For a better morrow..

The sheets on the calendar turn faster each year. There is more ‘grey matter’ adorning my scalp. Like a friend once suggested, I’d like to pass that off as a sign of wisdom and believe that I’ve grown wiser. In the December that went by, I was trying to reflect upon the good, bad, ugly, right, and wrong of another eventful year on this planet. It’s all a blur.

Somehow, my childhood seemed less complex and less terrifying. I’m an optimist by choice but I’m still unable to ignore a fear that is silently creeping into my system, a fear that was non-existent before. I’m worried about the kind of world my children are growing up into. On one hand, we wake up to the news of terror attacks, bomb blasts, rapes, and murders. It is the new normal. On the other hand, we splurge left, center, right, top, and bottom. Weddings are more elaborate and so are the other rituals. We party more, buy stuff on an ordinary day like there is no tomorrow, watch more reality shows on television that are far from real, watch soaps that are getting more slippery, and thrust our dreams onto our children and insist that it is indeed their dream. Exaggerating and portraying a very bleak picture of the present, am I? I’m worried nonetheless and long to see a few changes. No, that’s a lie. I actually want many things changed.

If it were possible to make one ‘national resolution’, I’d say, thwarting patriarchy. I believe it is at the root of the many unrests and is well concealed. I’d want a more level playing field for all our children. I’d want them to respect their freedom and space and that of others. I’d not want them to blow up or rape a fellow being. I’d want them to live in a truly free world where they can lampoon anyone and not get shot for it. I’d not want them to kidnap young girls or be kidnapped for exercising the right to education.

As a mother to two boys and an aunt to four nephews, I’d like to tread the line carefully. I’d like their circle of friends to be patriarchyinclusive. I’d like my children to know that attraction to the opposite sex is but natural. What is NOT natural is the feeling of entitlement and the sense of power (patriarchal) which makes them take a NO for a YES. I’d like them to know that while it is perfectly okay to ask a girl on a date, it is absolutely NOT okay to stalk, hoot, or harass someone emotionally, verbally, or physically. I’d want them to know that home and the associated chores is their forte too and that their sisters and girls among friends have an equal claim to higher education and a successful career.

Even with all the conscious treading, the soon-to-be-six Varun refuses to wear pink or insists on using Spiderman toothpaste, and says no to Barbie paste! He finds it amusing when his grandpa chops veggies and asserts that it must be done either by grandma or mom. Children absorb information from so many sources and besides the home environment, TV,Cinema, and commercials, fuel their imagination.

I’d like to make an appeal to the people in the make-believe world. To be more responsible with the content they dole out. The innocent, intelligent minds of our children are capable of ingesting good stuff. There is sexism in the commercials, an overdose of it in movies where it is dished out in the name of humor or comedy. The actor Santhanam’s comedy to name one. He is verbal diarrhea on legs. He seems incapable of doing three scenes without booze or three lines without sexual innuendos.. In one of the Tamil flicks, you’d find the protagonist and this excuse for a comedian harassing an airhostess (the heroine). And you have another senior hostess almost advising the heroine to put up with it. There is touching and groping. In another scene, the duo follow a girl on a two-wheeler with most part of her face covered. At the traffic signal, when the girl uncovers her face, you’d see the hero spit. Seriously? Since when did these things become funny? Today, at least in Tamilnadu, it is practically impossible to innocently use the words ‘figure’ and ‘item’ because it is a derogatory reference to a chic woman.

You rarely find an inclusive commercial that shows a man cleaning the toilet or obsessing over a dish-washing liquid. There is always a woman who uses spices or flour of a particular brand and waits on the other family members at the dining table. The family has to collectively certify her cooking prowess (and the credit goes to the brand of course!). It is always the man who insures his life for the well being of his wife and children. Women’s lives are not worth insuring of course. It is always a man who applies for a home or car loan. The quintessential provider. Some brand (Fair & Lovely) suddenly decided to be gender-neutral and introduced fairness cream for men! Numskull of an idea, don’t you think? Where a brand can responsibly denounce discrimination based on color, it promotes ‘fairness’ and implies that dark-skin is a serious lack. I can go on.

One can hope though. Hope for a systemic change. Changes in the way the parents engage with their sons and daughters, sensitizing them to gender issues. Changes in the way the parents model their thoughts and actions, leading by example. Changes in the way teachers engage with the students and encourage inclusivity even while allowing room for mistakes, fun, and infatuation. Changes in the content media dishes out because children suck up to it more quickly and also internalize the messages. Some changes from within and some from the world outside. I told you. I’m an optimist by choice.

No place for a woman!

Here is a brilliant post by my friend and colleague, Hannah, on our company’s intranet blog.

Ok, another gang rape, should we say, a reported one? If I remember right, per a survey that outlook published sometime ago, for every 1 rape reported in a big city, almost 64 rapes go unreported in any of the smaller cities. In any case, I don’t want to dwell on rape, for there’s enough and much more to spare written on rape. After all, who doesn’t want to look the defender of a woman’s modesty (sic!)?

Some of the words that people use to describe the act of rape are painful, horrendous, injustice, heinous, outrageous, irreversibly damaged, etc. Simply put, all these descriptors are laughable or even expressions of our misplaced angst, because all of our responses are colored, or rather dictated by our feudal mindsets that want our women to be untouched sexually, except by the man who is socially sanctioned to touch her on the day (err…night) of their wedding! And, that’s not all. The marital bed might even be examined for traces of virginal blood the following morning by the mother-in-law, who is again a victim and a stooge of patriarchy. And, hence, virginity/chastity is something that the woman guards with her life, heart, soul, mind, body, etc. A woman’s mind is dwarfed or rather mangled (like perhaps a bonsai with constant pruning, trimming, and wiring) to think that she’s around just to row up into a beautiful young woman, who will be married off in her prime (read biologically just right to get pregnant) to a man her parents shall find, and she shall cook and clean for him and his family (and, of course, have a career if the man deems it fit or something to simply kill time or contribute to the family economy, if need be), beget him children, and raise them as chivalrous gentlemen or ladies like herself to continue this brilliant saga! Isn’t this outrageously horrendous? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

A woman’s attitude towards anything and everything, be it her choice in clothes, career, stance, food, color, marriage, friends, etc., is influenced primarily by the societal expectations from her due to her biology. For example, even as a girl child is born, people start talking about putting money away for her dowry, make jewels for her, buy pink frocks, high heels, etc. Where is all this coming from? It comes from the basic idea that the woman is a womb, and hence everything about the girl child is only beauty (she will have to beautiful for her man), fair skin, dolls (because she will be a mother someday, so start planning even as she is in the cradle!), kitchen sets (she’ll have to cook and clean for the household!), and anything and everything that would firmly peg her to the house, kitchen, and pregnancy! Now, I ask, aren’t all these heinous? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

I am not sure if there’s data to support how girl babies and boy babies DIFFER in their gyration towards violence or motherhood, irrespectively! Maybe they do too, but why should we as adults stand back and watch or rather applaud when your boy starts using expletives and thrash when the girl does the same thing? Why are girl children taught to cook while boy children are not? Is cooking done through ovaries, which is why men don’t cook? Why should girl children be taught to clean? Why should boys/men be handed out coffees by women every day? Do men suddenly become lame or crippled the moment they enter their homes? Or, is it the upbringing that makes Indian men take any woman to be a custom-made domestic worker, mother, and even a careerist (outside the home of course!). It just can’t get any better for Indian men, or can it? I ask, isn’t this a travesty of justice or a caricature of a just world? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

As a teenager growing in a metropolis like Chennai, I could never venture to the beach all by myself or even partake in the all-night parties that used to happen on the mount road on new year’s eve, because I, or any girl/woman, ran the risk of being gang raped! Even if the all-night party animals on that road came from ‘good’ families or on better days would be chivalrous too, wouldn’t think twice before actually getting down and having one helluva fuck, because such wayward women could, rather should be raped! Not only that, as a young girl traveling by public transport to school/college/work, I have been exposed to stares of all kinds (the approving, the disapproving, the disrobing, so much fucking more!!) and even harassment of all hues. And, believe me, the men guilty were anything like these ‘animals’(rapists) that all ‘good’ men of today seem to distance themselves from! These were boys/men who went to colleges like the ones I went to or even came from families who were our neighbors! Even today, as a grown adult, I can assure you that I don’t feel any less vulnerable while taking the public transport or am the only woman in a lift filled with men! All this and much more completely strangulate a woman’s very identity and crush/stonewall her into the bloody roles that patriarchy so confidently defines for her! Now, isn’t that horrifying? And, we are outraged by a gang rape!

The outrage in my view is in itself outrageous or even hypocritical, especially because of the sheer number of men who seem have unleashed their unbridled sense of shame at this! I ask, where are these men and women, defenders of a woman’s modesty or proponents of women liberation, when the women’s reservation bill gets shot down or women bodies are objectified in mindless fashion shows or movies or when virginity tests are conducted on women? And, how many of these men haven’t whistled at a girl, brushed against a woman’s body when the opportunity presented itself, or didn’t enjoy a rape scene? And, will this outrage be of this
scale if some men had gang raped a sex worker?

Where were all these people when the armed forces brutally raped and killed Thangjam Manorama? Where was the outrage when an entire village watched and cheered as the men of the village gang raped even the dead bodies of two women? I am sure it would be so much easier to distance ourselves from such things as ‘aberrations’ that happen in the hinterland! And, who’s going to utter or let out even a whimper when men rape men/young boys?

Our outrage therefore is very selective: our very core is shaken and we are spurred into action (as in people who don’t give two hoots about protests/demonstrations or who even denigrate such protestors as some misguided, lazy nincompoops) ONLY when the chastity of a ‘good’ woman is outraged. It’s of course a different matter altogether if she’s murdered for dowry, honored killed for marrying outside caste, is killed because of invasive fertilization techniques, is killed because of unsafe termination of pregnancy (for carrying a female child), is killed because she defended her home and land, is killed because she refused to do menial labor and wanted to study, or becomes a mental wreck being nothing more than a glorified domestic help at her own home all her life, and the like!

A day, a blog post, or even a bill may not be enough to change this situation, and any list of dos/ don’ts may not even make the cut! What perhaps is needed is for us to internalize the fact that all of us born are equal, and because of the psychotic mistakes of our ancestors (hope you all burn in hell, if there’s one!) we live in a world that’s defined by various levels and each level is equipped with its own brand of weapons to keep the rest down under. Perhaps, we need to educate ourselves about the working of our society and the brutality it hides under the grab of morality, virtue, chivalry, and the like. Maybe then, we would organize and interrogate ourselves about why we need to be outraged and what we need to be outraged about. I know, not many people will have the time for all this, because it means taking collective responsibility of violence, especially the systemic kind, and working towards a solution. And, that would mean giving up of the many, many privileges that the powerful in the society (the men) have enjoyed for several centuries now. However, it’s time for the women and oppressed men, the victims of the systemic violence, to organize and agitate along side in the long term. And, we can rest assured that our battle has just begun, and we have miles and miles to march before we can see a semblance of victory. Perhaps, our great, great grand daughters and sons might thank us for embarking on this journey.

On a side note, for all the privileged men, more than responding to something that’s so far removed from your immediate reality or doling out some pearls of wisdom on how women should conduct and protect themselves, please introspect! Walk that extra mile, be a human, be defined not by your biology, but by your humanity! Don’t define a woman or her role or her identity or her ability by her biology, but by her right to exist on this planet as freely and happily just as you do. Maybe then, all of us can be united against the enemy; patriarchy!

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