By Sangeeta Goel:
Much has been spoken about gender roles, feminism, gender stereotypes, male dominion, etc. Some like feminism, some don’t. Some think it is overrated, some say it is an absolute necessity. To each his (or her) own.
I never understood feminism when I was younger. I remember arguing with someone about men urinating on streets and I had thought that I was fighting for equal rights for women.
In my workplace, some of my colleagues made me wary about few facts: 1) Women seniors are bitches; 2) I was lucky to be working with a male boss. This fact hit me hard when I myself took on the role of a ‘woman senior’. I could not help thinking if I was being viewed in the same light. I tried my best to be nice and sweet but at times work demanded us to be stern and assertive.
I consoled myself with the understanding that both male and female bosses could be horrible – it really depended on one’s individuality. To be honest, I have had really caring and understanding mentors in both men and women in my workplace. So, after this realisation, I really turned a blind eye to all the talks about gender, etc.
It was individuality that became more important for me until recently when I began my research for a project on bias. I had to acquaint myself with the available literature and various other content on this subject. That is when I began to pay attention to small details of biases that prevailed in every corner of my life.
Though individuality matters, there are things that you cannot overlook once you have understood something – I could not overlook things happening in my own life. There had been and were instances that pointed out that someone else was better just because that someone else was not a woman/girl.
Here are some examples.
It was my sister’s wedding. My parents made me responsible for most of the work – shopping, invites, managing bookings, jewellery, handling finances – all of it. No aspect of the wedding took place without my help/ inputs. My love for planning and organising helped me manage everything immaculately – including delegating responsibilities when needed. My parents knew I was educated, responsible, have worked for college fests and events. So they were not at all surprised at my organising capability. But the one-who-should-not-be-named (relatives) were surprised. They said, “Ghar me pehli shaadi. Aur ladki hoke bhi sab sambhal liya perfectly” (First wedding at home. In spite of being a girl, she has perfectly managed everything). I won’t lie – I did enjoy all the praise coming in but much later I wondered why did my managing things become the limelight of the wedding? I wanted to ask what was needed to manage things – brains or something else that only boys have…
A guest, during a conversation, very proudly told my mother, “Aaj bhi wo ghar se bahar akele nahi nikalti” (Even today she (his wife) does not get out of the house alone). He then continued to tell us that all the work outside the doors, like cleaning and attending to plants, is taken care of by his mother. When I heard this, my stomach churned. Images of Happy Prince, a story I had read in school, came alive before my eyes. I wanted to touch and see if this man seated before me was for real. Was he expecting a medal from my mother for this ‘manly’ statement?
This seems to be the motto of my mother’s life. She seems happy in the kitchen most of the times. I never bothered to check on her until one evening when I watched a play – “Kitchen Poems”. The next morning my mother was doling out hot methi parathas to my father, the above-mentioned guest, my two brothers and my male cousin – totally 5 of them. I entered the kitchen to help her little bit and take my share of this delicacy. When I turned, I saw that there was not enough methi dough left for her. I looked at her and she asked me to pack two parathas for lunch. I denied saying that if I did, she would not have enough for herself. She was flabbergasted saying she had more flour and will cook for herself. I got a lecture on how I had disrespected food and that we had enough at home to eat, etc. But my point was missed – I wanted her to have enough of this delicacy for herself.
When I denied with much fervour, like every mother she said she would not be able to eat if I did not carry lunch. This morning I could not help my tears – not because I realised how much my mother loves me. But because I wondered why not even one out of the five of them sitting on that table bothered to check with her if she was also hungry? Why did they not bother to check her opinion about the pollution and weather conditions in Delhi? Why did they only remember her when their plates were empty and another hot paratha had to quickly come out of the kitchen?
No, they were nowhere close. No, they did not have costumes, cool gadgets or cool cars. The worst part is they were in no way kind. Hence, they were no superheroes. One evening while returning from work, my car abruptly halted at an elevated turn and it refused to start again. Two bikers came next to my car, laughed at me and said, “Take a drive, aunty”. Had my car not started in that moment, I would have asked them to push my car as a mark of respect to the aunty driving. Just missed a golden opportunity. But would they treat a male driver similarly?
Another evening I was waiting at a signal and I started to move after the car before me very consciously sticking to my lane. An old man drove past my car, turning, staring and murmuring something to me. I have no clue why.
Many boys come with me as a pillion rider on my two-wheeler and as a passenger in my car. Without being asked, some of them start offering their services as a helper to handle my two-wheeler in a narrow or traffic-laden street. Some start offering their teaching services on how to zoom past another car, park properly, etc. I wonder why don’t they apply on Naukri.com to serve as drivers. Because where will we girls go on days they are not around?
During my college days at the bus stop, a lady suddenly fainted. We rushed to hold her. While we were helping her to drink some water, a man suddenly barged in and said, “this is why women should stay at home and not come out on streets”.
I was watching a stand-up comedy video a few days back when the comedian said,”“Oh you are so boring. How much do you scream and shout? Please stop irritating me now. Please… You know nothing.” How many times have you guys used these lines with your dads?”
Since all this, I know that I will treat other women differently – with much respect and love. They deserve it all. We as women, fail to respect another more often than not. This shall not be henceforth. Well! Why only women? We need to stand up for everyone who needs this support after centuries of oppression – whoever the oppressed is!
Because we will mind the gap, as there exists one – very obviously.
Image source: Mark Kolbe/ GettyImages