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“And who the fuck is Anoma Gamage?”

22 August 2015 Posted by No Comment

LH“Rosy lost because not enough women voted for her.”

Rickshaw Driver truisms are difficult to unravel. Yes, Rosy lost because not enough women voted for her. Broadcasters, press and social media is currently alive with opinions, poetry and prose on our new government. We love a good election in this country. The tight ones. The down to the wire ones. The drunken dreamy ones. Still, some herald freedom, and others, enslavement. Depends on where you were standing, and now sit. Did you see the POV from behind MR’s left ear of Ranil’s swearing in? Amidst all this splendid confusion of visceral minds, truisms cut through the bullshit.

Rosy lost because not enough men voted for her. No less true. So, was Pundit Rickshaw being sexist? Was it the burden of all women to vote on gender lines? If so, why didn’t they? Strong-field theory; too many stars? Perhaps. Yet, if every woman in Colombo voting UNP voted for Rosy there would be no need for petitions and frustration and bewilderment. How could they have ignored the work she has done to further the cause of downtrodden women? How could they forget her passion for the safety of the innocent child? Feelings burgeon and archetypes emerge. Then, we tried to vote her in again, online.

“Mr. Prime Minister, listen, no way will we allow for Rosy to go quietly into the night. We may have not voted for her, but we’re still pissed off she didn’t make it, so use your national list and do the right thing.”

Not an unreasonable request. We knew that National Lists are by no means set in stone. The Gentlemen Communist lost out, and the UPFA brought back SB, among others, who were rejected by the people. The Yahapalanaya team however refused to give Rosy a seat at the table. So, the man who wanted to strip the former madam president naked and have her march in shame through King’s Landing, is in, and the woman who singlehandedly took on the band of Mervyn and The Misogynist Mutts so fearlessly, is out. That just doesn’t sit right with us gender equality types.

So, why didn’t she win a seat at the table with the boys? Yes, it is a boy’s stable. Check the preferential votes. You’ve already counted the number of women, now include the National Lists, do you make it past two hands? You’ve already assessed their capability: Slut, Bitch, Whore, Mother, Virgin. You’ve already suggested that Hirunika won in Colombo because she’s younger and hotter. So yes, we could underpin the obvious and make pronouncements that patriarchy continues to thrive, engorge, and simply accept that this is our reality in Sri Lanka. It’s a man’s world.

What we could also do, even as we continue to point well manicured nails at the system (fueled by religion, culture, tradition et al), is ask ourselves why we failed. Those of us who wanted more women to represent us, Rosy among them, failed. This happened despite the online campaigns, the marches and vigils against violence against women, the meetings, the sensitization workshops, the training of trainers on gender issues… simply, our hullaballoo over this last last decade (or more) has failed to get through. More recent advocacy with political parties to put women on the ticket was not good enough either; we just didn’t change the voters’ minds. Their perception of women in power remains… inaccurate?

We must revalue our approach. Put in place a long term strategy that is not dependent wholly on current political realities, but rather force a new reality where the voting in of women becomes politically expedient.  A sound and judicious choice. At the moment they can’t hear us. Not even the women. Perhaps, they just don’t want to listen. Perhaps they’re just happy with the way things are, after all, even feminism accepts that a woman may choose to be a stay at home mum and cook for her husband, and that’s ok. As long as it is a choice and not blind conformism.

“They don’t know any better.”

Very Jesus of you, except whose better are we suggesting? And who are they?

Women? Don’t they know any better than to keep quiet when they’re getting physically or sexually abused? Don’t they know any better than to bring shame to the family? Don’t they know any better than to cry?

Men? Don’t they know any better than to get caught?

The cacophony of imagery that bleeds into us doesn’t always allow for choices and decisions to be made based solely on information. On election night I was watching Sirasa, and intermittently a Sinhala Film played, Sikuru Hathe, and I recognized the matchmaker. He was the same matchmaker of the now petrified and shriveled Maliban biscuit ad that was pulled. Dark girl (chocolate biscuit) no good, I want white girl (white chocolate biscuit). The film too was a parody of relationships between men and women in Sri Lanka. People laugh because it happens. Similarly, with the white chocolate biscuit, the ad agency claimed it mirrored reality. People are colour conscious. Read the Sunday matrimonial listings, they’re not wrong. I’d also love to see the sales figures for Fair and Lovely and the ilk. What about the practice of not using a woman’s old clothes to make cotton wicks for oil lamps? That’s another bell that tolls sure and clear. Women are dirty (menstrual) and unworthy.  Even the Bible tells us so.

So who do we listen to? What do we listen for? Information is obviously overrated. Choices and decisions need discernment. How do we encourage people to discern and sift through the information that assails us every waking moment? Do we start paying heed to our dream world instead?

“I’m going to build me a heaven, I’m going to build me a heaven of my own, so that all these lovely women, I’m going to give them a happy home.” – Lightnin’ Hopkins, Soul Blues

All gender pundits agree that men must engage with this process of emancipation and empowerment. Obviously those who appear to live within gender binaries like Blues singer Lightnin’ Hopkins, and want to save women by building them a heaven, need closer scrutiny 🙂 Do women need to be saved? Do women need men to save them? Who do they need saving from? Is Lightening Hopkins suggesting a heaven along the lines of Hugh Heffner’s Playboy mansion?  What kind of men do we want on our side? A blues singer would be cool. Great riffs. He would have got Rosy a few more votes if he hadn’t died in ’82.

Rosy lost because not enough women voted for her. Rosy lost because not enough men voted for her. Rosy lost because shit happens.

Not being in parliament doesn’t mean she can’t still represent us. It doesn’t mean women and children won’t benefit from her experience and indomitable will. Surely there are ways that she will still engage, contribute and fight. How she responds now could be a testament to Sri Lankan womanhood. Just look at what Upeksha said yesterday.

“Despite defeat I will serve the people.” 

We dont have to put all our eggs in one womb.

So, how do we revalue our approach? Reflecting on the quota system before we reject it as discrimination and unfair advantage is a good first step, unless we’re looking for a cosmetic quick fix. Surely we’re not saying that women are less capable than men, and so segregate the vote.  It’ll be like one of those painful weddings; men in one corner pretending not to drink, and women in another corner pretending not to see.

Alternatives to a quota system are not a quick-fix though and will take some doing. Perhaps we could begin with the Civics text book in schools that perpetuate the breadwinner vs homemaker gender binary.

Perhaps we could stop saying respect so often and instead, respect.

Perhaps we just need to stop believing what we’re told and start thinking for ourselves. Become discerning and become whole, just as God intended with the rib.

Perhaps we need to dream more, and listen to the whispers in our state of dreaming that might just suggest the answer that common sense keeps telling us is real, but we ignore, because what has common sense really ever done for us.*

Baby steps…

“And then what happened you decrepit lunatic?”

“We became a nation that elects women for who they are and what they stand for, with the firm belief in their ability to represent us. Stop laughing. It happened. We did that. Fuck off before I shove my walking stick up where the sun don’t shine you impertinent boy-droid-thing!”

I wonder how many women will stand for the next election… “And who the fuck is Anoma Gamage?”

*Common sense in Sri Lanka = Romans in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

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