God with a capital ‘G’

God with a capital ‘G’

The first person to teach me acceptance was my mother.

At the time, a Hindu uncle had been living with my family, and I’d seen the corner in his room dedicated to his gods. I was a curious seven-year-old, and being the devout little Sunday school-goer and Bible story reader that I was, I set about asking him:

“Uncle, do you believe in God?”

“Yes, of course I do.”

“No, but do you believe in God? With a capital ‘G’?”

Because I had learned from my books that idol worshippers’ gods got a little ‘g’, but the Christian God, the real God, got a capital letter.

“What difference does it make? I still believe in God,” he responded, laughing.

I turned to my mother who was also laughing at my question, but seemed to understand my confusion.

“There is one God-”

“-with a capital ‘G’.”

“…Yes, with a capital ‘G’. There is one God, one destination. But different people take different paths to reach God.”

“The same God, our God?”

“Our God, their God, it’s all the same. We just worship God in different ways. Some are Christians, some are Hindus, some are Muslims, but all are children of God and all will reach the same place no matter what path they take.”

This was a mindset I was fortunate to be able to observe more over time, as the Malayalee community I grew up in was an even blend of Christians and Hindus. The Christians went to their many churches, and the Hindus went to their temples and prayers, and it was accepted that this was the norm. Celebrating the Hindu festival of Onam every year was a given, whether you were Hindu or Christian – a Christian friend of mine was usually the one roped in to dress up as Mahabali, the Asura king. During the end-of-year Christmas carolling, it was (and still is) the case that the giant group of revellers going from house to house singing carols and beating drums and tambourines with a dancing Santa in their midst was made up of more Hindus than Christians.

There is, however, still an element of division that cannot be ignored when it comes to what is arguably the touchiest aspect of our culture: marriage. Inter-religion marriages are still heavily frowned upon by most Malayalee families, and one must question the relevance of this disapproval in the face of a generation that is becoming more and more distanced from the rigidity of previous traditions, including those belonging to religion. What difference does it make if they take different paths to get to God, they’re still getting to God, right? (Apparently there is a difference, if you ask someone who’s trying to get their kid married.)

Despite this, growing up as a Malayalee in South Africa, and with the particular culture of religious acceptance (in-all-things-but-marriage) amongst the community members has helped me grow as a person, and encouraged me to think beyond my own experiences.

The conversation I had with my mother back then has stuck with me, and even though my mother and I have our arguments (don’t get us started on clothing), her capacity for love and acceptance always amazes and humbles me. I’ve since then thought of every person’s God – whether that be a religious God, or something else they are devoted to – as God with a capital ‘G’. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Taming the shrew? – Why slapping women should not be normalised in Malayalam media

Taming the shrew? – Why slapping women should not be normalised in Malayalam media

There is a particularly disturbing trope that has spanned through Malayalam films and serials since the beginning of their conception: slapping a woman to “teach her a lesson” or to “make her behave”. This trope often manifests in Malayalam media as a man slapping his wife, sister, daughter, love interest (or even in some cases, a woman he barely knows) when she doesn’t fall in line with what he wants.

Malayalee communities are still heavily patriarchal, where the alpha male (whether that be the father, the son, or even grandson) is “head” of the household. Although this obviously isn’t the case for every single family, it happens more often than not that this can translate to the man of the house being able to dictate the lives of his female family members simply because he is male.

In Malayalam media, when a woman steps out of line in some way – she could be flirting with the neighbour’s son, talking to boys at college, behaving like a “Western girl” (more on this in a future post), or arguing with her father or husband – it isn’t questioned when her father or brother steps forward to “slap some sense” into her. In fact, characters and viewers alike will often agree that “she deserved it”.

Sometimes it’s hard for us to counter this idea – sometimes the sin she’s being slapped for isn’t that she was going around with her father’s enemy’s son, but instead that she’s the villain of the story who destroys someone’s marriage on purpose, or is found engaging in criminal activity (Malayalam movies can be dramatic, yo). Some punitive measure is necessary in these cases (although that’s what the justice system is meant to be for); but the problem here lies in the idea that “one hard slap from a man” will be all a woman needs to regain reason and a sense of dignity and/or morality. This is a horrible concept for numerous reasons.

Firstly, slapping someone is not going to magically give them sense – it is a means by which to exert dominance and power over the person being slapped by making them experience pain and fear. Secondly, the idea that women cannot be rational beings without a man’s intervention is a terrifying notion that has dictated how women have been mistreated, marginalised and excluded from positions of authority for centuries. Thirdly, allowing yourself to believe that slapping a woman is justified is allowing yourself to believe that man-on-woman violence is acceptable under certain conditions. That opens a shady window: under what conditions is it acceptable to perpetuate this violence? That leads to even further questions: Does the severity of the violence depend on the severity of the crime? How severe is too severe? Is there such a thing as too severe if the woman has done something terrible? Who defines terrible? What is the man’s subjective definition of terrible? Is he justified in escalating his violence based on how wronged he feels?

It’s a slippery slope.

Furthermore, although slapping is the most common action, this trope does not limit itself to just that. Depending on how enraged and entitled the male character teaching the woman a lesson feels, the violence can range from anywhere between a slap to a full-on beating. Please note how this mindset is more than capable of leading into domestic violence nightmares.

Domestic violence is not where it ends. I’ve outlined how making violence against women an acceptable manner of “discipline” allows men to think they are entitled to do as they like with women’s bodies. Copy this over into real life, and you get people saying that a woman’s husband should “beat her” for not listening to him. You get women talking about how other women “had it coming” because she didn’t respect her husband.

Why do these justifications all sound familiar? They sound like the victim-blaming that is rife when someone is sexually assaulted or raped. Because so often, we hear about men* who rape to “teach women lessons”.

Men who rape to teach a woman that she need to stay at home instead of going out by herself. Who rape to teach her that she needs to stay away from boys. That she needs to be heterosexual. That she needs to behave, that she is not the boss of herself.

Oftentimes, the men we see beating up rapists in movies are the same men who will go home and slap their wives/daughters/sisters for not behaving as they want, without realising that they themselves are enabling a pro-sexual violence agenda at the grassroots level.

This trope is not present in every single film, obviously: there are films (both new and old) with progressive characters who abhor violence in every way. However, the trope has a ubiquitous enough influence that it continues to make itself present in both media and real life today. Women have enough trouble as it is without film tropes encouraging harmful and casual misogynistic mindsets.

Violence is never okay. Nobody “deserves” it.

*I have deliberately used man and woman instead of gender-neutral (pro)nouns here because the primary discourse in this post is centered around man-on-woman violence.