Why the Angry Indian Man Can’t Fathom Mia Khalifa Speaking in Support of the Farmers’ Protest

Social Commentary

Why the Angry Indian Man Can’t Fathom Mia Khalifa Speaking in Support of the Farmers’ Protest

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Morality, the writer Manu Joseph writes in his book The Illicit Happiness of Others “must be the invention of unattractive men. Who else does it benefit really.” In Joseph’s typically provocative take on the origins of morality, there is the slightest hint of a truism. It can be accessed by replacing the word unattractive with “insecure”. Because nowhere does morality become a bigger gambit than when masculinity, it’s egoistic foundations are at stake. India’s knee-jerk tweet-athon in response to a handful of global celebrities (women) speaking out in support of the farmer’s agitation is telling, more so for its gendered context, than anything else. Though Rihanna’s has been the biggest name to flip the pigeon coop of diplomacy over, it’s former adult star Mia Khalifa whose participation has rattled testosterone-filled nests the hardest. Primarily, because Khalifa represents the woman, Indian men wilfully imagine but are unable to deal with as reality.

Khalifa is a former pornstar, a fact that a lot of men refuse to acknowledge in the public eye. She is perhaps the most popular name that Indian men know of and talk about, discussing her at the watercooler with as much regularity as they share memes. Khalifa has also, famously, withdrawn her consent for the handful of pornographic videos she shot as part of a brief stint in the industry. It must surprise a lot of men that a woman could both, attempt something as explicit and still take a step back for it being not to her liking. That consent could be as elastic as it is in the eyes of men tailored for moral critique. Not only has Khalifa braved the aftermath of a brief, but high-profile porn career but has been on the receiving end of threats from terrorist organisations. All that in her early 20s. There is possibly little that could prick the confidence and self-image of a woman who has made it to the other side of that journey. But alas, Indian trolls will try.

Her middle-eastern origin, her culturally relatable face are reasons that certify not just Khalifa’s popularity here but also Indian hypocrisy. Most of us, in a sexual context, would rather visualise a native looking face but expound morals that bar the same face from manifesting in reality. In an Indian home, the bedroom and the drawing room may only be a few metres apart but in a man’s imagination, they are separated by the never-ending yardstick of morality. In the former, they cultivate fantasies of a liberal world and in the latter, they strangle the air out of that balloon-like idea. The idea exists, only for the man to exercise both power and restraint, both culture and the tools of its control. Khalifa is precisely the kind of woman that must be a nightmare for Indian men to contend with on a socio-political level. She can’t be morally policed because she has already made and reviewed choices beyond the purview of such policing. She can’t possibly be made to feel bad about her previous life, because it is something she has herself, openly done.

Mia Khalifa is precisely the kind of woman that must be a nightmare for Indian men to contend with on a socio-political level.

It’s a misbegotten idea, that men might fear women who are physically stronger than them. On the contrary, men are pulverised by the sight of sexually independent women whose morality cannot be bitten into by the rabid slut-shaming that is, in the case of men, a potent group dynamic. There is, in other words, no politics stronger than a woman’s indifference to a man’s opinion about her. Unfortunately, men structure narratives around women to the extent that they decide who is worthy and who isn’t. It’s the ultimate power trip, evidenced most recently by the nationwide vilification of Sushant Singh Rajput’s former girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty. It was astounding, the lengths to which a nation went to establish blame in a place that was more a safe reflection of our stigmas than a troubling evaluation of our justice system. From the witch hunt against Chakraborty to the desperation of our trolls training their wits against the likes of Mia Khalifa and Rihanna, we have only changed the vehicle. The destination, its morose inferences of hypocrisy and a criminal hate for women with sexuality and identity that won’t accept bondage, remains the same.

Khalifa’s endorsement of the farmer’s protest, her continuous engagement of trolls targeting her, may well be remembered as misjudgement in years to come. But her mere presence in the conversation has rattled the birdcage in a way that the locksmiths can’t seem to figure the next big appendage to. Trolls who function as per manuals have not been handed one for where the target has already braved and won over the worst things you could probably say or have them do. What is after all more dangerous to the fragile ego of Indian men than a woman who has strutted her sexuality and is now in the possession of a politics that doesn’t match theirs. Shudders!