Ever since the motion of women empowerment in 19th century began in the west, there have been ripple effects in the social dynamics all over the world. Besides, it is not as if we are witnessing a down slide in the society’s perception of women only in the past few decades. If you remember, there was also a time, when Britain, Israel and India were ruled by three dynamic and powerful ladies – Margret Thatcher, Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi, all at the same time! And despite all the revolution and revolutionaries from history, certain aspects of the society are still going from bad to worse leaving aside a minuscule percentage of success stories. While we are on the path towards achieving women empowerment in the truest sense and, we are almost there, there continues to be a severe backlash in the form of violence against women. A few days earlier when I discussed about this topic with mum, she said – “I am fortunate to have grown in better times. I agree, in my time, women weren’t given choices. And yet, some women managed to go ahead and become engineers and doctors especially when teaching and banking were preferred professions for women. And even then, the backlash would end only in tongue lashing. It never went much beyond that! Of course, I am talking about South. I am not aware of how the situation was up North, then. But yet, I believe even there the situation would have been fairly better than in recent times.” We have almost stopped watching news. And, mum feels terrible about the current times. She further says – “When I was growing up, I never had the fear of venturing out alone. And even if I did, I never had trust issues. There was an innate faith that people around will not wrong each other. And today, every stranger brings with him the question – “What if he is dangerous!”As she sadly sighs at the growing crime rates against women, I wonder when did it all start? No, I am not talking about man’s attitude towards a woman. I am talking about the general perception of a woman in the society by all, regardless of gender.
Where and when did the inequality begin?
Before coming to that, let’s talk about issues bothering women today. For a woman, from inconspicuously being groped in crowded places to being subjected to lewd comments and gestures, eve teasing is perhaps the root of all horrors that follows later. And, if that wasn’t enough, a few spoiled brats assume it is their birthright to mow down people with their expensive cars or, kidnap women returning from work and abuse them on National highways. If there is a hit and run, the driver in the affluent family conveniently takes the blame! There are countless incidents of crimes against women in recent times and, there is no end to it! Then, there are the honor killings. No, I am not even getting on this topic! But I would just say – What respect does an honor demand in a place where fear to think culls all hope and faith?
That said, the whole country has been discussing gender issues for decades! But then, have you ever questioned how such an issue ever cropped up in the first place? Have you ever realized for a fact that a curve ball is never totally unexpected. There are signs of anomalies that often go unnoticed when a curve ball is taking the shape of a snow ball! To put it in simple words, big catastrophes always have small beginnings. Take a look around the world and you shall notice, the setup has always been leaning more towards the patriarchal side. One cannot pin point a time when the rules emphasizing on male dominance actually began. Like we know, women were not always subdued beings in India. There was a time, when they rode as knights, with knights, waged wars, fought wars and, even sacrificed their lives for the nation. So, when did the system flip? The answer lies in almost every home (if not all). Say, we discuss about trivial affairs like lunches and dinner at home. Down south, I have always noticed that the outlook towards women has been more liberal than in the north. And yet, I have come across those minor rumbles when I felt, that a woman is still not treated as equal. For instance, I have observed in a majority of families (still)that when a lunch or dinner is being served, it is upon the woman to serve the family with food. Only after the family finishes the meal, she starts with her lunch or dinner that would mostly comprise of what is left! It may not have necessarily started off as a rule. Because some women enjoying feeding their families first. But then, what may have started with the intention of showering love slowly became a call for duty. And when the thin line of difference between compassion and duty blurs, gender inequality is realized in its truest form. I know many families these days do not follow this protocol. And yet, there are many that do too. And mind well, I am not talking about lower middle class families. I am talking about the educated and higher middle class families with career oriented females who still follow this rule by the book. Now, has it ever occurred to the man in the family – “Why can’t I serve my food by myself? Why is it required that the lady has to feed me and the child first? Will there be enough food for her after we have all eaten? Why can’t we sit as a family and have food together?” The man barely realizes it. Why? He has been raised in a family where he has seen his mother abide by the same rule. And hence, he has already drawn a picture of how his wife should be. This was just one of the tiny examples to begin with gender discrimination. Gender inequality begins at home! Period.
Indian Cinema needs to come around!
Next in line of fire, is our cinema. The prime reason for the rise in crimes against women is predominantly rooted in the fact on how women are portrayed in the cinema. And, I am terribly annoyed at the hypocrisy of people voicing their angst on the suppression of women. How on earth can people advocate for equality in gender while they go and watch approaching fifty or sixty actors romancing women less than half their age? How is it even remotely possible for these people to cheer for movies that have the hero wooing the heroine by hook or crook while on the other hand, they discuss and dissect crimes against women with such alacrity on social networking sites? If a movie star portrays some steel character on screen and, goes about taking the law for a ride in real life, what message does that actor give to the society? And as long as women objectify themselves by choice, by allowing themselves to be sidelined and letting the actors take away the meatier roles in the script, as a country, we are just halfway away from Stone age!
In South however, cinema has a totally different agenda! Most of the movies revolve around unimaginably funny stunts that appear on every scene at the drop of a hat! Like a lanky Vijay or a skinny Dhanush flinging goons double their size into thin air is not only unrealistic but comic in a surreal way. Of course, logic is blasphemy here! Agreed! But, I simply cannot get my head around how a boy wooing a girl to the extent of annoying her, irritating her, troubling her and then, finally getting her to say a YES, is sold as an idea to the public! Almost 8 out of 10 movies repeatedly show this and, then you expect the youth to be cultured! (Here I have to mention that I almost puked after watching 7G Rainbow colony!) Seriously? (P.S – I am excluding Malayalam cinema here as it is the lone ranger of South Indian cinema for me that is churning out masterpieces in the real sense while others have trouble deviating from the cliché. Wish Bollywood and others take a cue from them!)
Coming back to Tamil cinema, there have been some good movies too. But they get easily sidelined. Like Rajni’s Kabali has already sprinkled the veteran star’s magic down south because of which exceptionally good movies like Samuthirakani’s movie Appa are not even promoted the way they should be! (I mean no offence to Rajni fans as I too adore him for his awesome work in his old movies like pathinaru vaithinile, apurva rangangal, Thalapathi, Kalakalapu, moondru muduchu and many more).
It is important to understand that cinema has a major impact on the head space of every individual. It may be treated as a stress buster but somewhere in the head, it sows a seed, a seed of gender superiority in the wrong place. I believe, a movie essentially should either have a good message for the youth or, it should have good humor that does not hurt people. But then, humor is a misnomer these days, as it is more synonymous with assaulting a community, a country or a gender with sugar coated jibes. Watch Kapil Sharma’s show and you would know! Initially you might laugh your lungs out. Later, it dawns in the aftermath on how poorly the woman emulated characters are treated in the show! When a Guthi or a Rinku Devi gets whipped or teased, the audience laughs. After all, it is not Sunil Grover who is being teased but the character of the lady he is emulating. Food for thought, no?
In the past, women centric movies like Bhavana, Arth, Mother India, Andhi, Bhumika, Mirch Masala, Damini, Chandni Bar etc.. kicked off a small revolution in the Indian cinema. But then, who enjoys such movies? Right? A bitter sweet dream it would be, if Indian cinema by a strange twist in destiny churned out more of message oriented movies. Then, a woman may no longer find herself in the pandemonium she has been pulled into in recent times! If script writers feel that public craves for masala movies more, they seriously need to be bumped on their heads! A repetitive replay of regressive plots have resulted in such vicious mindsets today!
When Madhuri Dixit endorsed the advertisement – Ladke rulate nahi, I was initially spell bound by the message. It hit the brief on how we need to raise our sons. However, on analyzing it deeply, I found it to be slightly critical of boys’ emotions in general. And, I wondered why shouldn’t boys cry after all? Who made that rule? When a boy or a girl is born, up till the age of five, their actions are more or less similar except for the basic difference in the gender. Then, why is it that suddenly differences crop up in raising a boy and a girl. For instance, we assume that blue color is exclusive for the boys as pink is for the girls. Even I, who has been raised in an extremely liberal household, invariably drifted towards buying blue colored outfits when my son was born. And, I am not sure how or why it happened. Maybe this is what social conditioning is all about. Although today, I allow him to take his pick and, if pink be his pick, so be it! On a lighter note, he loves only bright yellow, orange and sometimes, fluorescent green too!
Eventually it dawned on me at some point in life that we need to raise our children with the ability to be unaffected by the cacophonous opinions on how a particular gender must behave or, be raised. Like, when you raise children, DON’T EVER SAY – “Respect girls! Respect women! Even your mother was a little girl at some time in the past!” or for that matter, “Respect boys! Respect men! Even your father was a little boy at some time in the past!” INSTEAD TRY SAYING THIS TO YOUR LITTLE BOY OR GIRL – “Respect every life on earth, be it a man or a woman, a plant or an animal. It is life, after all!” Let your child understand the concept of gender on his/her own. Let him or her comprehend the importance of two different genders on his/her own.
Immaterial of whether your child is a boy or a girl,
- Teach your child to pick up his or her plate, serve food on his/her own and wash and clean the plates by self after meals. This should be inculcated at an early age, say before they reach six years of age!
- Teach your child to cook and prepare basic dishes like sandwiches from a young age.
- Teach your child to iron his or her clothes, polish his/her shoes and prepare his/her bags.
- Teach your child basic tailoring techniques like stitching buttons. It can be started once the child crosses seven years of age.
- Help your child understand the importance of cleanliness at home and outside.
- Involve your child in gardening. It will bring him or her a step closer to Mother Nature.
- And, help your child understand the power of prayers. Even doctors believe in the fact that the last judgement over a life lies in the hands of the Gods!
Children imbibe what they see. In a home, where a husband loves the wife and treats her like a queen, the child will follow the same when he grows up. However, if he sees his mother being treated like a doormat, either he or she will swing between being extremely antagonizing or, being overtly possessive of a particular gender. Both are not good. So, if we need a society with creative kind and humble children, it falls on the strong shoulders of a woman to realize her extraordinary courage to stick with what her conscience deems right rather than buckling under the societal pressures of an anti-utopian society! The progress of the world solely depends on that courage. For instance, just imagine if the actresses of today threw the towel and said – “Balls! I cannot do such movies! My character in cinema is much more than singing and dancing! I am not some toy or an object! Meet me with a script that highlights me in the movie!” Believe it or not, the entire society shall progress in spades!
And then, instead of blaming the society for a regressive thought process, take a peek into your own home. You might be surprised to see from where the roots of regression are sprouting! If there are no such roots in your home, stay blessed and try to spread the good change. And, if you do find the small roots of archaic vibes sprouting, time to de-weed them!
More power to women who aspire to break free from the shackles of suppression, little or large! Be the change you want to see in the world, woman! It is all in your hands!