Saturday, 8 October 2016

Gender Divide - Us vs Them

What was a gender equality row has now become a women empowerment movement. Of late, feminists have taken the discussions, debates and dues to women to a whole new level, and that has really made me sit back and think. How much of it do I agree with personally may not matter really, but as a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a mentor to millennials, as a woman with aspirations and ambitions and lastly with the responsibility of the many women in my team; I feel compelled to be honest about my views. If I fail in this honesty, I would not only be failing those I love but more importantly my own self.

That women have the right to be treated well is one thing I cannot deny. That women need to be encouraged to follow their dreams is an opportunity I have been given, and cannot deny the same to anyone. That women have been stereotyped is a truth best acknowledged upfront. However, as I am writing all of this, I am left wondering; do we not box men into types, do we not expect men to follow certain paths in life even if they are a hundred and eighty degrees opposite of their own desires,  and do we not suppress boys at any point in their lives? Even if one of these is answered in yes then the affirmative action needs to be inclusive in my view.

One argument against inclusion and pro women is the imbalanced ratio of opressed women vs men; and to that my question is that with a biased affirmative action are we not running the risk of having men in the same boat (as women are today) at some point? Where does this us vs them end?

I have written this before and I will say it yet again. To truly empower women and to create a balance, we need to give them the freedom of choice and confidence in themselves. Because a girl is a good science and maths student should not mean that she is forced to follow that path even if her choice is journalism. Because a girl wants to do Engineering let us not make it easier for her by lowering the bar that allows her admission into a college of her choice. Let us train her into becoming that person who can overcome that hurdle just like we would expect the boys to fight. Because a girl wants to work, let us not push her towards giving priority to her career even though she wants to be a stay at home mother. Because a woman prioritises her family but wants to work as well, let us facilitate the same equally for men and women. And while working on inclusive change let us sensitise genders about one another.

The girl child has an X and a Y chromosome and the male child two Y chromosomes. That must lead to some inherent strengths with each gender and some traits that are complimentary. Why is the same then denied or refuted? If a woman can run during her periods without a tampon, why can a man not shave for months? If a woman is expected to dress well and wear makeup, why is it alright if a man turns up as if he is just out of the gym? If a woman should be allowed to express her emotions and not be discriminated against, why do we call sensitive men sissy? If a woman is expected to lovingly nurture the family, why can't a man be the unconditional supporter? These are all views that we must consider and ask the next generation to dwell upon too...

Ramayana, the Indian epic, has had me fascinated for many years now. It is widely considered to be one of the biggest examples in Indian culture of how women have been wronged against regularly. Not something that I have ever agreed with, but was unable to articulate till I read the very gripping, In Search of Sita. A collection of twelve essays by twelve different contemporary personalities, it highlights how everything has two sides. For example, while Sita's exile when she was pregnant may have been a decision by her king husband, Sita's acceptance of the same was not her weakness; but a mark of strength to say that she could and would survive against all odds. It also demonstrated her faith in her husband who, if one reads the Valmiki Ramayana (the original Ramayana), himself gave up the comforts of a royal life in grief of not being able to live with his wife. Now if we take these views into consideration, love, equality and empowerment are all understood beautifully.

In fact it's amazing how the Ramayana over and over again signifies the importance of inclusive empowerment and the right to choice. It was queen Kaikayi who won the war for King Dashratha and hence became his consort. It was Sita's and Laxman's choice that took them to the forests for a fourteen year exile along with Lord Rama. Sita chose not to marry the very handsome, talented and powerful Ravana; both at the Swayamvar and post her abduction. At the same time, Ravana respected her choice and maintained his distance till such time that she said a yes. So if men were powerful, women with a right to choose were equally empowered.

The world has been painted with varied brushes and in many colours. There are as many emotions and interpretations as there are human beings. Happiness and sorrows ebb and flow with every passing second. And in all this complexity, if we add the variables of us vs them and subtract empathy and compassion; chaos and volatility will only multiply. If it had to be us vs them, then men should have never left Mars and women should have stayed on Venus. But now that we are here, together, on Earth, let us appreciate the beauty that we each bring and help one another rid oursleves of the wrinkles that we can do without. In our short lives let's make every interaction and each encounter special, irrespective of gender or any other divide. 

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