Sunday, February 17, 2013

No. I don't think so.

Sunday Times is one of the reasons I came back to India. Waking up on a Sunday morning and picking up the fat TOI, with a hot cup of tea, has always been one of the happiest moments of my week. But these days, newspapers and news channels make me gloomy, mostly because of the rampant acts of misdemeanors, assaults and casual instances of disrespectful treatment of women of my country. In the past few years, my brain has become more and more sensitive to a thought that was mostly subconscious through out my early twenties. Initially it started off  as a comparison between Indian women and Western women. Of how our values are built and how we look at life. There is a clear difference, and for that matter, I am not even a stereotypical "Indian" woman. And that is the problem. One cannot generalize a typical woman of any culture, religion, social class or nationality. We become what we go through, what we endure or enjoy growing up, how our mothers treat us and most importantly, how our fathers treat our mothers.

Women are expected to follow certain rules in every culture. Some conservative politicians/gurus never hesitate to jump to conclusions about how following Western culture is causing girls to get raped. But what does the contemporary Indian culture have to offer? With all the famous 100 crore grossing Bollywood movies, which always include a mindless item song? How are we helping young girls realize that their bodies are not up for abject objectification, if Kareena Kapoor flaunts her size whatever body in skimpy Indian clothes to a song that literally asks the man to devour her with alcohol? And then she proudly tells an interviewer that, for this song she had to have a slightly voluptuous figure, because the song is "desi" (establishing her power to control her body any which way she wants). Together with the lyrics, the lewd facial expressions, the dance moves it is worse than what a short skirt can do to "Indian culture".

Irrespective of the cultural trends in the media, it is equally true that we cannot control the media. We cannot control what the society/media wants men and women to believe. It is not practically possible to stop the advent of any culture or trend in a democracy. You cannot restrict  individual freedom. Moreover,  using our freedom with responsibility takes a lot more conscience and care than following somebody's diktat and being disgruntled about it. This kind of freedom also helps in building better/ safer societies.

 But I am starting to believe that a significant part of how men treat women happens at home. The most influential person in a young girl's or a young boy's life when it comes to perception/treatment of women is their dad. And one of the most powerful relationship dynamic we grow up observing very closely is that of our parents. It has long been proven that a supportive family helps women come out of a lot of traps that they encounter when they step out of home into the real world. Our parents' voice often becomes our inner voice and our parents' choices often deeply influence our choices. It is easier to shrug off/ fight against the media and popular culture. But it is difficult and sometimes impossible to trace our bias/fears/emotional problems back to our upbringing without an intervention. It is difficult for many women to accept that they have a choice. That they can walk out of an abusive relationship. That being healthy and happy is more important than being "taken" or "married". That there is also such a thing as emotional abuse, where being constantly belittled for lack of intelligence/beauty/personality can lead to a long term loss of self respect and esteem. Most of these things are considered okay because the abusers often sound confident to the point of making them believe that "this is how the world works".

I don't think India is ready for My Short Skirt. In fact, in my personal opinion, it won't work for India. Western feminism will not work in India because India needs to develop her own identity when it comes to women's issues. And the first and foremost freedom we all need is the freedom to say NO. Not just when it comes to sexual offenses, but also when it comes to the decisions of women who hold positions of power (or are on their way there). We don't expect men to protect us as much as we expect them to back off gracefully when we say NO. A NO is not always a rejection of your masculinity/personality/power/ability/intellect. It is not always a unidirectional and absolute dynamic. It is not always related to the protection of our chastity, or the proclamation of our superiority. A NO can actually be about us. It could be related to our desire to have a choice. To imagine a life for ourselves, which may not include you at that point. It could be related to our dreams. It could be related to a fulfilling relationship we have found in someone else. It could be related to our confusions about what we want to do, and the time that we need to figure it out. It could also be related to our doubts about whether we could be right for you (or the other way round). It could be related to a conflict that involves others. It could be against injustice that we think we have the courage to fight. It could be against a malpractice that we do not wish to be a part of. It could be about our money, which we wish to save up for our kids. It could be about a lot of things that are beyond you. And if we get the freedom to say NO, it makes us feel a lot more respected than to have you all eager to protect us against evil (and honestly, we are also very grateful for that).

And this cannot be taught to grown up men who are in jail under rape charges. This has to be taught to young boys and girls. By their moms and dads. In part as as education and in part by example. And I am able to think about this on my own because I have been raised by one of the most influential feminists in my life -- my dad.


शिरीष said...

Thanks Saee for your appreciation.
I always feel that the mentalility of Men towards women is the main issue to be tackled. The Male ego is a big barrier.

It is important to treat men or women as individuals.

vinaya said...

seriously well written Saee. Please do write more often, we look forward :)

Anonymous said...

But Saee how would you feel if your dad had instilled in you the feeling that you were in every way the equal/superior of your brother but he treated your mother as his inferior in every possible way?

Saee Keskar said...


Of course I would feel bad. And I know it happens. That's the reason I think that feminism is not really a women against men battle. It is more like a women with men team work. It is beyond this fight over gender roles. It is about mutual respect, no matter which role you play in the society.

Anonymous said...

Then you understand my dilemma -- Should I respect my father for what he has done for me/ dislike him for treating badly the person I love most in this world!

You have not signed up to be an Agony Aunt/psychotherapist, but I thought I would unburden myself here anonymously.

The context cropped up and I couldn't help spilling out my thoughts on the topic. sorry

Saee Keskar said...

@ Anonymous

I am not a therapist. But I have observed that many of our emotional burdens arise from our unwillingness to forgive our parents. It is a struggle that all of us go through and there is really not much we can do to correct the past, or the helplessness we saw as children.

So I think you should just live your life with kindness towards others. That is all we can really do.

Neha Taksale said...

Great blog Saee. It is extremely true that the way our parents treat each other influences our behavior. Even I consider myself lucky to have born in such a family where women are respected, loved, cared and given the freedom to follow their beliefs, views, career and interests.