Women can’t have it all…

There is something deeply disturbing about Indra Nooyi’s brutally frank interview with Business Insider about why women cannot possibly have it all. Her narration of being unable to share her joys with her own mother speaks volumes about what is expected of women in this society.

Her mother’s reaction that she may be the CEO of PepsiCo but she is above all a mother, a wife, a daughter and a daughter-in-law is both and brutal and honest in the current context. We may have come a long from the days when a woman was expected to stay within the home and care for everyone else but herself. But, we still haven’t gotten over the mindset that the primary responsibility of a woman is to care for her family.

Ever noticed that no matter how accomplished and successful a woman is society always points fingers to her personal life and comments on it? Why is that no matter how much you try, you can never seem to make anyone happy as long as you choose to be independent and pursue a career? You may be the CEO of a company but you are still a bad mother if you fail to make it to a PTA meeting. I see women struggle to balance home and work every single day. Yet, when they complain about not having the time, nearly every member of the family and even friends suggest that maybe it’s now time to take off and concentrate on family. As Nooyi’s says, the biological clock and career are always at loggerheads. First, the kids need you, then the husband, then ageing parents. Somehow, a man never seems to need to make a choice.

Sometimes, I feel that we live in a world that’s inherently unfair to women. The tragedy of our times is that we seem to be unable to do much about it. We seem to be increasingly resigned to the fact that we will never be able to change things no matter how much we try.

When you begin to say, it’s enough!

This is the first post of 2013 and also the 300th post on this blog. At this juncture, I expected to be writing about something rather more pleasant, but some things need to be said. And now. The whole world and its dog has just exhausted its energy crying itself hoarse about the need for change in anti-rape legislation and justice for the murdered 23-year old physiotherapy student. Demands for justice ranged from the sane and sensible calls for societal change in attitudes and stricter law enforcement to some knee-jerk demands of hanging, chemical castration and even physical castration for the accused. However, what really struck me in this whole drama was that every other protester spoke of how the increasing incidence of sexual violence against women went against Indian culture that respected and worshipped its women since time immemorial.

Now, I do agree that many of those who spoke of an irreproachable Indian culture  were young men and women barely out of school. But this just goes to prove how much we are brainwashed into believing that everything Indian and traditional is good and great. We truly believe that the root cause of the increasing rate of crimes against women is western decadence, even if we are too diplomatic to say it in as many words. But really! Enough is enough. Enough of blaming the pub culture, western influence, mini-skirts, Facebook and Bollywood for rape. Let’s face it! Indian culture has traditionally treated its women no better than any other culture.

In case anyone forgets, we are talking about the same Indian culture that shows, covertly or overtly, a distinct preference for sons, that teaches its girls to be submissive, that kills off baby girls for the crime of being…girls. It is the same Indian culture where thousands of young women lose their lives for the crime of not bringing enough dowry. It is also the same culture that refuses to acknowledge a woman’s identity as distinct from that of her husband and where it is still a crime to survive the death of a partner. Rapists and sexual offenders are not made in a day. They grow up with a sense of entitlement and cannot fathom why a woman would say no to them. In fact, they do not even realize that a no really means a NO, simply because they have never been denied a thing. We are talking of an Indian culture where a parent will deny their daughter three full meals a day to fulfill every whim of their son. Just because some of us are lucky enough to grow up in a healthy and gender-equal environment, it doesn’t mean that Indian culture is all good.

If we really want to change things, we need to demand societal change. And, this doesn’t come with amending laws or naming a new anti-rape legislation after the unfortunate 23-year old. It comes from within. Holding candlelight vigils and chanting slogans against misogyny will not help. If we are so concerned about change, we must not hesitate to change ourselves. Let’s stop praying for a male child because that will take us to heaven, stop treating our sons differently from our daughters, refuse to buckle under the societal pressure to kill off our baby girls. Let us also refuse to pay a dowry to secure a “good match” for our daughters and instead look for men who respect them enough to keep them happy. Let’s stop using the B-word to insult women we do not like or worse, call misogynistic men b*****ds. Let’s remember that when we do that, are not insulting them, but their mothers. If we really want things to change, let’s BE the change we so crave to see.

But, while we are at it, let’s also remember that change does not come easy. It may not even be visible for the next 20 years, but there will come a day when we will be able to turn out a better class of human beings for a better future. This may not be as satisfying as hanging the rapists or castrating them, but will surely be more effective. And this solution will take time. After all, Rome was not built in a day.

Of shame and outrage…

The Delhi gang rape case has brought to the fore so many different issues that I do not know where to start. The incident, which has shocked the collective conscience of the nation, has triggered a wide range of responses, from outrage to blaming. With every minute, the drama gets more sordid, what with protests, violence, teargassing of protesters, water canons, a chief minister who cries on camera, an invertebrate Prime Minister…the list seems endless.

The latest addition to this list seems to be the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Botla Satyanarayana. In a statement earlier today, he offered his expert assessment of the situation saying, “We say we got freedom at midnight but doesn’t mean we can roam around freely at midnight.” Frankly, I have stopped expecting much more from our politicians, irrespective of political colour. He is simply the latest in the long list of politicians, starting from an ineffectual and spineless Prime Minister who took a whole week to address an outraged and angered nation.

First things first, we need to understand a fundamental truth about crimes against women. Sexual violence against women is never about sex. I have said it before and will say it again. Rape is not a sex crime. It is about power. It is about humiliation and about making a woman feel inferior to the perpetrator. Rape is simply a violent expression of the more general treatment of women’s bodies as a property of others. In the case of “Amanat”, as the 23-year old victim has been identified (not her real name), as in that of millions of other women who are victims of such crimes, the perpetrators considered her fair game simply because she was out on the streets after sunset. The rapists were not looking for pleasure, they were looking for control. It was about feeling good about being able to control another human being, who they consider a lesser mortal because of her gender. More importantly, it is about the knowledge that they will most probably get away with it. And, they would have, had this crime not so shocked the nation due to the sheer bestiality of the act.

Another disappointing facet of this whole issue is the way our politicians, irrespective of political affiliation reacted. For the ruling Congress, it was about saving their skin. Sheila Dixit cried on camera hoping to garner sympathy. The Prime Minister delivered a belated, and extremely unconvincing speech a whole 7 days after the incident. Sushma Swaraj, for all her fiery speeches against the government, spoke of a fate “worse than death” for the victim. And to top it all, the APCC chief tells us we should not expect security if we want to wander about alone at midnight. He tells us that freedom at midnight was won, literally and metaphorically, only for the men.

I have a problem with each of these statements. As a concerned citizen, I expect the Chief Minister of a state to act against the perpetrators of the crime and not just cry on camera in the hope that we will excuse her inaction. We do not want to know how bad you feel about the crime. We want to know what you are doing to bring the perpetrators to book and to prevent this from happening again. We want action Ms. Dixit, not your fake tears. I also expect the Prime Minister to step out of his bullet-proofed car and address the nation when he is needed to. I want him to, for once in his life, do the job he was elected to do. At this point, I feel like telling the APCC chief to take his moralising elsewhere, because we have no need or use of it. It is the business of the government to ensure that I am safe in my city, irrespective of what I am wearing, of whether I drink, of how I dress and who I am with. It is not the government’s business to judge my character. I refuse to allow that. And finally, I have a problem with the assessment that the victim faces a fate worse than death. This implies that what she has lost, her virginity and honour, are more important than life. It is up to her to decide what she wants to do with her life. I hope she recovers well enough to lead a normal life. And even if she does not, we have no right to decide what is good for her. She has the right to do that herself.

And finally, a word about the protesters. I completely agree that as citizens, we must demand action. Action against the perpetrators of a crime too horrendous to describe. But, I do not agree with the demand for capital punishment for the criminals. It is not capital punishment that will act as an effective deterrent against rape. It is the knowledge that they cannot get away with such a crime. It is the certainty of punishment, rather than the quantum that is a more effective deterrent. There is no point in making rape a capital offense if the conviction rate remains as dismal as it is today. There is no point in talking about chemical castration if the courts are going to acquit criminals citing the character of the victim. At this point, we do not need stronger laws. What we need is more effective enforcement.

A mish-mash of thoughts…

Right now, my mind is a mish-mash of thoughts and emotions, so pardon me if I am not being too coherent. It’s been over 3 months since I last blogged, and that’s rather unusual for me. It seems as though the writer in me has quietly disappeared. It’s not as if I have nothing to say any more. I do. I have just found a way to verbalize it without having to write. Maybe that’s what comes of being happily married. I don’t know.

At a time when the nations (and the Twitter timeline) is outraging over the Guwahati incident, I have something similar to say. It doesn’t matter what the girl was doing, at what time of the day and what she was wearing. She is at much as risk as at any other place.

I have always been rather secure in my assumption that I was relatively safe in Chennai. Since last year, this sense of security has been enhanced by the fact that I was now a married woman, with at least one outwardly visible sign of marriage: a toe-ring that I find too pretty to remove. This sense of security was rudely broken yesterday, and along with it, my privacy and my composure.

It was a normal and busy workday.  I was on my way to work on my trusted Activa around 9. I noticed that a bike was busy trying to catch up with me, not overtake, but match pace for almost 2 kilometres before the signal. I ignored it, knowing as I do that bikers often seem to think that a woman on a scooter is interesting to destabilize. About 5 minutes away from my workplace, the man stopped me and asked me something. I couldn’t hear a thing in the din of the traffic. I lifted the visor to hear better, only to realize he was commenting on my clothes and used words I’d rather not repeat. I snapped at him that I would call the police if he lingered one more minute, and he quickly sped away, either because of the threat, or because he figured his mission had been accomplished.

Inside, I was furious. I wished I knew martial arts so that I could kick him where it would hurt most. I was in tears because I felt violated. I was absolutely livid because at that instant, I knew that my clothes had nothing to do with the whole incident, attired as I was in a collared salwar suit with a dupatta firmly secured around my waist. After much raving and ranting that involved cursing him with a terribly painful and slow death, my mind cleared enough to reflect on the real issue at hand.

Even in the widespread outrage over the Guwahati incident, the media often stresses that the incident happened in the night outside a pub. It also stresses the age of the victim. As if it makes any difference. Look at what happened to me! I was dressed traditionally. I was on my way to work like any other normal human being and in broad daylight. I was wearing one dupatta secured around my waist and another around my head like a hijab to guard from the unforgiving sun. I was wearing a helmet with the visor down. I wasn’t drunk or partying. I was wearing a toe-ring that revealed my marital status. Yet, I was harassed. Had I been sixty years old with greying hair, I would still have been.

Why didn’t you complain, you might ask. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t trust the authorities. If I had raised my voice, tried to hit him or gone to the police, I would have been the showstopper of the morning. I am ashamed to admit that I felt that not one member of the public would have supported me. I would have been completely alone, I am pretty sure of that. I wasn’t, and am still not, willing to risk that.

We need to get one thing straight. Sexual harassment (Yes, please call it that. It’s NOT teasing) will happen if you happen to be female. No matter your age, your clothing, your habits or even your character. The perpetrator behaves so brazenly because he knows he will get away with it. He knows that if you try to complain, you will be victimized and hounded and not him. He know that society will subject you to scrutiny and not him. He will get away scot-free when you, simply because you are female, will be accused of provoking him.

This will stop only when we refuse to let our judgement of the situation be clouded by our judgement of the victim. It will happen only when we realized that no woman deserves to be blamed for harassment because no woman likes that kind of attention. The only question is, when will that happen.

On city girls…

Earlier today, @wavehit tweeted me asking me to join the protest against the content of the Tamil talk show Neeya Naana that aired on Pongal Day. I had watch a part of the show until the constant and extra-long ads breaks finally got to me and I switched off the television about 40 minutes into the programme. With wavehit’s tweet, I decided to watch the show on You Tube and then get down to the onerous task of registering my protest without getting angry.

Now, this discussion features a motely group of men dressed smartly, some in veshti and other in more Western clothing. Sitting on the other end, are women, dressed in jeans and tees, some in skirts and all sorts of Western clothing, ostensibly representing city-bred women. As it is, the difference in clothing i’s stark and sets the tone for what is to follow. Gopinath, the anchor puts a loaded question to the men. “What have you studied and how do you want your future wife to be?” The combination of questions is telling, because the rest of the show just goes on to prove that education doesn’t get you anywhere.

All men wanted to get married to good village girls, the reasons being wide-ranging. Without going into intricate details, I noticed that some of the points raised by the men ranged from the ridiculous to the outrageous.

“My wife should wear only sari, or salwar kameez. She should wear the dupatta in V-shape. She is not permitted to wear jeans or any other such western clothing. She can dress in skimpy (read western) clothing inside the four walls of my bedroom and only for my eyes.”

This attitude of curtailing women’s clothing seems rather widely-prevalent irrespective of social, educational and economic status. The general impression seems to be that a woman who dresses unconventionally is: a) easy, b) difficult to control and c) unfit for family life. Also, the permission ostensibly granted to the wife to dress in similarly unconventional clothing inside the bedroom reeks of commodification of the woman in question. Enough said.

“My wife should be a good cook. She should be capable of multi-tasking, of cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids, and then going to work and still coming back on time to make a hot, fresh dinner for me. City-bred girls are incapable of it all.”

Ok. So basically, these men want an unpaid cook, a maid, an ayah and a wage-slave (rolled into one) who will bring home the paycheck every month to keep up the lifestyle they are used to. Right! And I was thinking marriage is about partnership, caring and sharing. Maybe we are a bunch of fools here.

“City-bred girls lack respect. They call their husbands by name. We do not want such disrespectful wives.”

Uh oh. We have a problem here! If I am not supposed to call my husband by name, what else am I supposed to call him? Prananatha? Aryaputra? Come on guys! Let’s get real!

“My wife should be sweet-tempered and friendly with my relatives and hers. But it is not acceptable that she be equally sweet-tempered and friendly with her friends.”

Apparently, friendliness should be the exclusive right of in-laws and the rest of the world does not deserve the same. A reflection of possessiveness, lack of trust and respect perhaps?

“Chennai girls have a lot of boyfriends (read pre-marital sex). Village girls will be sweet and virginal. My wife should be from the village.”

Apparently, they have never taken a look at abortion statistics in the city and elsewhere, as the good doctor and psychologist Shalini later points out. Also, the general attitude seems to be that they can sleep around all they want but still want virginal wives. What’s sauce for the goose is obviously not sauce for the gander.

Apart from these obviously chauvinistic comments, one thing seems certain: none of these men seems secure in his own skin. As they finally admit, they seem extremely scared of a woman’s (obviously superior) intelligence and social skills. They seem to truly believe that a woman who is smart, intelligent, independent and outspoken will not stay in the marriage.

Now that I have made these observations, on to rebutting each of them.

  1. No man has any business dictating terms to his wife on her choice of clothing. We don’t tell you to walk around in veshti-chattai all the time do we? Neither should you. We will dress in what is comfortable for us. If you have a problem with it, live with it. Or handle it!
  2. If we are married to you, it means we expect you to treat us as equal partners in that relationship. We are not competing with you for supremacy and neither should you. If you can’t do that, maybe you need to rethink getting married at all.
  3. We can be pretty to you within the four walls of your bedroom, but that does not mean we are sex objects. In case you did not realize, we are human being with real feelings and emotions.
  4. Some of us truly love cooking and make it our life’s mission to keep you well-fed and happy. But some of us detest cooking and the thought of the kitchen makes us cry. We come in different hues and shades, just like you. If you want a cook, get one. Don’t marry her.
  5. Some of us may work at home and outside, managing multiple tasks, deadlines, client meeting, personal commitments and kids perfectly well. But some other are less-adept at doing all that. We admit we have our limitations. Maybe you can help by getting your butt off that couch and putting the clothes into the dryer or mopping the floor for us.
  6. We call you by name because we believe that is why you were named so. In case you wish us to call you mama or athaan or even prananatha like I mentioned earlier, kindly return the favour by calling us bharye.
  7. If you want a friendly wife, please acknowledge that she will have friends. We cannot turn on and turn off friendliness. We do not have an inbuilt “friendliness switch”.
  8. As for pre-marital sex, we are human too. If we have had relationships before and are honest enough to tell you about it, you should appreciate that we are willing to let go if the past and make a new life with you. And it’s not as if you are pure and virginal anyway. So get over it!

I could probably go on, but I think 1000 words for a post is a bit much. Have your two bits to add? Please go ahead. That’s what the comments section is for.

Infidel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali – some thoughts

I just finished reading the memoirs of Dutch feminist activist and politician, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I found it honest, refreshing, and very bold. This is not a review of the book, and my thoughts appear in no particular order. This is just a compilation of how I felt when I was reading this book.

I find that Hirsi Ali is completely honest about her feelings about Islam, even at great risk to her life. She has been accused by many of being neocon in the garb of feminism, but some of her questions strike a very deep chord in my heart, as a reader, as a feminist, and as a woman. Her repeated questioning of the logic behind obviously unfair practices such as segregation, veiling, and the demand for complete obedience of wife to husband stay relevant in contemporary, non-Islamic cultures as well. If God (whatever name you choose to give him) is indeed merciful and compassionate, why would he demand that women submit at the cost of their self-respect, their individualism and sometimes even their life? We have no answers.

Hirsi Ali’s account of her genital cutting when she was six is cold, detached and dispassionate. She almost sounds like she is narrating something that happened to someone else. And that makes it even more chilling. The idea of FGM is so repulsive, so depressing and so utterly cruel that you can’t help but develop respect for a woman who has made it through it all and is now fighting for women’s rights. Her turning away from Islam, and questioning the very existence of God is entirely understandable, even if you don’t agree with her. Maybe, just maybe, I would have been atheist too, had I been so brutally cut in the name of religion, and made to marry a stranger without even my presence being required to solemnise my wedding.

Finally, her struggles, against men, against the religion which demands nothing but submission, against forced marriage, against female genital mutilation and for women’s rights make us respect her immensely for the work she has done so far. As for the book, it is definitely worth reading for the many insights it provides on the wide variations in the practice of Islam, on the increasing influence of the orthodox Brotherhood and the political climate in the Somalian peninsula. Read it! You won’t regret.

Random thoughts…

I know I’ve been missing in action for quite some time now. First, I promise to be a regular blogger, as opposed to a lazy one, henceforth. Yes…I do! Every time I read something interesting, I make a mental note to write about it. But between work, family, brand new fiancé and wedding madness, blogging seems to take a back seat. Every single time. But there are some things that have been on my mind for some time now. It’s all very random, as the post title suggests, but here we go!

What’s this Slut Walk business? Yes, I do agree with the principle behind it. No woman should have to cover up simply because men are tempted enough to rape and blame the woman for it. And yes, I also agree that how I dress is not a reflection of my character. But, I have a problem with the term Slut Walk. I am not a slut. No matter how many times we claim words need to be reclaimed, the fact remains that the term is an affront to a woman’s character. No woman deserves to be called a slut. Just like no woman deserves to be raped. Just as I didn’t get the point behind the Pink Chaddi campaign and refused to donate my precious underwear to some pervert, I also refuse to participate in this walk that is so popularly called Slut Walk. Every word in this blogpost by Ritu strikes a chord. And, I agree. I have a problem with the term. Words carry meaning, both implied and explicit. And I refuse to accept the use of the term slut for any woman.

Now, onto the next! I have been reading a lot of posts on joint families and in-laws and marriages of late. And I have also been reading uber-feminist posts on what a marriage entails. I can’t help but think, when I read some of these posts that some women want to take offence to everything all the time. Don’t get me wrong. As I said before, nobody has the right to tell an adult how to dress and what to buy. I am all for freedom and independence. But sometimes, I really feel that some women tend to go overboard with their complaints. I mean, how is it fair to refuse to live with parents for any length of time just because some adjustments are required? I grew up in a joint family. I am none the worse for it. For all I know, my in-laws will decide to stay with us permanently after S and I get married. How is it fair on my part to refuse that? To me, feminism is not about absolute freedom to do what I want. It is to be subjected to the same restrictions and rules that I would have been had I been a man. It is not to be treated any differently because of my gender. I know I am probably going to tread on a lot of toes when I say this, but I think we all need to learn some adjustment. Adjustment, not compromise. And yes, there is a difference.

And finally, a thought on arranged marriages. Granted, I am not married yet. But, I will be in a few months. And I am getting married to man who was introduced to me by my parents. And today, I am already being forced to eat my words on arranged marriages. I have said earlier that arranged marriages are unworkable. But today, I think I was wrong. Completely wrong. And I am glad about that!

Feminism, society and other thoughts…

Regular readers of this blog will know how much of time and space I have dedicated in the past to feminism and social ills. They will also know that for some reason, my feminist rants have decreased in intensity and frequency over the past year. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my blogging frequency has itself decreased over the past year. But, there is something more. I don’t feel like writing about feminism any more. One reason is that I do not want this blog, and by extension me, to be stereotyped in any way: feminist, right-wing, technical, random. It is not so much a deliberate refusal as a natural manifestation of my rather diverse set of interests. The second reason, albeit to a much lesser extent, is that I see no change. I seemed to have exhausted my energies in talking about all that is wrong with the world. Until now. I have no idea why I am so disturbed by the current state of affairs, but I am. Several factors come into play.

The results of the recent census are less than reassuring. They only add to our human development woes by confirming what we already knew. With a sex ratio of 914 females to every 1000 males, the sex ratio is negative. The female foetus, and subsequently the girl child, is biologically more resistant to illness and hence more capable of surviving hostilities. But not even this protection offered by nature makes the child capable of combating infanticide and sex-selective abortions. What can an unborn child do if the mother and her family are determined not to allow her to be born? Every indicator of human development shows that the female is worse off in India than her male counterpart: education, life expectancy, health…name it, and the men have it better. If you add to this concerns and indicators specific to the female gender like maternal mortality, you have a rather dismal picture.

However, the census is not the only reason I feel the need to talk now. Mom has been watching a Hindi soap dubbed into Tamil (disgusting, I know!) on Vijay TV. It is, to put it mildly, absolutely infuriating. The story of a young woman engaged to be married to the only son of wealthy parents. So far, so good. But every single scene and every single situation in the soap rankles by sensitivities. First, the girl is barely 20. She considers it her good fortune to have found a good groom so early in life and to be allowed to complete her education. And here, I was thinking we had stepped out of the 12th Century! And my grouse does not end with this soap alone. Every single soap I know on television, Hindi, Tamil or other plays to the same gallery. Young woman, married and has kid, abusive in-laws, drunken husband, struggling to complete education and resigned to fate….aaargh! Alternatively, the girl is happy and content with her husband, the car, the kids and the in-laws and has no life so to speak! Either way, all these stories revolve around marriage as the ultimate goal in life, rather than real happiness! And in case you didn’t realize, what they really want to convey is that the only way you can really be happy if you’re a woman is to get married and stay married to the right man! Give me a break! Are we really in the 21st Century?

Not that I am against marriage or relationships, or that I think these things are irrelevant to happiness. I do believe that relationships (of whatever kind: friendships, marriage, family et. al) are important to happiness, but do not believe that my life’s ambition should be to find the right man and get married. It is the focus on marriage to the exclusion of all else that I object to, as to the glorification of suffering. Why is it considered a feminine virtue to suffer in silence when subjected to all kinds of torture? And really, why is every soap I know so regressive in nature? Why does a woman have to be an all-forgiving, all-accepting person?

And finally, the obsession I see all around with having a male child. I grew up in a family of girls, and never in all these 28 years of my existence has anyone ever made me wonder why I was born female. Girls are pampered and cherished by practically every member of my extended family. This is perhaps why this obsession with having a boy is so alien to me. Friends, colleagues and so many other people I know want a male child, despite having a daughter, sometimes two. What’s the deal there? I’ll never get it!

I really think we need to stop telling our daughters that Sita is the epitome of Indian womanhood. We need to stop drilling into their heads that they will never be happy unless they have a man in their lives, no matter how much of a bastard, pardon my language, he really is! And also stop telling them they need to have boys to continue the family name! But, as I said earlier, some things will take a long time changing. I only hope my generation steps out from these societal confines and dares to think differently. I hope.

Of “homely” girls and gender stereotyping

I have often been proffered unsolicited and completely unwanted advice on how to become more “lady-like”. Now, what’s this about men and lady-like behaviour? Smart, articulate, educated young men of my generation actually seem to believe the crap they dish out in the name of advice. Someone I know kept offering me such advice until I told him in no uncertain terms that such advice was completely and totally useless because I wasn’t planning on listening to him. And pray, what did he want me to do? It’s simple really. Be everything I am not. Apparently, men like talking to, going around with and outrageously flirting with smart, bold young women, but when it comes to marriage, it’s the “homely” girl who is most-wanted. Don’t believe me? Check out any matrimonial ad, or even one of the numerous match-making programmes that run on TV, and you’ll find the same requirements repeated ad nauseum: slim, fair, homely, educated but not too much, earning but not more than the man…such rules!

I find it inherently unfair that such restrictions be imposed on anyone, man or woman. Just as a woman is often expected to be docile, demure, shy and soft-spoken, a man is expected to be the very anti-thesis of all this. If you’re a man and soft-spoken or gentle, you’re as damned as a woman who is bold and outspoken. What’s this about gender stereotypes that forces people into little slots, however ill-fitting that slot might be? Why can we not accept people for what they are, instead of expecting them to live up to our expectations of how they should be?

Contrary to popular perception, gender stereotyping is not exclusively a problem that women face. Men who help at home, are soft-spoken or are happy handing over decision-making to the women in their lives are often labelled Mama’s boys or hen-pecked husbands. I find a lot of commentary in public spaces anti-men, when that’s only part of the reason gender stereotyping hurts women so much. In reality, the problem is more systemic. The same system which expects women to be Mother Earth incarnate, bearing all ills also expects men to be aggressive and dominating. I sometimes wonder if it is as difficult for men to conform to those stereotypes as it is for women to do so. Am sure it must be.

The question is, will all this ever change? Will be learn to accept a woman for who she is without expecting her to make a million compromises and be a doormat all her life, or without expecting a man to change his basic character? I hope to live to see that day!

The mandatory (pre) Women’s Day post!

A few hours from now, people I haven’t spoken to years, and who have probably even forgotten what I look like will be texting me to wish me Happy Women’s Day! Also, the blogosphere and twitter will explode with posts and tweets about the Women’s Day celebrations all over the world. Pardon me for my ignorance, but I just don’t get it! Why do people go all out to celebrate womanhood, worship their wives, mother, daughters et al. just one day in a year and promptly forget about it before the day is out? Don’t get me wrong. I do enjoy the attention, the Happy Women’s Day wishes, the occasional chocolate that someone decides to give and everything else that accompanies such symbolism. Just don’t expect me to forget how you treat me the other 364 days of the year, while you’re at it! This Women’s day, perhaps it is time to tell all you men out there a few things that women want from you! Read on…

  1. Treat a woman just the same all days in the year. She may be too tired, ill, bored or just sick of your demands to bother to dress up. She may look like a slob and not even have that mandatory kajal on. But she’s still a woman. Treat her well. And she’ll love you for it.
  2. Whether she is your colleague, your teacher, your boss, your mother, your wife or your friend, give her respect. Acknowledge that she knows as much and perhaps more than you do. Treat her as an equal in intellectual terms and you’ll earn her love and respect in no time.
  3. If she’s succeeded the way you never could, don’t question her methods or imply she got there because she is a woman. That hurts more than any swear word or abuse you heap on her. She’ll never forgive you for making her feel cheap. But give her that respect and you’ll earn her love way quicker than you would have ever hoped to.
  4. Don’t call a woman a bitch simply because she is your boss and don’t like reporting to a woman. A woman’s problems with her boss are rarely because of gender alone. It’s not fair that your problems with a woman boss should be just because of her gender.
  5. Don’t expect your wife or your mother to babysit you because you’re a man and feel entitled to such treatment. We don’t expect you to share all housework exactly 50-50, but getting off the couch in front of the TV for a short while to deposit your clothes in the washing machine or your dirty plates in the sink would make us feel like family instead of maids. That’s the least you can do if you find yourself incapable of cooking us a fancy dinner!
  6. Treat your daughters exactly the way you would treat your sons. Give them love but don’t spoil them. Be there for them, but let them decide. And never tell them they cannot do something their brothers can because they are girls. They will grow up believing themselves to be inferior or superior, but never equal.
  7. And finally, remember that every day is probably Women’s Day because without a woman’s constant and reassuring presence, you’re most likely to be lost. And yes, even women need other women in their lives for stability’s sake. A mother, a grandmother, a sister, a daughter, a friend or even just a colleague…every woman is special because is she. Love her, cherish her. And most importantly, respect her.

Just a little step. And you’ll earn a woman’s respect forever. You may be called a mama’s boy or a sissy. But those who call you that aren’t worth your while anyway. And yes! Happy Women’s Day!