A teacher in India has lost her job because of a bikini photo on Instagram. What does this say about misogyny?

News recently broke that last year an assistant professor in Kolkata – one of India’s most liberal cities – was allegedly forced to resign after posting a picture in a swimsuit on her social media.

While the divine feminine is often revered in India, the way men continue to treat women in the country speaks volumes about a culture of misogyny.

Philosophers like Iris Young, Sandra Bartky, and Susan Bordo have argued that women’s bodies are made “tame” and “disciplined” through diet, makeup, and dress. In South Asian cultures, social norms are designed for women to bear the brunt of their family honor and, in some cases, the reputation of their employers.

As a scholar studying gender-based violence and social inequality, I argue that women who upset the social structure and choose not to conform to cultural and social expectations of femininity are seen as “troublemakers” and are therefore punished.

What really happened

The photo of the assistant professor sparked various reactions and revealed how in Indian society women are forced to bear the brunt of modesty.

The teachers recently revealed:

“Not only was I morally watched and harassed for over an hour for footage I shared privately with a select group of people, but I was also forced to tender my resignation.”

The father of an 18-year-old student has complained that his son was looking at “vulgar” photos of the assistant professor. He wrote to the university to express his “concern” about his son’s exposure to the photo.

Many criticized the university’s action as a witch hunt when it was revealed that the vice-chancellor and members of the university’s senior administration allegedly forced the assistant professor to resign based on the photos of his personal Instagram.

Structural violence against women

The insidiousness of misogyny lies in not allowing women to take ownership of their bodies – in many cases, women’s bodies become the “marker of honor”.

Women who break with societal gendered expectations create subjective selves that challenge the very workings of patriarchy. When women decide not to respect the moral code and to exist in their bodies, it is an act of resistance.

Structural violence is a combination of personal, situational and interpersonal factors that harm women in many ways. The incident at St. Xavier’s University proves how gendered expectations and culture create the conditions to discipline and punish women.

Feminist scholar Kalpana Wilson argues that women’s bodies become sites of surveillance and are morally and socially controlled based on their location. Gender stereotypes around femininity are used as harmful social tropes and enforced in educational spaces through dress and moral code of conduct.

Dress code this, dress code that

In a study, consulting firm McKinsey and Company found that, professionally, women tend to perform better and provide more organizational support than men in similar positions. Yet women tend to be undervalued.

This illustrates how women who are “troublemakers” can face significantly increased challenges at work. Women have to live up to unrealistic expectations and regularly have their credibility questioned.

Women tend to be undervalued compared to men in the workplace.
(Christina WOCinTechChat/Unsplash)

Keith Plummer and Sarah Saska of Feminuity, a Toronto-based feminist diversity and inclusion consultancy, argue that strict professional codes of conduct harm women, queer people and people with diverse identities in the workplace. work. They say professionalism imposes a mechanical identity where any deviation is treated with skepticism and stigma.

Criticizing professionalism, Plummer and Saska note that it robs people of opportunity and dismisses diverse perspectives. Dress codes not only impose gendered expectations, but also make women more vulnerable to institutional scrutiny.

The incident at the university amounts to gender harassment.

Women who strive to break with systemic misogyny and ideas rooted in heteronormative and sexist stereotypes also make room for resistance to social oppression. The community of “pooper women” who live in their bodies work to upset patriarchy by becoming the tool that calls into question its very function.

As British writer and author of the feminist pooper blog Sara Ahmed says, protest is a form of self-care. Women’s voices and actions are feminist tools for protesting and reclaiming bodily autonomy.

Women who participate in pooper moments like existing in their bodies create space for others to demand equal treatment in cultures that dehumanize their existence.

Jack C. Nugent