From One Tamil Man To Another
A Tamil man's thoughts on how we can come together collectively to reshape our thinking for the betterment of women in our community.
Ariv (Vozhi) Adiaman
United States
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The Tamil community of Toronto is family to me at this point. Even though I grew up and lived in Seattle, I have had many amazing experiences in the predominantly Tamil neighborhood of Scarborough. I’ve enjoyed chicken curry at Southern Aroma and idlis at Nilgiris. I actively take part in the Tamil culture with my music. I have led and hosted a community youth-empowering event. Over time, I have grown to love Toronto, especially because of its Tamil people.
Due to this love that I have for the Tamil community, I cannot stay silent on recent revelations that have been bothering me and the community as a whole. Several brave Tamil women have come forth publicly with accounts of rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse. Sexual violence is a problem in all communities and the Tamil community is not exempt from it. It should be obvious that this is not a Tamil problem, nor just a male problem. Women are not the only victims of sexual violence—men, as well as those who identify with other genders also experience these unfortunate realities.
Having said that, I write this article intending for Tamil men to be the audience. As one of you, I can only speak to the experiences we mutually share. I want to speak to my brothers and let you know I have love for each one of you, but there’s a crucial change that we must collectively agree upon for the betterment of our community. My words are not written to convince you, but rather to offer a different lens on the subject of Rape Culture. I do not approach the following messages with a holier-than-thou attitude, nor do I claim to be perfect. I’m far from it, and I do not claim to be an educator. I’m simply a human being who respects other human beings.
I also acknowledge the fact I will never fully understand what life is like from the perspective of a woman, especially one who has lived through a nightmare. I am forever unlearning. I’m an observer and a constant corrector of my outdated mentalities. 
Rape culture is a social construct where rape and sexual violence against women is normalized. Rape culture is not just about the sexual violence, but also about the institutions and cultural normalities that protect rapists and shame victims. The most common examples of this come in the form of criticizing how a woman dresses and how she conducts herself, as excuses for attracting the rapist’s attention. Every woman, regardless of their community, is affected by rape culture. The rape of one woman is a terror, and limitation to all women. Most women and girls live their entire lives in fear of rape, while men, in general, do not. Due to this, rape culture allows for men to place a powerful hold on the entire female population, and keep them in a subordinate position to males. There are many things that men, as a collective, need to become aware of. I’ve outlined some subtopics below that I personally think need to be immediately considered by us.
I know that sounds rough. You might be thinking that it sounds like attacking, and downright inaccurate, because you’re not a rapist right? I feel you — but try to imagine having to navigate the world always afraid you could get sexually assaulted. Even though women aren’t the only victims of rape, the big smacking fact is that the overwhelmingly largest portion of all reported rapes are COMMITTED BY MEN. According to the US Department of Justice, over 90% of all rape scenarios involve a female victim with a male perpetrator. So simply by association, all men around the world are part of rape culture. I’m part of rape culture. Your father, brother, homies, and male associates are all part of rape culture. Understand that the existence of rape culture exists exclusively because of the males. We make the argument that some women lie, and/or exaggerate the truth, and that “there’s always two sides to a story.” While this may be true in certain circumstances, we have to recognize and accept that historically, when it comes to sexual violence, women are NOT lying. We must try to reason with this topic statistically and logically. In addition, we must understand that in most communities, especially ours, a woman has a lot more to lose by publicly announcing her trauma. Example: parents asking questions like “who will marry you now?" The tendency to complain about how unfair it is that you are “categorized” automatically is natural, but in order to be a true ally, you must learn to channel that feeling of frustration to focus on why this problem exists globally in the first place. The quicker you consciously register this mentality, the better you position yourself to help and empathize with the women who we have been collectively hurt.
Most of us men rarely fear for our safety when we’re out at night. We can, for the most part, go pretty much wherever we want in the world, at any time of day or night without problems. We have extreme luxury in our movement, and freedom of choice. A part of rape culture is that women, half of the world’s population, have the opposite experience. Taking an Uber, going for runs in the park, working out in the gym, walking alone in a car garage, working alone in the office — all scary activities for women. A woman must consider her safety in where she’s going, who she’s meeting, her travel methods, times she might be left alone — many more considerations than what we can even possibly imagine. For the men who are serious about creating an actual end to rape culture, let's consider going out of our way to ensure the safety of the women we interact with. An example of this is to be overly respectful of physical space. We might ask: “Is it fair that we have to adjust ourselves because of the bad behavior of certain men?” Is that the women’s fault? Or the fault of the male abusers who make the rest of us look bad? Whether we like it or not, we are judged by the worst examples of our gender. I know a lot of men who hate the term ‘men are trash’ but are we really doing enough, as a gender, to change that perception?

Even though this may seem self-explanatory, the lack of understanding around this basic concept is the root cause of most problems in rape culture. The definition of consent is a “voluntary agreement.” It means that a person must have full ability to make a decision about committing to sexual engagement, without convincing, manipulation, force, coercion, or deception. If she doesn’t want you, she doesn’t want you. Respect that, and move on. Many seem to get lost in the entitlement trap of thinking that women owe men their bodies. Even if she’s your significant other, she owes you nothing. If your partner takes initiative in some activity, that’s enthusiastic consent. Consent can also be taken away at any time. When you take initiative, and ask “could I…?” and you hear responses along the lines of “I guess,” “I’m not sure,” OR “I’m not comfortable,” that is NOT enthusiastic consent. If you find yourself in a position of whiningly asking and your partner says something along the lines of “fine, go ahead…” that is also NOT enthusiastic consent. All of this applies to body language as well. In addition to verbal consent, ensure that your parter is physically engaged. If they are wincing, tense, quiet, or in any way unengaged, that is NOT enthusiastic consent. The only difficulty in identifying enthusiasm in a sexual situation is having genuine concern for the wishes, feelings, and well-being of the person you’re with.

It’s not uncommon for Tamil men to grow up cherished in their households simply for our gender. Plenty of sisters who grew up with brothers can elaborate on the stark differences in how their parents treat their kids based on gender. In these environments, subservient female behavior becomes the norm and expectation. Mothers and sisters comply with the role of treating the fathers and sons in ways that show that males are more important. As this is continually reinforced, we, as men, begin feeling entitlement — this is toxic and not normal. This entitled behavior gets mixed with the current cultural representation of women: objectifying them and calling them names. This theme is reinforced in our lives through  pop culture and media prove it. Rape normalization is prevalent in a lot of the language that men speak: “She was dressed provocatively. She was asking for it.” Hell, it’s lyrics to a popular song: “I know you want it.” One example is through Kollywood. Tamil films arguably play a huge part in shaping the mindsets of a lot of our men. It’s a Tamil trend to use hyper-masculine and hyper-sexist male characters knowing that these sorts of characters will connect with a young, male audience. There are hundreds of examples where the male protagonist carries himself as if he can use rape as a weapon to protect his male-ego and masculinity. Many Tamil films also cater to displaying predatory protagonist behaviors. It’s not hard to find a flick where the “hero” relentlessly harasses and stalks his love interest until a relationship is achieved. Even women become conditioned to believe this is what love is supposed to be. A consequential reality of this type of normalization is that, inevitably, certain male audiences (especially the younger ones) will take these fictional character traits and apply it subconsciously to their real life behaviors.  

Sexual violence, harassment, and abuse towards women is not a new phenomenon. But how does this type of violence towards women get normalized and legitimized? Through the use of humor. How we think about rape culture is conditioned by various factors, and solidified by the “bro code.” This code is represented by the life of sexism, porn, misogyny, and rape — all often applauded and rewarded by the bros. When a bro successfully executes on an orchestrated and planned manipulation to have sex with a woman, often by using alcohol as a coercion tool, he pridefully boasts to his boys about his conquests. When the bros high-five and dap each other up for these acts, the perpetual negative cycle continues. Humor that normalizes and justifies sexual violence is never acceptable. Call out your boys, correct their behavior, and most importantly hold each other accountable. Rape is never a funny punchline. Rape jokes delegitimize sexual violence, making it harder for victims to speak up when their consent is violated. Recognize your privilege to joke about the subject, when others have to live their entire life with the trauma. If you’re still bros with someone who sexually assaulted and abused someone, you’re complying to his actions. You’re part of the problem for not doing anything about it. If you’re a true advocate for the liberation and freedom of women, it’s up to each of us to do our parts. Do not tolerate these jokes.

Victim blaming suggests that the victim rather than the perpetrator bears responsibility for the assault. It’s when the victim wore something, spoke something, or acted in a way to provoke the violence. Due to the prevalence of victim blaming in rape culture, it’s become a tool to completely take away the responsibility of the perpetrator and allow rape culture to continue to exist. This tool has silenced the voices of billions of survivors of sexual and domestic violence. For many of us men, it requires asking “what if this happened to our mother or sister?” to activate any sort of empathy in recognizing women as human beings. Let’s remember that women don’t need to be linked by an association to a man (such as wife, mother, sister, daughter) in order for them to have value. Victim blaming looks like this:

“She asked for it.” (No one asks to be raped. Would you?)

“She’s lying.” (Statistically speaking, she’s not. She has a lot more to lose than you do.) 

We need to crystallize the understanding that no matter what a woman chooses to wear, how much alcohol she consumes, or what her previous sexual history was, it is never the victim’s fault. Think about the word dressing “provocatively.” It literally translates to dressing in a way that provokes — provokes what? A loss of control over our bodies? When we tell women to drink less and dress less revealingly, we are essentially telling them “make sure the rapist rapes someone else.” Instead of addressing the rapist, we criticize the victim, and the cycle continues. Let’s remove this privileged mentality of ours, and start seeing it for what it is.

As mentioned earlier, women from all communities suffer from rape culture. The recently unraveled instances in our community have shown the need for these open dialogues to continue. We, as men, are to be blamed for the fear women have against us. This includes all of us, I’m not exempt from being a part of rape culture just because I wrote this article. I, like you, have to put the work in every single day for the rest of my life to unlearn centuries of oppressive ways I’ve been taught. Let’s stop blaming the victim. Let’s stop trivializing sexual assault with nonsense statements like “boys will be boys.” Let’s stop associating “manhood” with sexual aggressiveness and “womanhood” with sexual submission.

Many Tamil men are products of a unique combination of generational PTSD induced by the Tamil genocide and growing up in a patriarchal society reinforced by toxic family environments, and mainstream Tamil entertainment. We must become self-aware of how we are moving as a collective, and really start questioning our mentalities towards women. It should not require analogizing sexual violence victims with our mothers or sisters for us to empathize and do something constructive. Misogyny has been historically tied to masculinity — therefore, us men need to deliberately transform our masculinity so that it doesn’t rely on the subjugation of women. The generalized attitude of male supremacy is universal. We, as men, need to combat rape culture by teaching boys how to treat girls right. Instead of forcing modesty in how girls dress, let’s teach our boys to see girls as human beings and not as sexual objects. In our community, I have hope for a new generation of Tamil kings who will take pride in respecting, empowering and cherishing Tamil queens. It starts now with us.

Ariv (Vozhi) Adiaman
Entrepreneur | VOZHI LLC
United States
Arivozhi Adiaman, also known as Vozhi, is a passionate Tamil-American real estate entre...
Arivozhi Adiaman, also known as Vozhi, is a passionate Tamil-American real estate entre...
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