Frames. It is a domestic word that invokes images of straight wooden planks fitted into a rectangle. But frames are not just for those inviting French windows, they exist in our minds too, adjusting and compartmentalizing our views of the world. But before we talk about frames, let us talk about elephants.
If I tell you not to think of an elephant, what happens? Cognitive scientist George Lakoff has tried this exercise in his class and has never found a student who can not think of an elephant. You could jump from mahouts to ivory tusks to Dushera processions, to Binani cement, to circuses, but you will still think of an elephant.
Lakoff terms this web of associations as a frame – once you are in it, it is difficult to get out. Every word evokes a frame. Every word, including safety.
Safety was what we started this project with: What can we do to ensure safety of women?
When you think of women’s safety, by saying safety you invoke a frame. A mother’s embrace, locks, surveillance, policing, laws – I could go on. When we focus then on women’s safety, we think inside this frame, and when we do, a solution that women stay behind the safe confines of their homes and not move out makes perfect sense. If you don’t work in that office that does not let you go home before 10 pm, if you don’t take that shortcut home, if you don’t get on to that bus when no one is there, you will be safe. But is that the frame we want to be bound by? There’s a rub.
What do we do then? Lakoff asks us to jump out of that frame and move into another one. How do we do that? Listen to the Republican party in the USA for starters. Once upon a time everyone spoke about global warming. When you think of ‘global warming’, you think of a planet sitting on a stove, with particularly nasty red-hot coals smoking away. You think of yourself wilting without water, drying up. Or drowning in all that water that was moulded into icebergs once upon a time. The Republican party felt it was too doomsday an image to be thinking about. And so they called it ‘climate change’. It is not that threatening, isn’t it? After all, we even have books instructing us on how to deal with change, inspired by mice hunting after spiritual cheese. So climate change it is. The debate changes, ever so slightly, and then in a more pronounced fashion. Nothing is permanent except change. If the climate is changing then, it makes sense. Stop worrying and embrace the change. How do you argue with that?
You can’t. It is difficult to argue when you are inside the same frame. Remember the episode in Mad Men where they have to come up with an advertisement for cigarettes, at a time when everyone is worried about the health issues of tobacco?
And that’s why, when we talk about women’s safety, it is not safety we want to focus on. We want to change the frame – and those who have thought long and hard about this issue say, it is not about safety, it is about freedom.
Is a woman free to go where she wants to go, do what she wants to do, and be where she wants to be? Are women free?
All of a sudden, a woman safe inside the four walls of her home is not an option any more. Telling her that she cannot wear what she wants to wear is akin to binding her in sartorial chains. Asking a woman not to choose a job that implies she can’t come back home late night is an assault on her freedom.
So we plan on dwelling over this question now: What can we do to ensure freedom of women?