Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The F word

Blast from the Past- in which I am all strident and sanctimonious.

The journalist heroine gives in a piece about the importance of looking good. Based on painful personal experience, her account argues that appearance is our greatest asset. Her editor is surprised and concerned. Leaving aside his soft corner for her, he is worried because the cover article for the week’s issue is the Miss India beauty pageant. He does not need dissenting wet blankets while India joyously celebrates International Recognition. “But no sir,” our heroine replies, “I am not anti beauty pageants, nor am I a feminist. I simply want to delve into the psychoblahblah….”

That is when I switched the TV set off and logged onto the machine..

Did the writer know the meaning of feminism when he wrote that sorry line in the serial? I always thought Manisha Koirala considered herself a liberated soul until I read some interview. “I am not a women’s libber or a feminist”. Why are women so scared of the F word? I am forever coming across women deathly scared of being typecast. Thinking individuals yes. Independent, smart, talented, free, ambitious, can take care of herself - yes. Lovely, gracious, classy- well…is it politically correct to admit…what the hell, yes yes yes. But call a woman a feminist and she sits back and faint frown lines appear on the forehead.

For heaven’s sakes it is not so terrible.

Sure, people get defensive about labels all the time. So you may be against the Pokhran blasts but possibly hate to be called a pacifist; just like a Hindutva supporter does not want to be a communalist. But at times the courage to stand under a label, can give it the legitimacy that it needs.

Feminism is not another word for bra burning. Feminism is giving women their rightful place in society. And if our level headed, competent and successful sisters who are busy enough leading complex lives thank you and  please do not complicate it further, stop and consider it- something that they agree with. It is tough to be part of a movement. But it is the easiest thing in the world to say, “I am a feminist”. It will definitely be an honest statement.

My maid was a good student, but she could not go to school after she got her period. She was married when she was fourteen. Her husband was eighteen. She had her first baby when she was fifteen and almost died in the process. Her husband was unemployed, and she supplemented her father-in-law’s income by sweeping in buildings and clearing garbage. A come-down certainly but it held the family together for ten years, until her man got a job as a unionised bank employee. She still works buildings, gritting her teeth and waiting for the day her son will come up and get her out of her rut. Her husband sits up late in the night drinking with his friends. If Krishna gets upset waiting up for the men, (there are only two rooms in the house) her husband rages and refuses to eat. Indeed he insisted on taking a peg with his multivitamins when he had jaundice. Like Krishna says, ‘Aurat Paon ki Juti hoti hai. (Woman is the slipper on your foot).

Muga’s husband drinks and makes a fool of himself at every party I go to. I am waiting for a woman to do the same.

Taranjit is twenty five and lives with his retired parents. He throws a tantrum if the promised pudding does not arrive. Indian children are very spoilt I know, but what takes the cake is the mother saying the pudding was eaten by the dog. Just what kind of women do we breed who resort to lying to their own children over stupid matters.

Even today the advice meted out by many well meaning parents is not to argue. Living off the son is fine but check out the families where the girl’s parents stay with her. You will be furnished with justifications galore. Not to miss that halo behind the son-in-law’s head.

When I passed out of management school it was different. Now everyone is married and I am shocked at the ease with which men and women slip into traditional roles. What starts as ego and one-upmanship (I will be the best hostess) ends up in a bind. I have not seen a single party where the men do not sit at the bar while the women walk into the kitchen helping out, cribbing about maids and exchanging home-making tips.

Count the number of men who help out in the house. Compare that with the number of women who bring in comparable amounts of money into the house. Check the man’s attitude during his honeymoon when he cannot believe this goddess wants to actually cook for him. Contrast this with his quibbling seven years and two babies later- he is the sole breadwinner, she gave up her job to look after the kids- he cannot handle upuma three days in a row. Sure its tough having upuma day after day, but your wife does it baby. You want eggs, go ahead and scramble them.

I think I am getting carried away and unidimensional, but we live in an unequal world. You may or may not feel it all the time and it depends whether you are all worked up and want to do something about it or not. But surely you can recognise inequality. That is all it takes. Go ahead and say you are an F---ist. It will not bite you.

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