I have wanted to pen this post for a very long time…as long as a year, really. There have been pent up feelings, frustrations and thoughts that have steadily built up over the months but I have kept them away from this blog. Those of you familiar with my blog would remember my tongue-in-cheek post, ‘20 Reasons Why I Love Being a Girl’ and the furor it created after being dissected and misinterpreted by a fellow blogger. Now, I do understand her anger and motivation in selecting that post for analysis but the result went against intention. That is why; I have stalled till I was absolutely sure and had an objective view about the topic as well as enough examples (you will know what I am talking about soon). So there it is, folks; this is going to be an emotionally charged post. If you want to run, do so now, after all feminism in India is a tear-jerking affair.
I am a feminist and a pretty vocal one at that. I believe that India will develop only through empowerment and emancipation of its women. But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I came out of the feminism closet (if I may use the term). There were many events and people who prompted this enlightenment but most important of all reasons must be my realization that if we women don’t speak up and help ourselves, nobody will. It was also a gradual realization that everybody wasn’t as open-minded as my family and that women outside my close circle were fighting abuse and inequality on a daily basis. Maturity and age did help me see that everything was not hunky dory and that I had to fight for my kind in every way possible. A change in scenery and society aka London also was an eye opener to the plight of Indian women. A year and a half in a society where women did not have to face eve teasing or curbed freedom and I knew I would not keep quite anymore.
Now, I am not saying that western society has no vices but we do have a lesson to learn from them about treating women with respect. After all, a society is as good as the respect given to its women. Heck, even some developing countries in South East Asia have better gender equality than India!
I had not realized there was a feminist in me till some events that I am going to elaborate happened. I have been called a ‘man-hater’, crazy woman and one guy (a friend) went on record saying that if his girlfriend or wife talked like me he would definitely dump her! Other than rethinking the quality of my friends, it saddens me that educated, modern and well to do young men talk with such utter disregard to gender sensitivity. There is a need to educate young men and women of our country to change the patriarchal mindset that is dragging our country down and restricting inclusive development. The youth are our best bet. If we don’t mould them now, it will be too little too late for India’s women.
Now when I say gender insensitivity I do not just mean the violent rape, acid attacks and eve teasing that happen every passing day in the country. Much has been written and debated about them; a not-so-effective law has been brought into existence (leaving out marital rape & army rape which defeats the purpose of the Bill). The more urgent and common citizen’s duty at this juncture is to sensitize men and women on ‘soft’ issues that law makers or Government agencies cannot do on their own. There is no dearth of laws and rules to check violence or discrimination against women in India. Our problem unlike other societies is that the patriarchal, misogynistic culture in the sub-continent renders most of these laws ineffective. Dowry related harassment, workplace harassment, eve-teasing, objectification, unfair treatment; name it and we have it. You just have to skim through this page to see the magnitude of violence women are subjected to in India. http://news.outlookindia.com/items.aspx?artid=791408.
That is why, the mindset of our society that worships goddesses but victimizes real women has to change. So I’m listing some of these ‘soft’ issues that we, the youth, need to address and quick.
- Somebody told me “Women neglect their career after marriage and are responsible for their restricted freedom and financial dependency”.
I thought the guy was making a joke when I first heard this. Remember, I was a young thing living in a world where loved ones had protected me against harsh comments and views, including those against my gender. So naively, but out of genuine curiosity, I asked him to elaborate. The explanation from him and other yuppie chauvinists was an eye opener that pushed me a step closer to becoming convinced that everything was not right with my world. Some of the arguments they used were: women misuse marriage to settle into a comfortable nonchalance about their career and to slack at work after having kids. I tried explaining very politely that certain types of Indian families ask girls to not work after marriage and many women voluntarily quit their jobs to run the household or mind the children for which the husband gives little or no support. All I got in response for bringing out the patriarchal problem was that life was much simpler when women were not working!
Solution: Instead of blaming the woman (on top of everything else) of neglecting her career after marriage, why can’t men take equal share of the household work? Why should the woman bear the brunt of the system that raises men to put their legs up and watch TV at home in the evening while their wives slog in the kitchen after putting in eight or more hours of office work? This becomes very important if we consider how HR departments of companies look at the issue in the same way. Believe me, I work in a corporate setup and I have seen married women colleagues suffer stress if they juggle and guilt if they concentrate on their career. This is also one of the main reasons for the dismal number of senior women executives in Indian boardrooms.
- The ‘women are the weaker sex & should be protected’ syndrome.
We come across this kind of chauvinistic behavior day in and day out, in real life and reel life. You see, as one of the tweeple I follow effectively argued, these chauvinists can never see a woman as an individual and have to assign the role of a sister, mother or daughter to justify their righteousness in ‘protecting’ their ‘honour’. It is an irony that these are the same elements that treat women like livestock or kitchen maids.
Solution: Leave us alone! Teach the women around you that they don’t need to be protected and that they are capable of doing it alone. Meanwhile teach the men that crucial something called respect and that honour doesn’t lie between a woman’s legs.
- A friend’s girlfriend told him that she will not change her surname after marriage and he flew into a self-righteous rage. Now again, this is a twenty-something, highly-educated, well-to-do couple that we are talking about. This is one instance that proved to me without doubt that being educated does not necessarily mean that the individual is civilized! My advice that his girlfriend was first an individual and had every right to decide on her surname was met with cold stares by guys and girls alike who suggested that she should join his surname to her already existing one. When I said that this wasn’t really necessary, I was told that people like me were responsible for Indian culture dying a slow death.
Solution: Seriously, what’s in a name?!
- The fact that in the fight to equality, women increasingly imitate men and do not think about becoming better than them.Sometimes I feel that the entire debate for women’s rights is skewed with women not recognizing their unique abilities and blindly imitating men and being satisfied with the outcome. Often, we forget our uniqueness and pander to what the patriarchy dictates, aka grab the few bones that the very system in question tosses at us. It is the same rationale that makes men say “We are all for emancipation of women but you can’t/shouldn’t do that”. It is the idea at play when a man or a woman calls a feminist (male or female) a man-hater or expects a woman to bow to societal roles.
Solution: Have ambition, ladies(like one of the tweeple who made this argument said)! Do not let the society bring you down. No, I am not asking you to hiss and rant. All I am asking you to do is to hold your own and not allow anybody to dictate what and what not your gender allows you to do. And all you gents out there; understand and support this and the world will definitely be a better place to live in. Remember, it is all about mutual respect.
In summation: Right from sexist comic strips to item numbers and bollywood Dabangness to advertisements, there is a growing need for young men and women in India to wake up to the realities of the Indian gender disparity and do our bit towards improving the situation. We don’t need to jump thorn fences or cross hell fire; just respect the women around you and do not cut off their access to basic rights or opportunities. Out of respect and equality will stem a new ‘developed’ India free of the shackles of gender violence. This, my friends, will be the India that can be called a superpower.
P.S: Not all feminists are ‘man-haters’. There are many of us who haven’t given up hope yet. 🙂
All images in this post are from Gotstaredat. Follow them on FB/Twitter to support the cause.