Those of you who own a dog will surely be familiar with the concept of positive reinforcement. The principle is simple: Dogs learn good behaviour by being rewarded for doing well. Treats, toys, physical affection, verbal praise or a combination of any of those, rewards your dog for correct behaviour.
We women have been incredibly good and we’ve made astonishing progress in just the past century, on all social, economic and political levels. We’ve secured the right to vote and own property (Hooray!), we have seen ourselves become successful students, scholars, businesswomen, Prime Ministers and scientists! We have received Nobel Prizes and some have inspired millions by merely putting pen to paper. As a result of this, in 1914 we were given a Universal commendation day: International Women’s Day, March the 8th; a day of reflection on all the acts of courage and determination made by women in the fight for equality. The day on which all governments recognise the necessity of sex and gender equality in law for 24 hours straight and then go to bed and forget all about it on the 9th.
What happens if our behaviour results in a perceived negative outcome? Punishment. A technique designed to weaken and eliminate ‘undesirable’ behaviour. Having watched India’s Daughter last night I realised how woefully true this is. India’s Daughter tells the poignant story of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student from India. On December 16th 2012, Jyoti went out with a guy friend to watch The Life of Pi. On their way back, around 20.30, they boarded an off-duty bus with six men on board. Jyoti’s friend was beaten senseless and then the six men all took turns, violently raping and sadistically torturing her using an iron instrument. Jyoti was then eviscerated, her intestines wrapped in a piece of cloth, and she was remorselessly tossed off the bus and practically left for dead. 13 days after, Jyoti died in the hospital from internal injuries. Speaking to BBC as part of the documentary, Mukesh Singh, one of the six rapists, opened his mouth and society’s low value of females was exposed
“A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night…” He nonchalantly said. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.” “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape.”
His comments, an ignorant, pitiful, filthy product of poor education, violence and poverty, showed no signs of remorse. What strikes one the most is the irony of how a bunch of illiterate, oblivious and unaspiring murderers took the life of a bright, ambitious and benevolent young girl, whose dream was to one day build her own hospital in her ancestral village. The rapists’ actions were defended by their lawyer: ‘In our society we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening, with any unknown person… The lady is more precious than a gem, a diamond. It is up to you how you want to keep that diamond, if you put your diamond on the street, certainly the dog will take it out.’
I refuse to celebrate the 8th of March, until stereotypes regarding the role of women and men at birth are eradicated, until women like Jyoti can go on to become doctors, scientists, Prime Ministers, scholars, businesswomen and not be celebrated. We are not dogs. We do not need positive reinforcement and most of all we do not need punishment.
Happy International Women’s Day.