s PM.
See the full speech here
Who can deny that the above statements make a brilliant justification for the practice of dowry in our culture? Who can deny that the foremost use of gold in our country is in marriages as bridal jewelry which is nothing else but dowry? From the day a girl is born the parents would start saving for the gold to be given in her marriage. It is because of the pressure to provide gold in marriage, as a security mechanism for her life, that girls are seen as burden. Our Prime Minister told the whole nation that we should keep this tradition alive.
Dear prime minister, you no longer call them disabled, they are called ‘differently able’, and similarly you don’t go about announcing to the world that women have nothing except the gold they bring in dowry howsoever true it might be. Because such statements would only add to the violence of “dahej mein kitne tola sona layi hai? (How much gold did she bring in dowry?),” now that you have made it official that women do, and will always depend upon her gold.
Before coming to the crux of the speech he casually joked about the wife of the Governor of Reserve Bank of India’s demand to get her gold. The kind reference towards her was meant to be an example of how difficult it is to bring people out of their preconceived notions. With a hearty laugh he said, “Arthashastra alag aur grihashastra alag (Economy is one thing and domesticity is another).”
Well done Mr. Prime Minister, casual jokes about women’s greed for money, gold and jewelry and man’s inability to reason with women because they do not understand the ways of the world, from economy to politics – just what we needed. NOT.
Moving on through the speech every verb used by him was in male gender, “family goldsmith hota hai, America mein rehene gaya hoga, dhundega, showroom mein jayega, sonhar ke paas jayega, yaar check karle…” Sigh! This world has no women. Women might ‘own’ the gold, but everything to be done ‘with’ the gold were being done by the males in Modi’s narrative. How cruelly ironic is that. Do you realize Mr. Prime Minister?
The way Modi spoke today was text book example of gendered language. Women are always referred to in relational terms (mothers, daughters, wives) never as independent individuals while men are referred to in occupational terms (Goldsmith). Women are made subject of marriage jokes, and referred to as ‘your wife’, his wife (in this case RBI Governor’s wife). Generic terms are always masculine (mankind) and relatively smaller objects are feminine (kitchenette). When a man talks to other men and refers to generic terms in masculine what he essentially is doing is imagining himself and other men as ‘us’ and the women as non-existent ‘others’.
This is what Simone de Beauvoir called the othering of women. “She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other,” Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex.
Modi’s entire speech was thus ridden with inherent gender biases and that’s a shame. You don’t expect casual banter from the nation’s prime minister, you don’t expect gendered language. You expect the prime minister to be perfect, his every word, every punctuation should be measured. But being conscious about using respectful language towards women is not on the priority list of Mr. Modi. He has done this earlier also, remember when he said something nice about Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with the appendage ‘despite being woman.’
Besides the gendered language, the content of the speech was equally problematic for me. I don’t think the narrative ‘gold is for women, their only security, we must keep the tradition of gold obsession alive’ is very flattering to women. Should women be identified with gold to this magnanimous extent? Perhaps Modi should know where to stop because his somewhat well intentioned speeches far too often quickly fall into deep chasm of mindless drivel. Investing inactive gold in banks is perhaps a noble idea but to equate that to women empowerment, or to fan the tradition of extravaganza in marriages or to say that the gold alone would end poverty…drivel alert there Mr. Modi.
Update I: The first two para of this post have been edited out on account of they being my personal feelings towards Modi, irrelevant for the purpose of this critique. Thanks to the friend who rightly pointed it out.