More gender sensitivity please! Jan 7, 2012

Crime against women has gone up in Delhi since even last year. A young woman was mauled in Gurgaon on New Years eve by a large crowd of men. Those enforced with addressing equality issues and protecting women against harassment are narrow-minded enough to blame rape on what women wear! One point from Namita Bhandare’s column in the HT today struck me deeply- that of how abysmally low gender sensitization is even among the educated middle class, many of who are occupy positions of authority to protect women!

In our home, we consciously strive for gender equality. Though in practice I go a little easy, I am the kind of person who gets seriously upset with someone telling my son to ‘protect’ his little sister because she is a girl! Why not simply because she is smaller? What’s with the girls being weak thought being drilled into boys at such a young age. I object, in my head, to the “papa ka paisa gol gol, mummy ki roti gol gol” song taught to nursery kids. Why such a strong gender bias, when so many women in urban India are already part of the workforce and men would certainly benefit from playing their part in the kitchen!

Several times have men friends casually referred to the obvious inferior intelligence of their wives, not to talk about jibes about driving skills that were taught to the women by their male relatives- usually fathers or husbands! I’m not even getting into the number of abusive relationships I know in which the woman is the victim. Not so much because the man is an aggressive, twisted  brute but because the woman is conditioned to be submissive and fear social ostracization more. Also because even parents and friends usually advise a woman to bear such situations patiently rather than support her to really figure out what she wants and act accordingly!

Of course, I also immensely admire couples who nurture the equality of their relationship. Who admit that a wife dropping out of work to bring up her children is a pragmatic decision, and that her contribution is as valuable as bringing in the bread. Who bring up daughters to aspire for good education and follow this through by not coercing them to marry into an inappropriate family that will not understand what she wants to do with her life.

Of course, things don’t always turn out as planned, but still, if we condition our girls to be conscious, unequal and constantly alert to other people’s opinion of them, we do immense damage to their self-confidence- the one thing that will have the power to take them through life’s crazy circumstances.

I cannot thank my parents enough for giving me an upbringing in which my gender was largely incidental till I was into my teens. My father often simply forgot I was a girl, telling me to “pick up a shirt” from his cupboard if I complained about not having something to wear! My mother thankfully talked me through the necessary parts of being a woman early enough and then let matters be; a lot of gender discoveries were made on my own, through friends and books. My father’s extreme sensitivity to womens issues were often reflected in dinner table discussions about the cases at work (both my parents are docs and medical anecdotes were a constant in my growing years) and influenced my perceptions deeply.

Can we do something as a community, society to enhance gender sensitivity? Can we at least starting talking openly about these issues among our friends and peers, in our homes, at our workplaces….anything, at least make a beginning. We all live in constant fear of sending our girlfriends, sisters, wives and daughters into the world of bad men; it would be good to do something, however small, about it!

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About ramblinginthecity

I am an architect and urban planner, a writer and an aspiring artist. I love expressing myself and feel strongly that cities should have spaces for everyone--rich, poor, young, old, healthy and sick, happy or depressed--we all need to work towards making our cities liveable and lovable communities.

Posted on January 7, 2012, in Politics & Citizenship. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi Ramblinginthecity,

    I really like your blog and quite agree with most of your opinions. The same holds good for the recent one as well. A thought occurred while reading this. Gender sensitivity includes men as well. (Obviously!) What I’m trying to say here is that they are equally the victims of our social structure as women are. Like you rightly pointed out, right from the birth boys and girls are expected to behave in a certain way and are instructed by the society, guided by the environment they grow in and taught at the institutions they study. It’s engraved in our psyche. It’s like a chip which runs us later. Thus men and women both construct their own boundaries themselves. While women are taught to be submissive and are often victims of mental & physical atrocities ….. men too don’t escape the mental pressures. A man is expected to earn a living, support his family no matter what! He has to toil day in and day out to make ends meet, maintain a status among his peers and look after the demands of the family till death! He is also expected to be a hypocrite (protect them from others but muscle them yourself). He is also thrown into the grind to give up his dreams and conform to the laws of the society! Please don’t get me wrong … it’s that chip called conditioning which bring about such distortions to humans. We gotta rewrite that chip!

    Rwitee.

  2. Totally agree with everything you have said here, especially the part about it starting young. My son’s school sends boys & girls (studying together) to the swimming pool on separate days. These are 5-6 year old kids being ingrained with gender separation. And then we wonder, why men ogle at women by the poolside & why women feel uncomfortable.
    Lucky to have parents like those, Mukta. Wish I could say the same about mine. I am striving to be better.

    Rwitee’s comment is an insightful reminder. How easily we forget the obvious other side of the coin because we are so absorbed in our own side.

  3. Hey Mukta,
    Very true, agree with most of what you say. Just a couple of things, in no particular order:
    I found this line a little disturbing: ‘Why such a strong gender bias, when so many women in urban India are already part of the workforce and men would certainly benefit from playing their part in the kitchen!’ I’m sure you don’t mean it, but here’s an urban bias, no? Women in rural India are as much, if not more, a part of the workforce. They work in fields and run houses. Besides, the work that women do in the house- whether its managing it, running the kitchen or bringing up children, is traditionally not acknowledged as ‘work’ and in phrasing our argument thus, are we not giving in to that conditioning?
    The other thing I wanted to say is something that occurred to me while watching a film called Bilal (www.bilal.in, do check it out) and is another facet of what Rwitee has already mentioned: there is so much gender inequality and violence inherent in the way children are brought up in this country that it’s no surprise that it’s as deeply engrained as it is. As I watched 2 year old (!) Bilal tell his mother that his younger brother needs a lesson in discipline and that he should therefore be bashed, ‘Shall I bash him up, that’s what he needs.’ it was struck at how early the lessons are picked up. How do you tell someone who spends all their life believing something, and whose very everyday reality is steeped in violence and a show of power as evidence of manhood, of leadership, of ‘being in control’ that it isn’t in fact, right?
    What a task! And yet, so important.

    • The bit about the rural, I wrote and left out, wanting to focus on the urban. As it is, my blog entries have too many asides! I also mentioned understanding between couples, where one works outside the house and the other inside as a form of equality. Hope that clarifies my point of view!
      As for the conditioning issue..yes, there are many many such issues that need more sensitivity, awareness, among parents and educators. When I lose my temper with my kids and threaten them, I condition them to believe its ok to fly off the handle, threaten and coerce. But its also human,; so how do you teach kids where the line between appropriate and inappropriate is…its tough and realities are different for different people, families, societies…..its important to discuss all of this though, that’s my way of making a difference!

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