By Tanay Sukumar:
While reading, it is possible that you might tend to relate this with the “My Choice” video, which you inevitably will, due to the focus on the word “choices”. But for that, please move to the end of this post. Because the spirit of the video is something that I whole-heartedly welcome. What I have written is totally unrelated to the debate surrounding the video.
The quest for personal freedom and choices among many is reaching maniacal proportions. Some of us are reaching a stage where our quest for freedom of choices is becoming more of self-centred and uncaring arrogance than genuine quest for independence with responsibilities towards self, our people, and our society. It’s not wise if the word “choices” starts symbolizing arrogance more than liberation.
Self: Most of us feel a responsibility towards our own self as well – our current self, our future self – and it affects our choices. If you make choices in arrogance and then can’t dare to face the consequences, it’s unfortunate. But yes, to make those choices and not feel responsible towards self: obviously your choice.
Our people: True, those people’s opinions don’t matter. But try showing me how you live without reaching a mutual ground with the people closest to you. If you can: obviously your choice.
Our society: No, I don’t intend to say you should make your choices based on what the society expects or wants of you. But the society is where you live. If you can’t find a new place or change the one where you live, your choice.
A society has two elements: values and rules. Human values have been timeless, across civilizations, cultures, and history – they have been necessary to provide for peaceful human coexistence. Rules are ever-changing. To evolve, we need to question rules in every generation – rules on clothing, rules on relationships, rules on freedom, rules on worship, rules on gender, and so on. Rules for every period of history, every culture, have been different, and they should change with time – gradually reaching a state of freedom bound by human values: mutual respect, empathy and peaceful coexistence.
Each generation differs from its previous one. Merely blasting off the previous (or the next) generation won’t do. Each pair of consecutive generations has this tough task of reaching a common ground, else both will get alienated from each other. (If alienation is okay, your choice). If we can’t respect the fact that our previous generation and the current conservative society is also somewhere in the journey of cultural evolution (like we are) – just probably a bit behind us – we don’t do justice to our own existence and beliefs. Because, some day in future, our own next generation will have views a bit more evolved and refined than ours. If six generations earlier believed Sati practice was right, our previous generation shunned it but still believes girls should dress a certain way, and our own generation shunned both but seems to get repelled by the idea of wearing just undergarments to college, then we can’t guarantee whether our future generations will also feel the same way about the choice of wearing undergarments to college. And when they do, that wouldn’t be wrong, because that would be contextual to that generation, and a step ahead in evolution of culture – “ahead” does not imply “progressive”. Human values are timeless; rules are contextual.
It’s a grave mistake to think that the current generation has reached the pinnacle of perfection in the journey of evolution of social culture. This journey will continue; people with regressive mindsets are as much a part of that historical journey as we are. Let’s accept them and reason with them.
To be part of that journey successfully, we need to carefully spread the views of the new generation, reject but critically question the regressive mindsets, and do our best to allow a controlled, gradual transition and evolution of culture, keeping everyone’s needs in mind. Evolution is a must, and we must not accept many of the regressive mindsets that our culture has indoctrinated in us – but such a controlled, gradual evolution will ensure that every participant of our culture is given a chance to learn to accept it. Else, we will be limited to loud and proud television debates where both parties think they are more cultured than the other. The high speed of cultural change that our generation has seen in the past two decades due to globalization, is not allowing for a reasoned debate and it doesn’t give a chance to the older generation to actually understand the current generation’s choices – and this is resulting in a lot of unwanted moral policing.
My problem is not with the freedom of choices, but with the quest for absolute, arrogant, uncaring freedom – the assumption that we are the last and most developed stage in that evolution of culture.
If you’re confident of your choices after weighing them on the scale of human values and contemporary rules, take those choices. If you don’t care about those choices being against human values, then again, your choice. And if you don’t care about those choices being against contemporary rules, I really respect you for your wish to contribute towards the evolution of the society – rules must change and evolve, and they won’t unless we make strong rebellious choices. But yes, we do need to make sure that the evolution is gradual and controlled, allowing everyone to reason, without creating contempt between generations and mindsets.
The Vogue video is a statement of liberation, unfortunately being seen as one of arrogance. If such a video helps one more suppressed woman to realize she also has her rights to choose, it’s a small step towards empowerment.
The video was seen negatively because many failed to see it in context. The statement on adultery was confused with cheating. In the context of my post above, a generation may come in future where everyone accepts adultery with mutual consent as acceptable – not committing adultery is being seen as a societal rule instead of being treated as a relationship-based rule. Again, we are assuming that we are the last and most refined stage of evolution.
Most statements in the video which implied equal rights were seen as to be seeking special rights for women. With each statement in the video, ask: “If men choose to seek this right (maybe a “bad” choice), why can’t a woman also seek to choose this right (even if a “bad” choice)?” Instead, the whole debate has been reduced to “Why should a woman seek to choose this right? We all know it’s a bad choice!”
If asking for equal rights is seen as aggressive feminism, it is unfortunate and regressive. The problem with the video, in my view, was that in its quest to be marketed well, it didn’t make things as clear as it could have. And it led to giving a bad name to the movement for equal rights, feminism and women empowerment – ultimately failing its very purpose.
Note: This article is also published here.