Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Of women and men...

There is no privilege like the male privilege. We are born with it. It is like a birthright that is biased against women by its very nature. Men and women are treated differently right from the day they are born. So different that in quite a few places in India, the female child is killed; sometimes as sacrifice to the Gods asking for a male heir. That is an extreme case and most urban, middle-class families would distance themselves from such practices but it does not mean that the longing for a male heir does not exist in their minds. And boy (pun unintended) do they wish it! In the cities, they are more sophisticated and female infanticide becomes female foeticide. I am not against abortion but what I am against is the selective abortion of children based on this privileging of the male child.

Even if women survive this initial period of their lives (over which they have no control over whatsoever), they have a lifetime of segregation to face. They would have to hear comments like, "you have to learn cooking because that's what will help you keep your husband happy" and "you are just a visitor who will leave for another home soon" and "what will you do studying so much; they will not help you", almost all their childhood and adolescence. This is still overt and there are subtler ways of putting a woman down. Even if you do not say those above words, those intentions and thinking behind those words would still be there and is quite perceptible to children who are so sensitive to adult behaviour.

Even if a woman does get educated well by her family and does manage to get a job in the world, she faces problems just because she is a woman. Women are harassed on the streets, in public places and there is nothing they can do about it expect carry pins and respond violently to the harassment. One feels disgust reading the testimonial of Annie and that of others who have responded in the comments with stories and anecdotes of their own. I have blogged about this before and you could also follow the link there and read the stories there too. Today is March 7, 2006, a day declared by Black Noise Project as a day for Blog-a-thon 2006.

Of course, this is not the only the only problem that women face in the male-dominated world but this is one of those problems that pervades their life everyday, at all times, and something that they are vulnerable to.

As a man, it disturbs me to see that it is so pervasive and so problematic to women and it seems to be quite universal. Every woman has a harassment story. Most women face harassment every single day. It seems to be a socially sanctioned practice that hampers the everyday life of millions of women. I take special care on buses to stay away from women because I am afraid that I might unknowingly/unwittingly cause mental stress in the woman standing next to me just because the driver thought it was prudent to brake so hard. In Madras, there were special 'Magalir mattum' (for females only) buses that used to (still might be in operation) run during rush hour that alleviated the stress that women felt in the mornings going to colleges and offices. I strongly recommend such buses as I do not see the situation improving overnight. I used to wonder why educated women would leave a prospect of a promising career and become housewives but the more I read the testimonials of these working women, the more I realise that it is not such an easy question to answer.

How do you tackle this problem? There are numerous suggestions that keep popping up in my mind.

1. Make legislation that metes out harsh punishments to people who harass women.

2. Spread awareness of this issue and how women feel about this in society

3. Learn marital arts and beat up every single person who does something undesirable.

4. Take their pictures and post them in a public place like Holla Back NYC (it does not necessarily have to be a blog. It could also be a news channel) and hope that it embarrasses them so much so that they won't behave like that again.

The problem with the first suggestion is that there is already existing legislation does not seem to be effective. If it was, 'eve-teasing' would not be called by its harmless sounding name and it would not be so pervasive that Indian movies would not show them as a valid wooing technique!! And there is one story by a female commentor on the one of the above mentioned blog posts which seems to suggest that the police are indifferent to this kind of mistreatment of women. The problem with this kind of offence is that of proof. How will you prove that a certain person groped you? How would you convince the people who saw the whistling/eve-teasing to come with to the police station and testify? How would you convince the policeman that you were not over-reacting and you don't want to just let it go? In other words, how would you break the barrier created by gender stereotypes that typecast women who fight back against such men as evil, conniving, lying feminists who hate all men?

The second suggestion is what Black Noise Project is all about and I think it is the most effective one because it seems to target the thinking of people in society. Spreading awareness of this issue is an important step towards making the world more equitable for women. Changing the perception of the people is a slow process, one that is probably going to take a couple of generations and it does not alleviate the problems faced by women today.

The third suggestion is something that is already in place. Women do learn martial arts to be able to defend themselves on the street but it cooks my goose that they have to live by jungle rules to be independent, working women! It seems to put the onus of defending herself on the women and seems to suggest that men would always be like that and women should expect such behaviour from them and they should defend themselves as it is unlikely that the society would come to their help. Saying that, it is still a very practical approach and one that is strongly recommended. Martial arts / expertise with handling pins / using heels as toe-busters are all useful skill in the present scenario!

The fourth suggestion is a question of feasibility. If you take the picture of the guy who is harassing you, he could easily misconstrue as a statement of interest and harass you further. Also, no public place is that public, is it?

Saying all this, I wonder about all the men who do such heinous work. What do they really think? I suppose there might be some distinction amidst them. There would be the gropers, the whistlers, the starers, the 'eve-teasers'. It is not necessary that all harassers do all of this. There would be some who would 'eve-tease' thinking it is just teasing but they might never grope. Most men are starers, particularly when the object of their stare is at a distance and not looking in their direction. But even here, there is finer distinction. There are those who make it a point to stare and hang out in public places to leer at women passing by, there are those who do not do it regularly but would leer if some well-endowed woman passes by, etc, etc. But I think that in all these cases, the problem is the same - the objectification of women. And our popular media seems to reinforce that idea in the minds of the people. The bollywood movies, the remix videos, the bangra videos, the fashion shows, etc, etc. I personally think that the image of women in media has to change. Today, I saw an ad in the paper that shows a woman with a child on her lap, talking to some one on the phone, and working on a laptop, the tagline was "Women can multitask. Blah blah blah." The implied meaning being that men can't multitask. Such an image of women serves as an excuse to expect them to do all the housework, take care of the baby and pursue a career. It is either this or the portrayal of a woman as a vamp whose overactive sexuality lures men left and right.

Given all this, I am surprised that women don't screw men over whenever they get the chance (some women do but not all) because men (again, not all men) screw them over (pun intended) all the time. I am also surprised that in spite of going through all this, they never say all men are like that (and it is true). I wish Black Noise Project all the best in their efforts to change the perception of the world and I hope that we can make a better world where men and women would be truly treated equally.


Anushka said...

What amazes me is that your fine sensitivity towards everyday-issues that go unnoticed by many, and/or deliberately ignored by many. This is with reference to the havoc women face in the daily public transport, which I can’t believe that a man would ever understand or perceive the inconvenience a women endures. To add further, surprisingly, you taking special care by not coming on the way inorder to make another human being comfortable .

Yes then I have to say that all men are not the same and there are nicer & caring men like you too.

I pay obeisance to your parents who have done a wonderful part in imparting the right virtues in you.


Anushka said...

What amazes me is that your fine sensitivity towards everyday-issues that go unnoticed by many, and/or deliberately ignored by many. This is with reference to the havoc women face in the daily public transport, which I can’t believe that a man would ever understand or perceive the inconvenience a women endures. To add further, surprisingly, you taking special care by not coming on the way inorder to make another human being feel comfortable .

Yes then I have to say that all men are not the same and there are nicer & caring men like you too.

I pay obeisance to your parents who have done a wonderful part in imparting the right virtues in you.


Wundergal said...

thanks for being so nice and understanding. You seem to be one of the handful of men who acknowledges women for what they are.


Anonymous said...


I cant believe it that someone can write such an apt indept analysis of how women are eveteased and what more you have provided solutions too.

The one fact that is so well pointed out by you is that women have kind of 'subconciously' gotten used to all the eveteasing that to a point they can unfortunately ignore it without doing much.

How do you get these ideas and thoughts that are so sensitive and caring ?

My own husband never cared if I boarded a packed bus every morning to work and he went in a car to work. Never bothered to drop me to work only because my work started early, so we would have to leave 20 minutes earlier and for that he would have to sacrifice his sleep. Though I would get up 2 hours before him only to prepare his lunch(so called multi-tasking that I realised is only a curse and not something to be proud of). Its because of this reason I always wanted to leave work though lucrative, and whenver I left my job all hell broke loose as he would not get hold of any income from me then. Any explanation that I wanted to be only a housewife was unacceptable. All he wanted was money , money and money. Idea was to hold on to the double income status amongst his group and 'my wife is a working women too'

So basically when we married women discuss the so called multi-tasking that women have the ability to do, is actually a self invited trouble on our Welfare , Health, stress levels and Life on a long term basis that can be detrimental .

Apurva, I must appreciate your lovely understanding article and if all men can give it a serious thought alot of marriages could be saved that will be beneficial to both.

but alas!!!! most men are interested to have a working women cum housewife these days.


Anonymous said...

It's nice to write opinions on blogs and commenting on them. But do you have any plans to actually do something more concrete?

MadHat said...

I thought long and hard about how to respond to you guys. The think is that I dont think what I have said/written is not so worthy of your admiration. I believe that it is something that every decent, responsible, mature person would do and there are enough of them in the world.

The other thing that I want to say is that no matter how much I try to empathise with your problems, I probably could never really understand it. I sometimes get off work at 2 am and I think nothing about going out and getting an auto to commute back to my home. I am born with that male privilege that I talked about and it is something I cannot deny nor get rid of.

Personally, I think it is great that there is Black Noise Project and there are people like Annie who are writing such moving and influential pieces. It is great to see the response for the Blog-a-thon. It gives me hope. Maybe, someday, the world would really be a level playing ground for everyone.

@Neha: Yes. Most men think they are progressive when they dont mind their wives pursuing a career but she is still the one who is expected to take care of the household. I am glad that you got out of it (infered from your comment).

@Anon: I think this Blog-a-thon is something very concrete. And so far, I think it has been a big success. What I think is that if what I write is able to influence at least a few people, then my job is done. Because I am no Mahatma Gandhi.

Ayan said...

"Special" treatment; isn't that a seed of discrimination?

Anonymous said...

People have been talking about these issues for a long time now. But the only problem is it is like preaching to the choir. How can you, if you intend to, influence people who DON'T think? While I can appreciate these written articles as an effort to say your opinion on the issue, I am not sure what it's practical utility is.

You are right though about the fact that no matter how hard a man tries, it's not possible to really understand a woman's problems. I believe that change is possible only when women decide to make it happen. For example, why marry a man who cannot treat you the way you consider proper, and why spend a lifetime complaining about it? This question is especially directed at educated and economically liberated women who are expected to have the ability to discern. There are many men in the recent times who are sensitive and respectful. It takes active search to bump into them and it is worth the effort. But if you really want to change a man who is not sensitive and respectful towards you that's a futile life-time project and you cannot do much of anything else in your life. The best bet you have is to raise your son to become a better husband. Making wise personal choices whenever you can and training the growing generation of children (girls and boys) to be better individuals is the best bet women (and progressive young men) have.

A woman

MadHat said...

@Ayan: Of course, it is discrimination but think of it like balancing the pan. Hope you get the picture.

@Anon: I can think of a lot of reasons why women get married and get tied down. The thing is that jobs do not always entail education, economic independence does not always entail a job, well paying jobs do not always entail higher education. But if you do want to get a higher paying job, the best bet is that you get do a post-graduation. By the end of it, you are, what, 23 years old (at the least;26-27, if you are a MBBS+MS/MD) and that is the age that parents start panicking to get you married(it does happen). You don't become financially independent immediately. Plus, we men do get a lot of support from our families to become economically independent. In a way, we getting married so late is a huge plus point for our careers and life. Plus, there is added fear of the big bad world. Either you are a very strong person or your parents are supportive of your career goals. Not every person is strong. Very few parents are supportive. There you go, you are married before you know it.

Anonymous said...

"Either you are a very strong person or your parents are supportive of your career goals. Not every person is strong. Very few parents are supportive. There you go, you are married before you know it."

Exactly! There lies the problem. It's a woman's own family that does not support her in achieving her goals if she has any. And most women grow up to think that they have to please everyone in their lives and so don't stand up for themselves. Even if they believe otherwise they succumb to pressure (subtle/disguised or obvious). Women who come from economically disadvantaged families probably have no other choice. But what about women who get an education, find a job and stand on their own feet? They can be assertive about the choice of their partners. But a lot of them still get into unsatisfactory relationships and spend the rest of their lives complaining about how men are not understanding.

If a woman's own family is not supportive because of culturally ingrained ideas, and she herself won't stand up against any resistance to her growth, why blame a man who probably also grew up with some ideas ingrained in him (thanks to his upbringing) and who enters much later into the woman's life? Is it just because it is easier to find fault outside our homes than inside? Are we expecting upbringing to be an easily reversible effect in men when it seems like it is not so easily reversible in women? Can legislations change the way people think? No. Can wide-scale male-bashing change the way people think? No. The only thing that can change the way people think is education, which, unfortunately, does not seem to be as important to most people as are degrees from colleges and Universities. There is not much investment either from the government or from private individuals to improve the QUALITY of education in India. That is the reason for most of our social problems including gender inequality.

The same woman as above

Anonymous said...

"Of course, it is discrimination but think of it like balancing the pan."

The type of "balancing the pan" you are suggesting has the poteintial to get out of hand and become counter-productive to the eventual goal of gender-equality. When men feel guilty because of the ill-deeds of their male ancestors and are trying to make up for it by giving "special treatment" to women (whose problems they do not completely understand) it is possible to make irreparable blunders.

Anonymous said...

i was so impressed when i read your post today.the little examples you have sited are infact day to day examples that a female experiences.
ya i too wish a day comes when i can walk out of my office 2am and not worry about my safety.

to the so called women(??) who is emphasising on 'education' by saying it can change people's thinking. NO it cant. I am educated and so also my husband(very highly eduacted) that does not change his thinking at all.
Its a myth that educated people behave decently...i have seen many educated people behaving saddistically and many uneducated men having some of the finest manners.
Education only imparts knowledge and helps to get a better job and eventually a source of livlihood.

Also my own family supported me and thats why i am strong today to deal with the demands of my inlaws and try to keep both happy(though am causing myself more harm). I also CHOOSE my life partner,it didnt make life easy for me... so???

i guess indian have to adapt as well as accept some very rough changes thats not going to be easy on anyone or women too. am sure they too are in a dilema.

btw apurava you do have that freedom and understanding that helps to co-exsist in harmony.cool.

MadHat said...

@The same woman as above: You seem to have missed one point of mine.

But what about women who get an education, find a job and stand on their own feet?

As I said, it is not that simple. If a woman does break the mould set for her, it is quite likely that her family would disown her. And she loses the greatest support that young people have - their parents. She kind of becomes an outcastr in the family. Plus, she faces all kinds of discrimination in the outside world. It is a known fact that women are paid lesser, are stereotyped into certain jobs. On top of that, they get harassed on the streets when they are commuting between home and work. Can we blame them if they feel insecure because of all this? Can we blame them if they do not want to appease their parents / husband and give up the sense of security they provide? It does not the work the same way with men as men get a huge lattitude for themselves. Their misendeavours are easily forgiven, their quest for careers and jobs are given the support that is needed in the modern world by their parents. In other words, men benefit immensly from the male privilege meted out to them.

of course, it is hard to get rid of the culturally ingrained ideas in both men and women. That is why the best bet for the future is imparting children with the right values. Teaching them to respect themselves and others is very important. If not at home, then in schools. Again, it is not going to happen in one generation but will take many generations. But it will happen as more and more children grow up with the right ideas taught to them.

I am a product of my parents and my teachers (particularly one teacher). Literacy does not equal education. An illiterate man could be more well educated (in one sense) than someone with a Bachelor's degree. And the idea of quality education differs with the perspective. It could either be utilitarian (as an a great physics teacher) or moral (as a great role model for behaviour). Teaching is not jut about the books and facts and ideas and innovations.

And if you think that there is nothing being done to improve the quality of education, then you are quite wrong. Take a look at this. The problem lies in the bureaucracy and the vote-mongering politicians (whose basic purpose in life seems to be ensure means and measures that gets vote for them).

@Anon: I think if all men realised that, then we do not need what you call "special treatment". Lets face it, if the men who mistreat women on buses, do we need separate buses for women?
Dont get me wrong, I am great believer that segregation only serves to re-enforce perjudices. Racism in the US and Nazi Germany thrived on segregation.

@Anon: yes, we can live in harmony...

Anonymous said...

I don't think I said, "there is nothing being done to improve the quality of education" .

I said, "There is not much investment either from the government or from private individuals to improve the QUALITY of education in India."

Thanks for the link though. It is quite encouraging. However, there are many more schools in India which follow their own state syllabii rather than the NCERT syllabus. So, there's a whole lot more that needs to be done. Hopefully, this revamping of the education system will spread. Let's remember that talking about these issues is not just for argument's sake. This is not a debate competition nor a group discussion session for selection into school where we just throw counter points at each other. This is reality we are talking about. I, along with a few friends, are actually working on education. If things change even we will be happy.

Vijay said...

The Blank Noise Project was a wonderful drive to bring out the opinions out into the public domain and shake awaken the public conscience

My Blog : http://India-IT-Pulse.blogspot.com


Anonymous said...

To the male feminist


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