Some Musings on the "Equality" of Men & Women

10:22 am

I would like to start today’s musing of mine by an excerpt from Jane Austen’s (one of my favorite authors) novel Persuasion where two friends, a Captain Harville and a Miss Anne Elliot are discussing love with reference to Captain Benwick, a common friend of theirs.
It goes like this:

“Well, Miss Elliot…we shall never agree, I suppose, upon this point. No man and woman would, probably. But let me observe that all histories are against you---all stories, prose and verse. If I had such a memory as Benwick, I could bring you fifty quotations in a moment on my side the argument, and I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconsistency. Songs and proverbs all talk of women’s fickleness. But, perhaps, you will say, these were all written by men.”

“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

Jane Austen is among the very few women writers who have been canonised. Well, not in the sense Aristotle, Homer or Virgil have or even the way the honourable Shakespeare has but atleast she’s read and recommended when one suggests “Good books to be read”. Her books are often termed “classics”. And if Persuasion is a classic, it must be successful in transcending time and have an universal appeal. And if that is to be believed, the conversation between Harville and Anne is still relevant as it was way back in the 19th century when Jane Austen wrote it.

It is sad that people from time past to time present have been unable to give women equal rights. In almost every society, Black or White, it seems, women are the last section of the society who are thought about as equals. The much celebrated French Revolution boasted of new thoughts of equality and so on along with emerging concepts “fraternity”, but what about the women? If fraternity ensures brotherhood between the men, what happens to the rest half of the population?

If many feminist writers are to be believed, then it never even occurred to the women themselves that there is a need for a change in the social order where all they were (and, please, let’s face it, still are) expected to do is attract a man by their feminine charm, sacrifice everything for the family (for children and the experience of motherhood is the ultimate high of being a woman) and if they have girl children, teach them to do the same in life that is theirs, but are made to live on the terms of others. Men, even though, are another section that have been unfairly targeted by the social norms (you know, the “man” earns and feeds the family and thus, must be a highly educated/skilled person otherwise no one will marry him which will result in no heir that will “carry on the family name”) have had an easier share from the lot.

Men are expected not to cry, earn a handsome amount, listen to family’s financial problems. Women today are supposed be educated (and if they are earning, okay, but please no late working hours like the man), raise the children, manage the household chores, fix up a fancy meal three times a day, help the children with their homework, look good, and when the husband comes from work, clear everything so that he can relax. I pity men, ye, for they are supposed to be the everlasting source of strength that everyone is dependant upon but puhleese!

Let go of Jane Austen times where men were given educational opportunities much higher than women were. Let us talk about now, today when apparently they are not. A woman (I talk in terms of averages, in the urban India) is allowed education, in fact, parents happily and willingly send their daughters to study, just like they send their sons. A woman is encouraged to complete her studies and have an occupation but is that it? First, a lot of occupations re “not good for girls”. When I was in twelfth grade, I heard a lot of guys say “I gonna do Hotel Management” but according to most of the people I talked to it was not a good course for girls. Same goes with Law, especially Criminal Law (“Ladki ko Law kara rahe ho?!?” is what, surprisingly a lot of people will say.), architecture, civil engineering and so on. When asked why, they either do not give an answer but adamantly stick to their jargon or they say that in these occupations, one meets “all sorts of people” or “have to stand out in the sun all day” and other rather flimsy excuses such as these.

Secondly, I really, most ardently wish that the education of the female sex is done with the intention of the girl having an awareness and equal knowledge that the men have access to, to have the right to have or not have a career (and not have one by force) and to gain economic & financial independence so that she does not have to depend on the Patriarchy to support her. I wish that the purpose of educating women is not that it will add on to her resume that she will present in the marriage market. Women, quite a lot of them, it seems, are educated and have jobs because these days, grooms demand an educated girl as brides. They want a padhi-likhi girl that they can go to parties with (and not be embarassed with a gawar at hand), can teach their future kids and so on. Is that really so? I would be very pleased if a single person tells me that a woman is educated for her sake, and has the right to refuse marriage and still not be mocked (even behind her back) at.

Being ambitious (or “over-ambitious” as some may argue) is seen to be a negative trait in women, whereas in men its is seen as an outright virtue. A man can go follow his career related dreams to any extent so long its ethical but a woman must draw the line where her family comes in. Her career can be sacrificed for the happiness of the family for it is that martyr’s duty to take care and nurture her family. It is seen as a positive feminine quality for women to be caring, submissive, docile, nurturing, forgiving and an all enduring person and what does she get for it? More work! Parents looking for brides for their hard working and high earning sons do not prefer a career ambitious girl as she wont be there to look after the guy when he’s back from work and will at most hand him a biscuit and a cup of tea.

It is at every level, even literature. Just like Anne pointed out in Persuasion that the pen have been in the men’s hands. I have observed something very peculiar. A lot of girls I know read romances like Mills & Boon and chick-lit novels but most of them don’t admit to. When they do, they seem embarrassed and are openly made fun of (mostly by other candid readers!). When these girls are asked what they like reading, they will never name romances or chick-lits (even if they simply have to read one before going to bed) but anything else. Mean and women, however, openly read and admit to read and like lad-lits. Books by Chetan Bhagat and Anurag Mathur are very good examples of this. Books by Chetan Bhagat and others like him, most definitely follow a pattern unmistakably that of a lad-lit. It is the story of an invisible man, a loser, who in the end, atleast gets the girl of his dreams if nothing else. And the girl in most cases will be a beauty whereas the guy a…well, loser. But people proudly say they have read them. But when it comes to romances or chick-lits, why are they ridiculed by men especially and blamed of reading something silly? I mean, have you ever picked up a copy of Fleming’s James Bond? Bond is stupid, lazy, all his done by side-kicks, all he does is romances around with the finest of women. But that’s okay to read.

At first, I wanted to write a “serious” novel. A novel that would be respected. But now, I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to be canonised by a code that is so male-centric, I don’t want to be made a Dame when men get to be Knights (a term, automatically associated with gallantry). I don’t know as of now what my book will end up being, what genre it will be. But I do know that now I don’t quite mind if it’s a romance or a chick-lit so long as women read it and learn that their lives are for them to live.

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