Yesterday, as I was scrolling through my Newsfeed on Facebook, I came across an event organized by Feminists in Kolkata calling for women to Smoke in Public to fight the Patriarchal Male Dominance ‘rampant’ in our Society. It was in response to an assault on a couple of women for smoking in a locality in the city.
Apart from the obvious fact that such atrocious criminal assault on women is not appreciated in our Society and does not really need protesting against as we already have Laws which guarantee that the perpetrator doesn’t go unpunished, the true monstrosity of the event is revealed in its shameful appeal to women to seek pride in the unhealthy habit of Smoking.
At a time when government agencies and numerous social organizations are trying their utmost best to educate people of the evils of smoking, such misguided activism in the name of social justice puts the entire purpose of the Anti-Smoking campaign at peril. People must be free to make their own choices and that implies people must be at perfect Liberty to make poor life choices such as smoking but associating Smoking with a noble cause is not only dangerous but also puts our highly impressionable youth at a health risk.
Equally interesting is how the young feminists never stop to consider who exactly benefits from the event. Will public perception of women smoking in public change with such reckless activism? Highly unlikely. It will change with time and such events will only serve to further stigmatize women who smoke in public. As I see it, the only people who get to benefit from it are the Cigarette Companies who would be delighted if their consumer base expand to include more and more women.
The event served to remind me of a certain man now largely unknown in wider circles, the man who would revolutionize Marketing and the use of Propaganda in every day life. I speak of Edward Bernays, nephew of the Father of Modern Psychology, Sigmund Freud and hailed as the Father of Public Relations himself. Edward Bernays used Psychoanalytic Principles as theorized by Sigmund Freud to influence Mass Public Behavior. As he once famously said about Propaganda, “If this can be used for War, it can be used for Peace.”
Before women smoking cigarettes became mainstream, Lucky Strikes, one of American Tobacco Companies approached Edward Bernays for assistance in increasing their consumer base to include women because until then, the overwhelming majority of cigarette smokers were male. Mr. Barnays after consultation with psychoanalysts theorized that women perceive cigarettes as a phallic symbol and if smoking cigarettes were projected as resistance to male dominance, women will be much more likely to take up smoking. Thus, Bernays on behalf of Lucky Strikes sponsored demonstrations where debutantes smoked cigarettes at the Eastern Sunday Parade in 1929 in New York dubbing the spectacle of Female smokers ‘Torches of Freedom.’
What needs to be mentioned here is Edward Bernays did not directly cause women to start smoking. Bernays only decided to eliminate the Social Taboo associated with Women smoking cigarettes, thereby enabling women to smoke in public without being scorned and encouraged more women to smoke by associating smoking with resistance to Male Dominance. It’s easy to understand why some sections might blame Edward Bernays for more Tobacco consumption among women but it needs to be remembered that he merely associated two different issues which exist naturally in women. As psychoanalyst, A.A.Brill stated, it is natural for women to want to smoke because of oral fixation.
Feminists even then hailed smoking as Valiant Resistance to Patriarchal Male Dominance. Feminist Ruth Hale called for women to join in the march saying, “Women! Light another torch of freedom! Fight another sex taboo!” It’s indeed ironical that Feminists who claim to be strong independent women were virtually conned by a man seeking to assist his employers in earning more profits. The result of this mass propaganda was a massive increase in the number of women who smoke cigarettes. In 1923, women in the United States purchased only 5% of cigarettes sold which increased to 12% in 1929. By 1935, it had increased to 18.1%. It peaked in 1965 with 33.3% where it stayed until 1977. It almost seems cruel how the event in Kolkata which is planned for today uses similar slogans, “Smoke of Freedom, Smoke of Dissent.”
Thus, we see that Feminists in their witchhunt for Male Patriarchal Dominance end up harming the cause of women themselves.
It’s really not a surprise that the degeneracy which has gripped Third-Wave Feminism in America correlates directly with Rising Depression among its population. It’s really not surprising that despite aggressive Feminist activism, according to self-reports women in America have become progressively unhappier every decade since the Second World War. And it’s high time that Feminists in our country, who so love to ape the West when it comes to activism, decide whose side they are on, women or mindless activism. And some might even cynically argue, maybe not without good reason, that if ‘Patriarchal Male Dominance’ protects women from taking up the unhealthy habit of smoking, then maybe it has a humane side to it after all and it’s not as monstrous as it’s made out to be.