Have you ever heard someone scream when they are completely silent?
Like all of us, I also come from a country where women are one of the many oppressed(?) groups that face inequality of many types and who, like any other minority group, are working to constantly change the status quo in their respective societies. In India if someone has a baby girl, it can usually not be the happiest moment for the whole family and society. The reaction can range from “let’s kill the girl” or “Oh my god it’s a girl! Yes! Happy!” but in the head they already know that she is going to have a difficult life, not just for herself but also for her family. I am not ashamed to admit that India is the one of the most dangerous places to be born a girl. If you are a girl in India, you are treated as a liability among many other stereotypes that you will grow up fighting, if you got out alive when you were born. And even if you are born in a very supportive family and get a PhD you might give up on life sometimes, like this girl. Some say, the problem are men, some say it’s a problem of the mentality. In any case, you see men is a part of both. The outrageous part is that the father of this girl said, I wish I would have saved the money for her dowry, because one day her husband (and his family) will end up harassing and killing my daughter (paraphrasing). This makes you wonder if such men still exist in India and how many decades will it take to change that.
Please do not let an educated, city living Indian having international friends, living abroad tell you that this is not a real problem in India. It is just like extreme poverty, caste based inequality, racism, bigotry and we must be scoring high on all those fronts just because of the mere fact that we are one of the most populated countries in the world. We will always win by numbers. Most of the time, people get uncomfortable talking about such issues which bring a bad name to our society or we are trying to just be in denial and avoid feeling uncomfortable. But I can assure you, that even when the person is a city living, rich, educated and what not, it does not mean that the said man would not demand dowry, or let her wife practice her ambitions. Many a times you will find that such men are the most dangerous ones, who would make demands of dowry in indirect ways by saying “This is how things have been in our culture. Everyone does it.” We all know such men and we have heard stories of our friends. Even the most lovely couple I know, the man in the relationship’s constant advise to me in terms of women would be, “Ajay, you should know how to show a woman her place. Be a man!“. Sure there are people, both men and women, who accept the definition of certain roles that the society ascribes us and they call it values and culture. Good for them.
Looking at the article above, we can see that such men or families (the girl’s husband) are the ones that need to change. Whenever someone points out an age old problem, the common defense and assumption of people can be, “I am not like that” or “My family is not like that”. Sure. Maybe, But really? The educated brother enjoys a lot of freedom and is able to be out late, but when the sister is out and just doing her daily commute to work and home, a slight delay in the schedule sets panic in the whole family. It’s not safe for her to be out alone you say, but the safety is threatened by whom? Men or Aliens? When the girl breaks all the stereotypes and gets a PhD, even in the search of a mature partner, she might be constantly dealing with men who get intimidated by her being a high achiever. The male ego is so fragile it can not handle a strong woman who is just stable in all aspects, career, emotionally and has ambitions. I understand that all the role models that men are shown, are usually men in our societies and high achieving women are always referred to as the “first female prime minister” and not just the “prime minister”, creating a strong belief that such powerful positions are only destined for men and if someone else is getting to that position it’s an exception of sorts. The journey from being an exception to become a norm is a long one, and we can see it in any other country. That’s OK. I mean my country is probably never going to see the light of having more women in the parliament, because men in power don’t want to let go of the power and also patriarchy (more here and here).
When you are a believer of the fact that any human being has autonomy, agency, free will, dignity and is intellectually capable just like any other, you would find it hard to hear what I did. At the very least, I believe the comparison between men and women is that of apples and oranges, and maybe science backs me up on this too by saying all of us are just immutably different. For me the burning question is not just a simple binary one as “Why do men think women are inferior?” but, “Why are men entitled to have such a view, and where does this mentality come from?”
If you are a little observant, its not that hard to see while growing up that how gender roles and stereotypes exist in your society. [Pick your favourite profession and see how many (straight) men v/s others come up in the statistics to start with, in case you feel like educating yourself.] Obviously, I grew up with a binary view on gender and knew only of men and women. And although I do not have my own sister, I grew up hanging out with a lot of girls (cousins and neighbours). We played all the games together, especially cricket, which is usually considered a boys only sport. Which meant to me that we were able to play every game together. But, I remember girls were always the different kind of players and upon team selection they would be considered to be split equally between both teams to keep the balance of not-so-good players. Probably that’s how kids grow up thinking that there is a difference of capability and performance between boys and girls. There was also a difference in how boys and girls would fight. Boys could get very violent or loud and will think of poking, bullying or showing physical power in some ways right early since childhood. Until the parents stepped in and would have to explicitly state that doing this to girls isn’t right. Slowly that would change to boys just fighting with boys, but resorting to subtle forms of expressing the fight like, shaming, pulling hair, belittling etc. That gradually changes in all of us as we grow up and subtle behaviours take different forms, either fading away or becoming extreme. The whole belief that since as kids we were able to overpower girls in fights or sports, they somehow become inferior to us, is a wrong one. And now when I speak to my female cousins or friends, who are working and they share their stories of what they have to deal with on a daily basis, I lose patience and my usual response is “Why don’t you speak up?” and then usually I get shouted back, “It’s not that easy!”. It’s usually the men in public space, in the bus or on the streets or in the private space like their supportive friend, boss or colleague who would judge their intellect whenever there has to be a salary raise, promotion or task assignment.
I feel like I grew up in a world where men are violent, and women are silent.
I keep going back to how boys and girls are raised in our society, and made to believe a lot of things by virtue of the conditioning from the environment. While there are a lot of people who tell girls and women on how to conduct their business since centuries, I would rather be interested in discussing how boys are raised and how men grow up to become and what they should and shouldn’t do. I understand privilege is a concept that is invisible to the privileged, just like a fish in a bowl isn’t able to see there’s water (privilege), it can’t be hard for men to see that. The easier way is to speak to the female who are close to you and listen to them and how they see and experience life. I would rather be interested in speaking as, and to, men so that the change happens in men and parenting. And we work towards creating safe spaces and environment that promotes change. Basically what I am saying to men is that change begins with you being supportive, accepting, listening and if not, by just not blocking the way for people who are making the change. It is a men’s issue.
If you are around someone who’s challenging the status quo and changing things, if you can’t be an ally or supportive, don’t block the way.
— Ajay K (@RuralHuman) May 30, 2017