Q3 The Bad Feminists

Misogynistic Historical Figures: How Long Does It Take for Us to Forget Someone Was Abusive?

By Nidhi Pattni

“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering” Nietzsche

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” Aristotle

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” Confucius

“Courage is grace under pressure” Ernest Hemingway

Above are some quotes by influential men in history, you may have seen them in history textbooks or in Tinder bios of guys posing near Ferraris they don’t own. And below are some more enlightening quotes by the same men in the exact order. (The one by Confucius is my personal favourite)

“When a woman has scholarly inclinations, there is usually something wrong with her sexual organs”- Nietzsche

“A proper wife should be as obedient as a slave” Aristotle

“One hundred women are not worth a single testicle”- Confucius

“If you leave a woman, though, you probably ought to shoot her. It would save enough trouble in the end even if they hanged you.” Ernest Hemingway

These are only a few examples of influential men we have been conditioned to look up to and speak about with gratitude and admiration. They have all, in their own individual expeditions, contributed to society and made sacrifices along the way – hence we see them as heroes and trailblazers who dare not be questioned by anyone. What would happen if we could break the statue apart and instead see a human being who yes, might have contributed a great deal to history, but was also kind of a jerk?

The poison of patriarchy has existed for centuries, and even though we have come a long way since then (or a short way in a very long period of time), it is still a prominent part of contemporary society. We live in an era where we have all the information we would need in order to create a society that treats people of all genders with respect and dignity; however, instead we find ourselves in a situation where a man who so civilly claimed that he could grab women by the pussy is currently sitting in the most powerful seat in the world. The issue has never been the time we live in, it is the structure of bigotry and misogyny that has profited those of power and privilege for so long, that there has never been a need nor a desire to see how society could function with more women in the picture. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? So, if things are bad now, it is a pretty safe bet to assume that they would have been much worse before.

When we idolise someone, we put them on a pedestal so high that no matter what we find out about them as human beings, their legacies cannot be torn down. And the problem is that they’ve been on these pedestals for so long that after a certain point in time, we see them almost as if their supernatural beings incapable of being wrong and those who attempt to question their character must be an ungrateful and cynical person. But that’s a point of view we need to change.

Mahatma Gandhi is someone I always looked up to, I would use him as an example when having a discussion about the kind of values that are important in bringing about change in my country, and I smiled proudly when someone of a different nationality knew of his success in bringing about freedom in India from British rule. However, ever since I began to view things for what they were and not what they appeared to be, I realised that there was a man behind Gandhi and he was not perfect. And as hard as it was for me to open my eyes to that reality, I knew I had to. I read an article about how he insisted on sleeping next to nude younger girls (including ones he was related to) in order to test his willpower in remaining celibate. And that article led me to read more about the same disgusting stories, and I eventually found myself seeing a completely different side of the man I once thought faultless. I was hurt and shocked but more than anything, I was aggravated at how I had only seen one side of him, the side that was easier to accept by society. Don’t get me wrong, I will always be eternally grateful for everything he has done for my country, and the situation in India would have been completely different had it not been for him and the freedom fighters who persevered, but I now see him in a clearer lens, and know not to perceive him as a saint.

Our leaders are people who risk their lives for the sake of the greater good, they often sacrifice their normal life to protect the people around them and even though that’s an admirable quality worth immortalizing in our museums and on library shelves, it is important to remember that they are still people. And people can be flawed, hateful, vindictive and even ignorant. And as difficult as it is for us to separate the human being from the hero, it is essential to do so in order to live in a society where one is held accountable for their actions no matter the contribution they have made to the betterment of society. If we are not critical of the beliefs that we are told from a young age to blindly follow, we will become complicit, and in doing so ignore those who have suffered at the hands of these powerful idols.