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It all started with the outlet tube of the washing machine snapping open at the joint, a couple of weeks back. The existing tape had to be removed, the outlet pipes fitted together again properly and taped up securely with insulation tape. Once I was done repairing the pipe, casual conversation led to me saying that small electrical repairs around the house like repairing plugs, changing fuse wires etc were things I used to do at home, during my college days and how it used to leave my grandmother rather horrified.
I also used to repair leaky taps at home by changing washers and the like. I’ve used a proper saw on wood to build something once and these habits of mine were always a bone of contention with my grandmother. Her comment to my mom always used to be “these are not things girls should be doing. It is very unfeminine for a girl to be repairing stuff, sawing wood etc”.
Yet another incident that this brought to the fore was when one of my aunts used to repeatedly tell me not to sit with one knee over the other. Apparently, if girls sat that way, it was a sign of disrespect. Boys could sit anyway they wanted, they could scratch themselves anywhere they wanted, in plain view of anyone around and it was perfectly acceptable. But girls sitting with one knee over the other knee was an absolute NO !
During my college days, I also used to paint with water colors and I did notice, even then, that painting did not evoke any negative response from anyone at home. It was seen as something creative, something feminine.
This whole concept is worth a serious think – “What does one mean when one says this is not something girls are supposed to do or not supposed to do ?”
Growing up in a patriarchal society that is India (it was and it still very much is a patriarchal society), girls, right from a young age were taught to conform and obey, no questions asked. If it was someone like me, questions would be raised only to be shot down and muzzled. Answers were never forthcoming and I now realize that I never had any of my questions answered because the elders in question simply did not know. Customs, ideas, norms, habits were given the title of “tradition” and simply passed on from one generation to the next, with no one questioning the basis or the logic thereto.
As a child, I came in for a lot of flak from the elders in the family for playing cricket with the boys. Apparently, it was something “girls simply would not and should not do”. I didn’t get the logic behind that statement then and I don’t get it now.
During the long summer holidays, a whole load of us used to get together in the afternoons to play card games or board games. Inevitably, there would be a lot of noise and ruckus and I remember one grandpa in the building complaining to some of the grandmoms about their grand daughters making noise and how it was so “un girl like” to do so. That there used to be boys too, creating an equal ruckus alongwith us, was completely sidelined – almost as if it was considered natural for boys to behave that way but not for girls.
It’s been a few decades now and the sad fact is that things remain pretty much the same. Attitudes are the same, mind-sets, outlooks and approaches pretty much remain similar.
Women should not have to protest, should not have to hold up banners, should not have to walk around naked holding placards, should not have to burn bras to be heard and taken notice of. When a woman speaks, it is as much her right to do so as it is any man’s out there and when she does speak, giving her an ear is something that needs to come naturally to the public just as they would, if it was a man speaking.
Being a woman has never been easy anywhere in the world, especially so in patriarchal societies like India. Come to think of it, a woman is pretty much doomed the day those XX chromosomes decide to hang out together. That is essentially when the struggle begins – a struggle for life, a struggle for existence, a struggle for self-identity, a struggle to have her voice heard, a struggle to have her opinions taken seriously. For a woman, life gets down to being a struggle to simply survive with her senses intact, for, she comes into a world, a society which is biased and inclined towards heeding the XY chromosomes over the XXs.
Despite rampant cries for change, the cultural identity of an Indian woman is still looked upon, first and foremost, as being a wife, a mother. The traditional female identity in India still pretty much places a woman in a very restrictive environment. Education too, even now, is seen by society, not as much as a tool towards an independent woman but more as a means to improve their chances of finding a husband of a higher social status.
Irrespective of life in a village or a city, women are still expected to adhere to traditional expectations. In many families, it is still considered necessary for a woman to touch her husband’s feet as a mark of respect, she is still expected to wear on herself, accessories that “mark” her as a married woman – her mangalsutra, her sindoor, her toerings. Does society show a shift towards expecting something on similar lines from men, now that we call ourselves an advancing society ? Sadly, the answer still remains in the negative.
Religion is still used to reinforce cultural stereotypes of feminity. Sita is still embodied as the perfect Indian wife who sacrifices just about anything and everything at the drop of a hat to follow her husband and does what is asked of her – no questions asked. I still remember the press exemplifying Narendra Modi’s wife as a perfect example of an exemplary Indian wife – one who still prays for her husband and sacrifices her comforts for his benefit because she’s still married to him – unheeding of the fact that theirs was a dead relationship the day he chose to walk away from it. That is just one example of the media doing its duty towards reinforcing stereotypes, at a time when women all over the world are trying to break free of typecasts and labels.
The media is often found saying that sexism is on the decrease now as compared to what it was a few decades back. There are countless articles which say the lines between male dominance and female submissiveness has blurred and that there definitely is a grey area which is growing. Well, as things stand in society today, what we see is probably not the institutionalized sexism that one used to witness a few decades back. There are no professions from which women are barred or not allowed to practice. What we see in today’s world is sexism in a more subtle form.
It rears its head every single time a female faces catcalls and sexist comments as she walks down a road. It rears its head time and again when male colleagues attribute just about anything and everything about you to it being “that time of the month”. It rears its head every single time men deem it fit to make jokes about women not being able to do things which society has always considered “macho”, driving for instance. It rears its head every single time the so-called “educated” men don’t think twice about making statements like “a woman’s place is in the kitchen, making rotis and cooking for her family”.
Sexist attitudes are long gone, is what some people say. It is something that used to belong in the previous century, said someone, the other day.
Unfortunately, that is not quite the case. Not quite. It is still very much out there.
We still live in a society which defines woman-ness or feminity in terms of actions or dress codes. We still live in a society that permits and makes sanctions for gender based jokes in workplaces or schools, we still live in a society which recently ruled that family owned businesses do not have to cover contraception in their workers’ health insurance. We still live in a society where male members in the Senate and the Supreme Court get to decide on whether women should have control over their own bodies.
Sexist ideologies still continue to seep their way into several issues in society, thus affecting and twisting perceptions and public attitudes. Sexism does exist even today and this is an issue that needs to be at the forefront in terms of raising awareness, not something to be denied or swept under the carpet or deemed as something that’s long gone away.