Of breaking molds and barriers

gender

We’re brought up to believe patriarchy eulogizes men and downgrades women. It considers men superior to women!   I’d grown up thinking our society is unfair to women alone.  We are expected to be ideal wives and mothers, daughters-in law and doormats that don’t let out a whimper despite the demands made on us. Women aren’t given equal opportunity, nor pay parity.  Ironically it is women who are not only the perpetrators of the myth of male superiority even as they are the biggest victims. But are men really meted out any preferential status? Even though they are raised with a sense of entitlement and are labeled as the preferred gender, they too are slotted in fixed moulds early on in life and are expected to toe the line.

Men really are in no better position in our country. They are pulled in diametrically opposite directions when they have to choose between giving up their dreams to meet societal and familial expectations. A patriarchal mind-set enslaves men just as it chains women to zany ideals and exacting standards of how they ought to behave and act. With time and experiences I am willing to believe that the masculine ideal is as exacting of men as it is denigrating of women.  If women have to conform to ideals of beauty, men too are forced to fit into the ambiguous macho image. If society expects women to be soft, feminine and mild it encourages its men to fit into stereotypes of being the strong, resilient and silent ones sans emotions. If women are expected to put their career on the back-burner and meet familial responsibilities men are thought of as nothing but primary providers and are balked at if they ever display an instinct to nurture and care. Things are changing but most people still remain wedded to the ideas of traditional gender roles. The only legit emotional expression in a man is often anger and in a woman silent acceptance of her circumstances and calm even in the face of the biggest storms.

These gender stereotypes are thrust into our faces early in life. Gradually they seep through the layers of our skin and embed themselves in our impressionable minds and malleable little souls. We become clones of people in the generations before us. They start early on in life, when we dress our boys in blue and girls daintily in pink.  When we give our daughters a Barbie to hold and tell her fairy tales that endorse the fact she needs to be pretty and her life’s sole purpose is to wait for her Prince Charming ( Who is more often than not a prince harming in the Indian context!)  Or it stealthily creeps into our psyche when we give our sons cars and guns and overlook their rowdyism and aggression with the done to death and rather blanket ‘boys will be boys ‘expression. Or when an eyebrow is raised when our daughters and sisters are boisterous and all hell breaks loose at home if our sons are sensitive enough to express emotions or shed tears. They get crystallized when we praise our daughters for their beauty and our sons for their achievements.

Stereotypes perhaps came into being for us to slot people easily based on gender or race, because we can’t comprehend and are intimidated by anyone or anything that we can’t label or put in a box.  But they are at their very root judgemental and burdensome. They dilute our individuality and compel us to subscribe to a set of pre-conceived notions and societal expectations.They are tied intricately with our complex social fabric’s need to maintain status quo.

Of course we have the odd rebels and the  far and few thinking intellectuals who often break barriers and defy societal stereotypes. But such people are far and few.  When we’ll stop judging and alpha female or a woman who is a go-getter at work and stop praising men for pitching in at home or participating in parenting is when we’ll truly overcome these traditional societal typecasts.

For people who mock feminism, it’s time to see it in a new light. Feminism isn’t the opposite of patriarchy, rather it is based on a balanced and healthy world view. It puts individual before gender, people before labels and demands equal opportunities immaterial of gender. Women’s liberation not only empowers women it also liberates men from bearing the cross of traditional gender roles. Unlike patriarchy feminism works with the assumption both men and women have equal rights and that they are humans before being ‘Men’ and ‘Women’.

Idiosyncracies of the Indian way of life

We live in a bubble. Firmly ensconced in an ideal world. In our educated and emancipated existence we rarely come in touch with ground reality. We know little that unlike our progressive families and friends, most of our fellow Indians live an alternate reality. One where there is space for only literal minds, where there is little room for change. If you’re born in India and were raised to question rather than accept or be submissive, you will have trouble like me digesting a lot of what we encounter in daily life. While I was an adolescent I thought we were a country where both men and women are on equal footing. So wrong I was! As I met and interacted with people across cities, the fact dawned home. It is only a minority which has made progress the rest of us are either trapped in a time warp or are constantly regressing. Over the years I couldn’t help making mental notes of the quirks, idiosyncrasies, paradoxes and irrationalities that come with being quintessentially Indian. There are several things that come with being Indian that I find hard to fathom and swallow. And when I think of them I feel so alien and can’t seem to relate with these ideologies.

– Our business is everyone’s business- Apparently we’re so awkward at social conversations that the only way we relate with people is by asking questions such as how much they earn, when will they marry, if married when will they have children? This is our notion of relating with extended family and friends. In my mind this shall tantamount to being downright nosy and intrusive.

– Another ones that comes close it apparently the concept of space is non-existent in the Indian scenario. If you give space to a loved one perhaps you’re not loving enough or don’t care. Or even worse they think you’re being negligent and apathetic. You can only show love by being omnipresent and by hand-holding people you care for. The bottom-line is we are scared of letting our loved ones gain autonomy because we feel that will translate into them being distanced from us.

– Since space is an unknown term so is individualism. The rise of the individual is seen as a threat to the community and great Indian family. And it is fashionable to hate people who are not from your religion or community. We don’t know what to make of those who look different, eat differently and think differently. Such people threaten us so as a defense mechanism we label them and keep safe. The good ones are those from our community, family background, and socioeconomic strata. Because they don’t threaten our perception and we end up reinforcing either others’ warped ideologies or insecure rigid belief systems.

-You’re not supposed to live for yourself or your dreams. If you dare to do so you’re labeled selfish and egocentric, it is all about following the path our ‘well-wishers’ have for us. No wonder we balk at people who’re different and encourage our children to follow a beaten track, burdening them with the weight of our expectations and dreams. And unfortunately the vicious cycle extends from generation to generation.

– We glorify pain and suffering in silence. This comes with a rider, only when it comes to women does silence is seen as a virtue. Women who grin and bear it in silence are the idealized while the one who are more human are looked down upon. On the other hand we raise our men with a sense of entitlement. As if they own the world and women were born to serve them. They’re also dehumanized. If a man doesn’t conform to the stereotypical notion he is made fun of. If he’s sensitive, likes art or cooks he’s a dandy and not ‘man enough’.  The only emotion men are reinforced to display is aggression. If they express love and care they are mocked at. What make it worse is the rigid roles and stereotypes that our society defines for both men and women. If you don’t fit the stereotype, all hell breaks loose. Men too bear the brunt of social conditioning. A happily married daughter is a trophy to flaunt to the world, but a happily married son is a threat. Because our society thinks if he’s too involved in his marriage and in making his wife happy, he will neglect duties and responsibilities of a good Indian boy. The male child is supposed to be a caretaker, an investment for one’s old age. He is manipulated, twisted and asked to give up his dreams since he was rendered preferential treatment while being raised. The dichotomy doesn’t end here, the kind of life we wish for our daughters is the exact opposite of what we wish for from a daughter-in-law.

– The only kind of love our society is capable of accepting is maternal. If you’re a woman and your heart doesn’t overflow with the fountain of maternal love, something is wrong with you. Go figure. The concept of a couple even a married one in love is not acceptable. A couple marries to fulfill duty and produce progeny not for love, companionship and all such ‘western ideals’. That is how moralistic we are. All other kinds love is relegated to the status of being immoral, not to be discussed publicly or downright shameful and dishonorable. I still see people cluck in disapproval at “Love Marriages” (Another indianism why would anyone marry for anything but love?) They veil them under some pretext and talk of it in hushed tones.

– Since we balk at and fear individualism, everything linked to it is nonexistent for us: individual freedom, creativity, following our dreams. These are the biggest threats looming large to our good old Indian culture and tradition and are conveniently shoved under the carpet. You live your life for the happiness of others and not your own. That is the message which is conveyed in a very subversive manner from generation to generation.

– We can only preserve the Indian culture by fostering dependence and propagating fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the outcomes of not following the path of becoming a good Indian girl or good Indian boy. Yes religion is also used to make people more fearful .So we’re good not cause we want or choose to be but because we fear the consequences that come with being bad or in other words following your heart

– We’re obsessed with fair skin of women. Our advertising, our matrimonial ads, media is bombarded with images of tall fair slim women who seem to be the paragons of virtue and beauty. We fear dark skin because it is mysterious, alluring and we don’t know what to make of such beauty.

– Another recurring Indian fixation is a man’s pay packet. It is his ticket to a trophy wife. . Such a man is a prize catch for your daughter. He earns the respect of everyone and is looked at with respect. No one cares to think or ask whether he’s happy doing what he is. That is immaterial and beside the point. You are known by your material worth and possessions. What you think or feel doesn’t count

– The only acceptable way of expressing affection and love we know is by force feeding the people we care for and stuffing them with food. We eat when we feast, we eat when we fast. Yes such is our relationship with food.

– With food comes the great Indian wedding preoccupation. That is why you were born, to get married. And you don’t get married till you throw a lavish wedding feast for people you’re never likely to meet again in your life. And not to forget you have to load your daughters with at least a car else you’re stingy especially if you’re North Indian. And no the fact that you educated her and made her capable to earn a living doesn’t count. The man who marries her isn’t expected to have half a spine or self-respect to say he doesn’t want anything. He’s more than willing to accept such gifts. And mind you this is an expression of parental love!

– Terms like privacy and intimacy are alien to our ilk. We thrive on crowds, groups and congregations. Where men interact with men and women with women.. Quiet people, shy people have no space in our society. They are labeled as ‘not so social’ or arrogant, if you please. Have no secrets and share everything with everyone. That is the typical Indian way of life. Thanks to Facebook you don’t need to meet extended family in person they can keep themselves updated about your lives on the internet, irrespective of whether you’d like to share it or not.

– We don’t live; we merely exist passively without making half an attempt to change all that we feel is wrong with our lives. After all it is Karma which led us where we are. We wait on till Karma comes and bites us back.

– We are such a crowd-centered lot that we let majority of aberrations pass since this is what the majority of our people endure it. No one questions, everyone is just expected to conform to norms. This is most dangerous because patriarchy, women’s inequality and violence against women are something most people accept as a given. Just because it happens with the majority of people we know, doesn’t mean it is acceptable and right.

This is by no means a social discourse just a few observations I have made over the years. How we as a society just aren’t willing to let go off the prejudiced lenses we see the world is. What is worse is we want to pass on the legacy of these prejudices to our children. We want them to conform and obey as we did. We want their lives to be a replica of ours. But this vicious cycle needs to stop somewhere. Someone needs to question, not conform, think not obey. And that someone has to be us, our generation. Yes the onus to change all that’s wrong with our society rests with us. The buck stops nowhere but here, with all of us.