So we are celebrating Women’s day! Women’s day was used to celebrate the success of women in reaching milestones such as suffrage, trade unions, right to work, equal pay etc. These are really wonderful. But have we set newer milestones since then? That is the question.
What is it that we are wanting for ourselves on this day in today’s times? When I say today’s times, are they any different from the times that have gone by? Well yes and no. Yes, because we have more women in the public sphere, working, studying, expressing themselves and flaunting themselves if you would be expressing yourself in the syntax of the other gender. And no too. No, because even today we are still fighting a battle to be accepted for who we are and what we want.
That a woman can have aspirations divorced from the other expectations of society or family is something which even today we are struggling to get accepted.
Sure, more women are working these days, as compared to maybe the earlier generation. Maybe in some parts of the world, it’s the first generation which is stepping out of the confines of the domestic havens. But look closely and ask yourself if this can be truly labelled as women liberation.
Is there somewhere where the economics of the household which is prompting this change. This may be welcome and unwelcome too. Welcome as this gives exposure to the female to the world at large, albeit each gender being at cross-purposes in this move. Unwelcome, because this is the extension of the chains beyond the confines of the home.
So we have girls who are working themselves to death, bearing the guilt of not being able to measure up to expectations of the family, of being the perfect home-makers, and then the guilt of not making the most of the opportunity that they are getting to make a name for themselves in the professional sphere.
So is it really surprising that there is an increasing number of young women who are afraid to embrace marriage, daunted by the enormity of the expectations that are lying in wait post-wedding. The falling birth rates worldwide are another matrix to go by. Should we call it commitment phobia or survival instincts? But what is all of this leading up to? Propelled by the need to break through barriers are we breaking up the social fabric which holds all of us together?
Education is a powerful tool. But a tool, it remains. It is up to the individual as to what use she puts the tool to. Most of us use it for livelihood. Is that bad? Of course not. That’s a weapon we go out with everyday to prove our worth, and we get paid for it.
But does it stop there? Are we stopping to think what value it is adding to our life? Apart from bringing in the necessary moolah to run the household, how has it impacted us? We learn of lofty ideals like empathy, identity, integrity. Today, being a good individual means we don’t indulge personally in anything that we would condemn in our own hearts. So maybe you are a little more considerate to the house-help by not robbing her of her due. In fact the irony is, we are so dependent on the house-help that she can hold you to ransom! Or should we call it the triumph of the downtrodden?
Coming back to what I was saying earlier, integrity lies not just in not doing wrong but also condemning wrong. So, long as we turn a blind eye to injustice, it will continue. So, if a system runs on the premise of inequality, it is wrong to endorse it.
One of the dictums given to me in my growing up years was this: don’t question the system.
Meaning you will never be able to win over it as it is more powerful than you. So, does it not stand to reason that such endeavors should be by a collective rather than an individual? And if each individual is busy denying that there is anything wrong with a system, the collective is only a dream. Which of us is ready cast the first stone?
That’s the eternal question.
So, identity, as it follows ,should be a basic right. And when identity is at stake, the individual should be able to stand for herself and assert it. In a hierarchical setup, there is no issue for the upper rungs to succeed in holding this up. But consider the underbelly, nothing short of rebellion or a large scale revolution will achieve this for them. And for an individual to rebel, the individual is to believe in her own self-worth. This in itself is a battle for most people. The individual is most often cawed down by the awe of unwritten cultural overtones. So the first thought that comes to our mind is, this culture of inequality is not just robbing a person of her self-image, it is instrumental in creating an atmosphere of distrust and exploitation.
Have education and employment changed this? Yes and no. Yes, women are earning today, so they have some amount of financial stability. And no, because, despite all superficial changes, roles have pretty much remained the same. Maybe, now, the woman is also the breadwinner. But even today, you have unequal workloads at home. The change now being you have options of outsourcing and paying up for services which were traditionally thought to be the female’s lot.
But even now the words “I” and “mine” become suspect by the very definition. A person who stands up for herself and says this does not suit “me” is labelled self-centered; talk of “me-time” is being inconsiderate.
So, if a woman wants to prioritize career over other things, it is an uphill task; while for the male counterpart, this is just how it should be.
How many of the homemakers today are actually qualified professionals who have given up careers to prioritize family? Is this wrong? Of course not.
Fundamentally the adults of the family are supposed to be caretakers. It’s only the male/female divide here in responsibilities which brings out all these issues. To start with, the female is not anymore equipped to handle kids than a male is. But the nurturing instincts of the female come to the fore and save the day. This may be the result of nature.
But is nature dictating all our actions and aspirations, or rather is nature able to hold us back from a path when we are set on it? Are we not pushing boundaries all the time? Most path-breaking achievements stand a testimony to this. So is this just a convenient choice for the patriarchal setups, when it comes to giving precedence to nature when it comes to family and family responsibilities?
Acceptance is essential to civilized existence. In fact, to be at peace with yourself. Be it accepting yourself in your heart and mind or getting accepted by family or peers, or even just random strangers!
Are you surprised? How many of us are ready to dare public censure in adopting anything that we think will single us out from the crowd? It may the most basic thing like how we would want to dress to going all the way to what ideas we would like to adopt. We are always willing to flow with the tide. Or let’s just say we want to lose ourselves in the collective, there is security in anonymity.
So we are willing to let go of individual choices until they become the fashion for others to follow. The other argument would of course be that we are conditioned by societal norms and peers. So our expectations of both ourselves and others are dictated by this anonymous monster called public opinion. So should we call change accidental? Some are happy accidents and most others are by people who are willing to dare for whatever appeals to them at the moment. Or let’s just say we are happy to shoot from other’s shoulders. But at the end of the day the fact remains that we are afraid to stand up for ourselves for who we are and what we want.
The other undeniable fact remains evidenced by history that change has never been peaceful and it has always taken its share of blood and toil. So change requires the sacrificial beasts. Here again comes the inevitable human trait of evasiveness. Let’s cross the bridge when we come to it, always hoping that we never come to it. But unfortunately, it does not happen that way.
Once you embark on the journey, there is no turning back; you will come to the bridge, whether you like it or not. Be it giving up something or wanting it. And here, what comes to our aid is the strength of character we develop as individuals. Do we have the stomach for the fight or not. Or are we waiting to be pushed to the corner to retaliate. A very intelligent person once said that if you wait for the fight to come to doorstep to decide whether to join it or not, then there will be nothing left worth fighting for.
The world is really a sad place when it lacks empathy. Discrimination for being different becomes the grundnorm. And on the basis of this is built up the edifice of all social norms, which then are institutionalized in political and economic setups. So whenever it comes to protesting against exploitations on the basis of race, language, color etc., it is a legitimate ground for seeking change. But when the fight comes home, up close we are uncomfortable. Granted that organized society is, any day preferable to anarchy, but does that mean that we sanction inequalities at every juncture? Is overthrowing the system or seeking to keep out of it the only solution available.
Are they no possibilities to work at the system and take corrective action within the system? Yes I am endorsing that the system is desirable, after all it has been the cradle of nurturing all the generations till now and will continue to for the ones that are to come.
But a more basic question: why are differences offensive? Or should we rather be asking why differences are the rationale for different treatment? Are insecurities coming to fore here? Volumes have been written on ‘like should be treated alike’. And accordingly we have codes of conduct drawn up based on this principle. This resulted in the tyranny of the majorities. And accepting for the moment that the rule is right and that indeed different groups need to be addressed differently, are we really ensuring that different treatments are equal as well? Even supposing that there are benevolent attitudes, such benevolence will always be tempered by the limits of self-preservation. But practice has proven that ‘different but equal’ is also discriminatory. This brings us to the question then as what is the alternative.
If we are willing to look at it from a different angle, then we may actually realize that differences can complement us. Diversity can be interesting and profitable too, because it brings different strengths to the table. Look at nature for inspiration; the beauty of nature is that it offers a lot of choice. So if we equip our psyche to consider ourselves as parts of a whole, then each part becomes necessary and important. So each part needs to be nurtured and protected. Else we lose meaning of the concept of a whole. And the part which is not nurtured, suppressed and made to lose its self-worth will only rot and the whole will rot with it.
So, is it not important in the interest of survival that we learn to wear a different lens and recognize these inequalities? Whereas, earlier, we were just content to ignore and pretend that all is fine. That we examine the causes of such inequalities and work at them, and balance them out for the greater good.
We boast of arriving at an egalitarian society which grants basic freedoms to all. There are still pockets of the world where these basic rights are not being guaranteed. Or not even practical. We are busy patting our backs that at least we have some stability and do not have to put with such privations and indignities. Yes that is good. Consider how in some parts of our country a lone woman is bait for any random stranger who takes a fancy to her. Yes, that is horrific. And safety is something which all of us should be thankful for. And it is worth giving precedence to caution in that interest. There was one forward on the WhatsApp which took this issue to the next extreme, where the other gender is dictating all rules by which we have to play to just be safe. I would not like to believe that the future is so bleak. And organized defense is and will be effective. Else, there is no excuse for the survival of society and governance.
What is more alarming is that safe confines of family are also leading up to exploitation and this is being accepted with the clear conscience and being branded as normal and correct. Consider this, setting pre-conceived expectations on a relationship, endorsing it by societal pressures, and ensuring that the party at the receiving end has no choice but to accept and play along, is this not wrong? But nobody bats an eyelid!
This is systemically done and upheld: anyone who tries to break this cycle is the villain and deserves the severest of censures as per the ruling gods.
Is this not inequality?
A white crime that goes unpunished and which is raised to the pedestal of virtue, by the standards of every known society. In fact ballads are sung in its defense! But ballads or not, it won’t take long for anyone to recognize the futility of the whole exercise. Take a cue from the number of homes that are being broken up; matrimonial sites devoting entire sections for remarriages, with the age-group of divorcees dipping every year. In a country like India, where even a divorce was considered taboo, see the indices of the single parents all over the country.
Every social science class has started with the statement, “man is a social animal.”
Sure he is. No denying it. There are few who would want to be a Robinson Crusoe. Should it not automatically flow that since we, as a race, got together and wanted to live together, we must feel secure with each other? The basic premise on which collectives exist should be that each member desires to be part of it and derives benefit of being part of it. So does it not follow that collectives should at the least provide security and stability to its members, at least so long as they play by the rules? And society is one such collective as is the institution of family. Where is security when one party well-being in the equation at the grace of the other party? Where one party feels insecure to voice insecurities for fear of exploitation?
How can we expect external forces to succeed when we have not won over the battle internally? Should it not start at our own level, where we, in order to respect a person, accept her for what she is; not think in terms of “what’s in it for me to be on terms with this person?”
It is never surprising when homogenous groups get along with each other. But, if we are to confine harmony only to homogeny, then we are doomed. Because as it is said, it takes all sorts to make the world. Though this statement has been used more disparagingly, it is not devoid of positive connotations. We need to rise above ourselves and stop thinking meanly of others outside the peripheries that we have drawn up of “me” and “mine.”
Only when we truly believe on the maxim, “do unto others as you would want them to do unto you,” will we truly begin to experience empathy and compassion. And this will be golden cradle which will then pave the way for a better tomorrow. Unless we accept this and internalize it, it will not be possible to achieve change for the better by any power. Be it punitive, corrective or otherwise. That each of us have a right to choices and should have the freedom to exercise those choices. Only then can we let go of unequal expectations in what should be equal relationships.