A world for women

A world for women

We can do it

A world for women

The ‘fairer sex’ is out on the streets demanding equal rights and refusing to take misogyny lying down. This International Women’s Day, let’s pledge to be allies and let our girls spread their wings and fly, writes Harshikaa Udasi

My uterus is my private property.” “Not a whore, not a saint, but a woman claiming equal rights.” “I am gay/straight/bi…a person.” “Respect women of colour.”

How many women does it take to shake up the people at the top? That’s not a question that the US brass must be interested in answering right now. It has been a tumultous yet exhilarating two months for millions of women in the US. Sporting pink knitted pussycat caps, the better half of the Donald Trump-ruled country have taken to the streets to reclaim their rights in what is ironically among the oldest democracies of the world.

While Uncle Sam figures out the #DayWithoutAWoman protests, women in India are struggling with their own issues. 40-year-old Mitali is an independent woman living in Mumbai. She is a well-educated freelance writer and designer. And she is single. The last in her line of qualifications is still not acceptable in society. Speculation follows her wherever she goes, at family meetings and corporate boardrooms alike (don’t expect the latter to be above par). She drives her car around late in the night but needs to justify it saying, “it’s only because I work late, you know.”

The question is why. Why should she have to justify something so utterly mundane? Because, she says, the patriarchal society still thinks that women need to be chaperoned. Yes, you have the ‘freedom’ but hey, who says you have the capacity to handle that freedom? You need us – not just men, but surprisingly other women too.

Misogyny at home

Mitali speaks up about her elder brother. “He once wanted our dad to discontinue subscription to The Times of India. Why? Because he thought I would read about all the women-centric laws and reforms that Sonia Gandhi had brought about. Then I would develop feminist views and a mind of my own!” she recalls.

Two things about this supposedly minor incident alarmed her: One, that he thought he could control someone's life, and second, that he was unaware that as a postgraduate student in English, Mitali had already been exposed to feminism in greater scope than a newspaper could ever manage.

But that’s not all. When the Nirbhaya incident happened, her brother went on a rampage, spewing misognistic remarks. “Why only her? Why did those men attack only her and not any other woman? Obviously, she asked for it!’ he said, starting a heated argument about why rape is a woman’s fault.

Mitali remembers: “It only ended when I asked him if he would ever rape a woman. He never answered me, but the misogynistic streak in him became more apparent to me after that day. He would ask me to wear a dupatta when I went out and avoid jeans and t-shirts and so on.” She shudders at the thought of such attitude flourishing in her own ‘highly ducated’ family.

The ‘invisible’ workload

Her colleague at work, Sitara, is facing a different problem. Married with the additional responsibility of a toddler, she is back to work amid barbs of being a ‘selfish mother’.

“It’s so annoying. When I was at home when we had no children, I was told by my mother-in-law that I must work and support my husband with an additioal salary. When I wanted to resume my job after the birth of our child, my mother-in-law and an army of other women told me that I was being very selfish. Why can’t I just do what I want to do?” she laments. “You know what adds to this pressure? Having to go to an office that demands time from you as though you have no kid and returning home to slog again as though you haven’t worked at office.”

Patriarchy is alive and kicking. There are many who feel that women are overly sensitive about slights and that feminism has now gone too far. But the point that people miss about feminism is that it is not a fight against men. Feminism is more about being unapologetically you. It does not make enemies of men; after all, we need them as much they need us.

Feminism shows up whenever individuality is questioned and threatened. Whether it is the male who is the threat or another female, such as the much maligned ‘in-law’ equation.

“Many people don’t want to give the women around them a chance to think and work independently. I have seen such strong women fall into deep self-doubt because of this,” says counselor Nanda Manjal.

When women are brash

“People feel it is their ‘duty’ to guide a woman – that she needs help at every juncture, that she needs support to handle a difficult situation and that she needs clear thinking, someone else’s, not her own. It’s ridiculous. It’s a power thing – such people want to assert themselves on women who they think are rising to power,” she explains.

So it is universal truth that no one can handle an independent woman with a mind of her own. “I think I am too brash for this world!” laughs Judith, a recently-divorced mother of one. “Nobody likes it. As a species, we like those who quielty take the beaten path and do only what is socially acceptable. Why would anyone live with someone who has an opinion on everything from politics to finance to how she wants to raise her child? It’s an ego bruiser,” she says.

Jatin belongs to the tribe of men who believe that women’s freedom is a much-abused concept. “I think enough noise is made about how women are oppressed and suppressed by patriarchy. And I admit that a couple of generations ago, this might have been the truth. But today, the scenario is the diametrical opposite,” he complains.

 Putting forth that men in fact are the victims of gender bias, he says, “One police complaint by a woman about mistreatment and any man can be put behind bars with no investigation or support from the law.” He says that while women complain about lesser wages, men too complain about bias in favour of women. “They want equal rights in every sphere of life, but when it comes to marriage, they want a ‘well-settled’ fellow who has his own house, a fat bank balance and a car. But if the guy wants to marry an earning lady, he is eyeing her salary! Isn't that hypocritical?”

Graphic designer Binal says that letting a person fend for his or her ownself doesn’t really come easy to us Indians. She reasons that men’s frustrations over giving women independence seems to arise from the fact that they are not treated very differently.

Conversations with rank strangers begin with married or not, kids or not, and salary figures. “And the thing I feel strongly about is that, contrary to what most people believe, it’s not only an anti-female attitude. It spreads out to men as well. Have you thought of men who want to be stay-at-home dads or want to take up traditionally female careers? They are scoffed at, told to change their decisions as if they were demented or worse still, incapable of earning. For women, it’s seen as an over-independent streak, as selfishness. When will we learn to allow everyone to just be what they want to be?”