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OPINION | It's Not Just 'White Women Issues', Indian Men's Chauvinism Runs Much Deeper

If you exclude from the conversations cultural peculiarities, the problem of oppressed women in India, at the end of the day, is the same problem that women in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, to name a few, suffer.

Consuelo Angioni |

Updated:October 31, 2017, 3:31 PM IST
OPINION | It's Not Just 'White Women Issues', Indian Men's Chauvinism Runs Much Deeper
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Disclaimer: I’m a white, Italian woman. I lived in India till two years ago. I was 24 and was studying and working as a freelance journalist. I had the chance to travel the country and meet different people in various cities, while also getting to spend time at IIM Lucknow with both Indian and European students.

During those months, I talked with people from different social strata — I interacted with wealthy Indian elite; with taxi drivers, hotel hosts and restaurant waiters; with working Indian women, some of who shared their flats with men. I talked with Indian women working as teachers, researchers and doctors, and talked with fellow tourists from almost every part of the world.

When travelling, I got many chances to talk openly with people about ‘this thing that Indian men have for white women’. When I was back in my country, I kept getting updates about India from the news and from my Facebook newsfeed, with the experiences of the folks I had met there, and of my friends, many of them European girls like me. I was following the topic from afar, as I am currently doing with all things regarding India. Soon enough while I was there, I formed my own opinion about it, and after time and distance and thousand discussions I still hold on that position: there’s no such thing as ‘the thing Indian men have for white women’. I should mention, this has never been the most favoured position in those discussions.

This take on the subject comes from this first realization: being a woman in India is no different from being a woman in many other countries. If you exclude from the conversations cultural peculiarities, the problem of oppressed women in India, at the end of the day, is the same problem that women in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, to name a few, suffer.

It is a problem that comes from a history of male supremacy and, very broadly speaking, of the sexism that is a common feature of the history of mankind as it’s been developed in the majority of human societies.

There are differences in the way sexism has been displayed: it would be stupid and even careless to compare sexual violence and rapes to the more subtle and less blatant forms of oppressions that women experience in day-to-day occasions, in the first-world countries such as the one I live in (see this video if you feel like having a very dark laugh about it).

Now addressing the other aspect: being a white woman. To some extent, the extent that excludes the forms of sexism that are specifics of being a woman instead of being a man, being a white woman in India is no different than being a white man in India.

The well-documented case of “the white privilege” offers a quite accurate, although controversial, view on what any white person who has stayed in his/her life in India at least for some time (and no matter where, if Mumbai or a small town in the heart of Himachal Pradesh) must have experienced for sure.

At some point, you start getting used to the phenomenon: locals want to see you closely, want to touch you, to take a selfie with you, to hear your name and know where you come from. White skin attracts attention in a way that’s impossible to stop. It’s literally like experiencing a celebrity status.

Is it explained by the attractiveness of white skin per se (a pure matter of taste), or is white skin just the necessary distinctive trait that identifies western people as western – and that where lies the whole phenomenon? Well, there’s a thing for white skin admiration in itself and it is well documented in this article. At the very least, it’s a point to take into account in giving some context to the “thing that Indian men have for white women”.

According to the circumstances, being a white person in India can be a disadvantage or an opportunity – this doesn’t necessarily rule out the existence of the “white privilege” (I encourage you to consider this whole other point of view as well). But, with no need of mentioning any personal anecdote, it’s easy to imagine all of the situations in which being recognized as a white person can help – and when, in fact, it totally does not. Again, differences in the way this happens to white men and to white women are, in my view, easily explained by the arguments used in point 1.

Saying there doesn’t exist a thing like “the thing Indian men have for white women” isn’t simply saying that Indian women and white women are being treated by Indian men the same way. I’m also not saying that the differences in the way white and Indian women are treated are only explained by having a white skin. There’s also a case of the kind of opinion and consideration that Indian men have for white women, isn’t it? A case that is linked to the fact that many Indian men think white women are more open-minded and sexually uninhibited, therefore pliable to their harassments – where with “harassment” I include each and every episode of it, starting from being stared at in a very straightforward and obsessive way while walking on the streets.

What is that is feeding this belief? Is it the clothing and costumes of western women? Is it based on Indians’ personal and direct experiences, in western countries or with western tourists? Does it come from Hollywood and/or from porn and/or media in general? It could be all of these reasons together, and many other reasons that have not been considered yet. I don’t think I have a unique explanation, at the same way I don’t have an explanation on why in Italy there’s a common belief regarding Indians being “very spiritual people”, and Germans being “cold”, and Americans being “greedy” or “practical”.

I don’t know exactly how stereotypes are formed, but it’s on this I would focus the attention in trying to understand why Indian men are more open to white women in expressing their sexual appetite - because there’s a largely diffused stereotype about it, as with many other stereotypes that every country has in respect of any other country in the world (stereotypes in India make no exception of course, and they are different according to the country feeding them).

Moreover, it is utterly important to underline that Indian men are not the only ones feeding this stereotype - the same opinion of the ‘easy sexual availability of western women’ is obviously shared by Indian women as well (yes: in this, Indian women are no different from all others).

It’s easy to take this point of view (the idea that there is no “thing” Indian men per se have for white women per se) as a way to undermine violence, rapes and general harassments that many are experiencing every day. I personally believe there is the risk in making the phenomenon look simpler than it is. But I don’t think I have the expertise to analyse it in all of its facets and complexity – I think, though, that before going down to the peculiarities, there is the need of looking at it as an instance of something that shouldn’t be seen as an Indian-specific matter only.

About the “thing”, as I have seen it and experienced it and eventually understood it, inside India and outside it – I was familiar with it before experiencing it in India. And definitely expected it.

— Author is Digital Specialist at Ogilvy & Mather. Views expressed are personal

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