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On double standards: “A ride to remember”

This video’s been attracting a fair number of views on YouTube:

It appears to made by a group of young Indians trying to provoke discussion on double standards with respect to gender.  A guy and girl are standing on full bus, which brakes suddenly three times.  The first two times, the guy is thrown forwards into the girl; the second time the girl takes offense and slaps him in the face.  The third time, the girl is thrown forwards into the guy, who retaliates similarly.

The efforts of the cast and crew are admirable.  But they present the video in terms of section 15 of the Indian Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex.  In doing so, they’re asking the wrong question.

The first question begged is surely this: Is it a reasonable response to someone being accidentally thrown into you by a bus suddenly braking, to slap them in the face?

I can’t comment on the Indian context.  In a Western liberal context, though, I think most people would answer no.  In all three instances in the video, the contact was clearly accidental and beyond the control of the person thrown forward, who in each case apologised immediately.  Most people would see the incident for what it was—an accident—and accept the apology.

This presumably isn’t true by Indian social norms, which I suppose is what the director is trying to get at.  The crowd appears to side the girl after the first slap, which seems odd, given that the guy didn’t write the laws of physics.

But the second question, begged by his slap in return, is still not about gender equality—or even about guys slapping girls.  It is far simpler: Is it okay, having been earlier unjustifiably slapped, to retaliate in kind given the same pretext?  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?

Many commenters on that video say that the girl deserved it.  Indeed, it is hard to have any sympathy for her.  But ultimately, whether you would back the guy in his slap back depends on how much you value self-control, even when faced with injustice, or revenge.

To their credit, the video makers do well to point out a double standard: that it is somehow socially acceptable for her to slap him after an accident, but not the other way round.  But in asking who is right or wrong, there is no need to resort to justifications involving “she’s a girl” or “he’s a guy”.  The constitution’s prohibition on sexual discrimination is of no help here.  Once you accept that slapping is a disproportionate response, the question is answered.

It is often tempting to see things through the lens of gender inequality.  Yet oftentimes, there are simpler questions to ask that more easily resolve a situation.  We should prefer those explanations over assumptions that ultimately fuel emotion and little else.

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