The December 16th gang rape of a physiotherapy student on a moving New Delhi bus shocked the world last winter. Her agonizing death two weeks later from internal injuries sustained by a metal rod was the last straw for Indians, who took to the streets in unprecedented protest over the widely accepted sexual violence endemic to Indian society.
What's the story here?
Is it the pervasive culture of sexual assault and disrespect of women? Sadly, that's hardly news. Only lately has society turned its attention to collating figures around the harassment, assault and rape of girls and women around the world, but anecdotal evidence and common sense tell us that it's commonplace, crosses all ethnic/religious/socioeconomic boundaries, and scarcely merits a shrug in many cultures.
A recent report quotes that in six Asian countries, one in ten men admit to raping a woman. When wives and partners are included, that rises to a staggering quarter of men surveyed.
Even more disturbing was their justification -- that women were there for their pleasure.
Shock at these figures quickly fades to complacency however. This leaves men with the tacit permission to go on treating all women, even those they've chosen to be their emotional partners, as sex objects for their physical gratification. Love doesn't even enter the picture.
Here in Canada, on the campuses of UBC and Saint Mary's University in Halifax, intelligent first-year students chanted a song glorifying the assault of underage girls as part of frosh week ceremonies. In both cases, student leaders responsible were both men and women -- making a woman like me wonder whether young women today value themselves at all.
Have they simply bought into the myth that these soul-destroying exercises of "empowerment" are just harmless fun? Surely not. But women with brains know that it's not enough to be talented or bright. The most coveted quality is to be 'hot", and if that means losing other valuable attributes such as dignity, then my heart aches for girls and women, not just in India or other so-called third-world nations, but for the lovely, accomplished young women I see all around me.
Don't jettison the cargo that keeps you afloat -- self respect can't be bought at the next port of call.