of Women and Men

There is no privilege like the male privilege. We are born with it. It is like a birthright that is biased against women by its very nature. Men and women are treated differently right from the day they are born. So different that in quite a few places in India, the female child is killed; sometimes as sacrifice to the Gods asking for a male heir. That is an extreme case and most urban, middle-class families would distance themselves from such practices but it does not mean that the longing for a male heir does not exist in their minds. And boy (pun unintended) do they wish it! In the cities, they are more sophisticated and female infanticide becomes female foeticide. I am not against abortion but what I am against is the selective abortion of children based on this privileging of the male child.

Even if women survive this initial period of their lives (over which they have no control over whatsoever), they have a lifetime of segregation to face. They would have to hear comments like, "you have to learn cooking because that's what will help you keep your husband happy" and "you are just a visitor who will leave for another home soon" and "what will you do studying so much; they will not help you", almost all their childhood and adolescence. This is still overt and there are subtler ways of putting a woman down. Even if you do not say those above words, those intentions and thinking behind those words would still be there and is quite perceptible to children who are so sensitive to adult behaviour.

Even if a woman does get educated well by her family and does manage to get a job in the world, she faces problems just because she is a woman. Women are harassed on the streets, in public places and there is nothing they can do about it expect carry pins and respond violently to the harassment. One feels disgust reading the testimonial of Annie and that of others who have responded in the comments with stories and anecdotes of their own. I have blogged about this before and you could also follow the link there and read the stories there too. Today is March 7, 2006, a day declared by Black Noise as a day for Blog-a-thon 2006.

Of course, this is not the only the only problem that women face in the male-dominated world but this is one of those problems that pervades their life everyday, at all times, and something that they are vulnerable to.

As a man, it disturbs me to see that it is so pervasive and so problematic to women and it seems to be quite universal. Every woman has a harassment story. Most women face harassment every single day. It seems to be a socially sanctioned practice that hampers the everyday life of millions of women. I take special care on buses to stay away from women because I am afraid that I might unknowingly/unwittingly cause mental stress in the woman standing next to me just because the driver thought it was prudent to brake so hard. In Madras, there were special 'Magalir mattum' (for females only) buses that used to (still might be in operation) run during rush hour that alleviated the stress that women felt in the mornings going to colleges and offices. I strongly recommend such buses as I do not see the situation improving overnight. I used to wonder why educated women would leave a prospect of a promising career and become housewives but the more I read the testimonials of these working women, the more I realize that it is not such an easy question to answer.

How do you tackle this problem? There are numerous suggestions that keep popping up in my mind.

1. Make legislation that metes out harsh punishments to people who harass women.

2. Spread awareness of this issue and how women feel about this in society

3. Learn marital arts and beat up every single person who does something undesirable.

4. Take their pictures and post them in a public place like Holla Back NYC (it does not necessarily have to be a blog. It could also be a news channel) and hope that it embarrasses them so much so that they won't behave like that again.

The problem with the first suggestion is that there is already existing legislation does not seem to be effective. If it was, 'eve-teasing' would not be called by its harmless sounding name and it would not be so pervasive that Indian movies would not show them as a valid wooing technique!! And there is one story by a female commentor on the one of the above mentioned blog posts which seems to suggest that the police are indifferent to this kind of mistreatment of women. The problem with this kind of offence is that of proof. How will you prove that a certain person groped you? How would you convince the people who saw the whistling/eve-teasing to come with to the police station and testify? How would you convince the policeman that you were not over-reacting and you don't want to just let it go? In other words, how would you break the barrier created by gender stereotypes that typecast women who fight back against such men as evil, conniving, lying feminists who hate all men?

The second suggestion is what Black Noise is all about and I think it is the most effective one because it seems to target the thinking of people in society. Spreading awareness of this issue is an important step towards making the world more equitable for women. Changing the perception of the people is a slow process, one that is probably going to take a couple of generations and it does not alleviate the problems faced by women today.

The third suggestion is something that is already in place. Women do learn martial arts to be able to defend themselves on the street but it cooks my goose that they have to live by jungle rules to be independent, working women! It seems to put the onus of defending herself on the women and seems to suggest that men would always be like that and women should expect such behaviour from them and they should defend themselves as it is unlikely that the society would come to their help. Saying that, it is still a very practical approach and one that is strongly recommended. Martial arts / expertise with handling pins / using heels as toe-busters are all useful skill in the present scenario!

The fourth suggestion is a question of feasibility. If you take the picture of the guy who is harassing you, he could easily misconstrue as a statement of interest and harass you further. Also, no public place is that public, is it?

Saying all this, I wonder about all the men who do such heinous work. What do they really think? I suppose there might be some distinction amidst them. There would be the gropers, the whistlers, the starers, the 'eve-teasers'. It is not necessary that all harassers do all of this. There would be some who would 'eve-tease' thinking it is just teasing but they might never grope. Most men are starers, particularly when the object of their stare is at a distance and not looking in their direction. But even here, there is finer distinction. There are those who make it a point to stare and hang out in public places to leer at women passing by, there are those who do not do it regularly but would leer if some well-endowed woman passes by, etc, etc. But I think that in all these cases, the problem is the same - the objectification of women. And our popular media seems to reinforce that idea in the minds of the people. The bollywood movies, the remix videos, the bangra videos, the fashion shows, etc, etc. I personally think that the image of women in media has to change. Today, I saw an ad in the paper that shows a woman with a child on her lap, talking to some one on the phone, and working on a laptop, the tagline was "Women can multitask. Blah blah blah." The implied meaning being that men can't multitask. Such an image of women serves as an excuse to expect them to do all the housework, take care of the baby and pursue a career. It is either this or the portrayal of a woman as a vamp whose overactive sexuality lures men left and right.

Given all this, I am surprised that women don't screw men over whenever they get the chance (some women do but not all) because men (again, not all men) screw them over (pun intended) all the time. I am also surprised that in spite of going through all this, they never say all men are like that (and it is true). I wish Black Noise all the best in their efforts to change the perception of the world and I hope that we can make a better world where men and women would be truly treated equally.

Action Hero Mathai