Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Women Ahoy! Say What? Say No!!!

Choti Mata had an epiphany while shaking off her post Holi stupor. She needed to blog. And so, Choti Mata is back, this time talking about pointlessness of burning bras and the importance of the idea of ‘saying no’, even when it is not about sexual advances.  

Choti Mata doesn’t advocate bra-burning feminism. Because it is a misguided epithet. And because bras are expensive. But Choti Mata is all in for reasoned feminism—you know the one that does not mindlessly label all male species of the planet as vicious, uncivilized creatures with only one properly functioning organ and a sinister, destructive, violent agenda against everything that moves and is referred to as ‘she’.  Because that too is a misguided, oversimplified generalization. Because Choti Mata hates a lot of things—and bigotry tops that list. And because it is hardly prudent to antagonize what constitutes half the population of this planet.
Also because Choti Mata thinks male species, at least the human one, is needed. For business. And for pleasure.

That being said, there are things that are bothersome—within and without the realms of feminism. It is unfortunate that because realms of feminism sometimes overlap with realms of reasonable expectations—it is easy to dismiss even reasonable expectations as frustrated, pointless tirades of feminist hags. Because nothing is classier than putting those people down who dare to raise their voices for their legitimate rights.

So there are things that bother us as right thinking individuals—feminist moorings notwithstanding.  Like our right to say ‘no’. Or the lack of it. And I am not even talking about advances—sexual or otherwise. I am still stuck on the decisions that pertain to our life—like what I would like to have for dinner? Of who would I like to marry and spend the rest of my life with?

An acquaintance was recently gushing about a girl he knew who was so obedient, she did not even bother meeting her ‘would be’ husband chosen by her family before marriage. Because you know, father knows the best and if he is happy, so is she.

I think this was the point of the conversation where I was supposed to say something appropriate in response. Or at least make some approving sound. I couldn’t. I was too busy trying not to gag.

Completely ignoring the fact that this scenario sounds like it had been ripped from some legendary Govinda movie of the 80s, it was downright disturbing. And distasteful. And so totally disrespectful of the times we say we are living in—the times of education and opportunities; of freedom and independence; of choices and basic rights to live. The times I am talking about of course are limited to a certain set of people belonging to a certain strata of the society—the urban, educated one. But that is hardly relevant—because the trigger for this post belongs to this very strata while still choosing to behave as if they were stuck in one of the villages Shyam Benegal used to make movies about. Or the ones that exist in the real World and think Khap is more powerful than Barak Obama. (Maybe, in their part of the Universe, it is. But that is not the point).

The ability to ‘say no’ is an inherent part of the idea of choice—the idea that is the core of all empowerment. A society that chooses to glorify ‘not saying no’ as a virtue is a society condemning itself to perpetual regression. Unfortunately, it is exactly the kind of society that largely thrives around us. The society where ‘love marriage’ is still a hush word.

This is not an arranged marriage versus love marriage debate. Marriage per se is a touchy topic. Especially for Choti Mata. She might need at least 10 other such post before she gets it entirely out of her system. But that is for later.

Both love and arranged marriage have their own merits and demerits. The arranged marriage scenario is simply an illustration for a prevalent decision making process in our lives—be it the kind of education we should have to the kind of person we should marry. This certainly doesn’t imply that families should not have a say in our decisions. Families have best intentions and our best interest in their heart (unless of course the family is dysfunctional. Or watches too many Sitcoms) and are often an asset in crucial decision making processes. But ultimately, it is our life. We should have a say. A choice. And it should be recognized as a virtue. Not vice. This is a gender neutral aspect of this idea. Because believe it or not, familial and societal pressure are actually a huge issue for men too. Maybe not as huge as women. But still huge. And considering that the idea of choice is all encompassing, it has to address everyone.

Coming back to the point of feminism and women, amidst the hue and cry about any and everything concerning women empowerment, the subtle aspects often get left behind. The aspects that play out in perfectly well meaning, educated, loving families.  Just because they are still stuck with an image of a ‘good girl’ that was hard to digest even in the 60s. The one that says a ‘good girl’ knows her house chores, keeps everyone in the family happy, is always prim, proper, appropriate and of course, is supremely obedient.

There goes my gag reflex again.

Not saying that those qualities are not desirable. Maybe they are. Maybe they are not. It is a matter of individual choice. And that is the whole point. I don’t mind being the ‘good girl’. I would just like to have a choice about whether I want to or not. Besides, who said I could not be all of the above and still not have aspects that are wild, improper, unconventional…disobedient.

Because hell we are educated. We are independent. Quite a lot of us are holding out pretty fine in what they call ‘a man’s world’. The last thing you should want us to be is to be prototypes. Of a model that had gone obsolete the year it was created. Just because you think it is appropriate. Safe.

Who is to say that simply because we do not fit in a set of prototypes, we will not be able to accomplish what ‘good girls’ traditionally do? What exactly makes everyone out there presume that just because we break stereotypes, we will not be able to build great families, great societies and everything else that we think needs to be done?

Besides, even if we don’t fulfill our traditional roles, we will at least be leading happy and productive lives—lives that may prove far more valuable to the society than our hankered, subdued, tied down versions ever could be. 

The bottom-line, however, is simple. And it is not about the society or its beliefs. It is far more intimate. It is about family. Families that glorify ‘not saying no’ as a desirable virtue for the female members. Families that don’t think being strong and smart is a worthwhile aspiration for their women.

The only answer to a regressive society is a non-regressive family. The family that can teach its women to fight and survive. To make it count. A society may not be open to change—but if families are, we will have a lot of ground covered. And have a lot of hope for the future.

Ultimately, if you preen at the idea of your obedient daughter submitting to your every command now; you better be prepared to preen when she quietly subjects herself to domestic violence, never saying a word. Or when she bears with ill-treatment and molestation without ever standing up for herself.

Because it was you who taught her never to raise a voice. Because it was you who taught her that standing up against what is wrong is unacceptable. Because it was you who taught her that staying silent is her only resort.

Because it was you who taught her that ‘saying no’ is a bad thing.   

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