Many moons back, when I was still at University, a doyen of Marathi theatre, Vijaya Mehta got an award for her contribution to theatre as a woman. I can’t remember exactly what the award was for but there was a lot of hoo-hah about her being the first woman to have got it etc. In a TV program on it, they interviewed actors and thinkers of the time about it, and everybody taked about her wonderful work and how she did women in the arts proud with her achievement and dedication. The mike went to Naseeruddin Shah (an Indian actor par excellence) for his comments. Very drily he said he did not understand this whole palaver over Vijaya Mehta getting the award. She was excellent and should have got this ages back. No one made such a federal case over Vijay Tendulkar getting it, so what was the big deal about Vijaya Mehta getting it? In one fell swoop Naseeruddin had the interviewers with several poached eggs on their faces. The presumption in this was that women are incapable of being so competent. I have never stopped being Naseer’s fan since and he has given me no cause to change my teenage adoration to anything less.
Women…..that’s half the human race, for Pete’s sake! We cannot succeed if half of us are held back. And the very fact that we have and possibly also need, a Women’s Day internationally, is proof women are held back. That unfortunately is the reality. You and I could be working in multinationals earning the same as the men sitting next to us, but even ILO says that worldwide, a woman’s income was 80.4% that of a man’s (2012 data). Here’s more data for you
|Occupation||Percentage of Total Employed|
|Medical and Health Managers||59.2||78.4||69.7|
|Accountants and Auditors||44.1||59.4||60.9|
|Teachers (College and University)||35.2||42.7||48.2|
|Chemists (except Biochemists)||21||29.8||44.2|
But even we – those lucky few who probably do get paid at par with similar ranking men, even we have to often make career compromises – giving up technical jobs and going for support roles, joining Academy or HR or Admin – even with degrees which should have had us racing up the corporate ladder. I am not saying we dislike this, and in my particular case, this was the best thing to have happened – but many of us made a conscious choice. A conscious choice, however oxymoronic it sounds, which we had to make. Because we needed regular office hours, our children needed to be helped with their homework and food, we had parental responsibilities. Despite being the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world, when we get home after a hard day’s work, it is nearly 80% of the women who straight on get into doing housework, while the man slumps on the sofa and picks up the remote to relax after a similarly hard day. I have seen my aunt, several decades back, work on mainframe computers, pretty much standing all day, come back and immediately change and get on to doing housework in a joint family set-up. While my uncle, who came back with her, would sit and relax and even the womenfolk of our house would wait on him and make themselves scarce if he was too tired to talk. Everyone sympathized, but no one really thought of asking my uncle to do some housework, or indeed, just to not order people about. For all of you men reading this and mentally chastising me and wishing me dead, I have a question – assuming you and your partner both work, what is the ratio of leave taken by you or your partner if your child falls ill?? Who sacrifices her leave for days which are anything but less work, when sleepless nights are spent looking after the ill?
Yes, the secret of change is to focus our energies on not fighting the old but building the new – mindsets, systems, all of it. We have heard all we need to about feminine skills being the operating system of the 21st century, how nations that invest in women’s employment, health and education are more likely to have better outcomes and their children healthier and better educated. Which makes feting women a strategic imperative. But why is it left to women to create their own sunshine? Why do we have to fight so much to retain it? Why should we be the ones constantly keeping our face to the sunshine to not see the shadows? Why is that sunlight mostly a default position for men?
People who spew lines about how no one can make you feel inferior without one’s consent are obviously not aware of how when women are asked to stand up straight and realize who they are, they almost always in tandem have circumstances towering over them. My mother’s maid works like a dog the whole day, quietly, uncomplainingly, while her husband sits at home because two years back his leg was fractured and it suits him to say it is still very painful even though all doctors and tests prove otherwise. In the few months he was actually incapacitated, he discovered the joy of sitting at home while his wife slogged and the idea looked better each day he stayed at home. So Arati cooks at a number of houses, has her own snacks stall in the evening, and comes home to get beaten up by her drunk husband, the liquor of course having been bought with her money. But where will she go if she leaves him? There are other predators who will pounce at a lone lady, even one with young kids. If you caught the BBC documentary India’s Daughter, without getting into criticism of the quality or even ethics of the documentary (which I thought was fairly lame and did not touch on any issue deeply enough), what angered me most was the title of the documentary. No, I lie, it was second only to the homicidal rage I felt at the two lawyers. Why does a woman have to be someone’s daughter, wife, mother, sister to get recognition from men? I am only my parent’s daughter, thank you very much. I would not like to be India’s daughter and I abhor this kind of irresponsible romanticizing of terms to skirt the real issues facing us. Why must a quintessentially patriarchal title be given to her? Why does it become necessary for a woman to be a male’s relative for the man to empathize with a woman’s condition, or for society to take her seriously?
Did you follow the movement that poured into Indian streets after the Nirbhaya rape? It soon became much more than the rape of this young girl – it became about the anger of the women protesters, about their shunning identification as a male’s female relative. Probably for the first time in recent Indian memory, it became about being seen as an individual person in her own right, never mind if they were students, housewives, working women, farmers. It was age-old patriarchal society they were fighting against, against the sense of protection this sort of identification is supposed to give women, while at the same time leashing their independence. They go on about Indian culture, which essentially disenfranchises women with regard to everything except their doormat status. Why does a global campaign against gender violence – which is what I at least hope this documentary is about -do the same? If a woman is successful, it is because she got a light or an idea somewhere which started her in the right direction. Things that matter the most should never be at the mercy of things that matter the least. A woman should no longer need a prince charming – and when she needs one, she can jolly well get up and find one herself, because who knows, the poor guy is probably stuck in some tree somewhere. She can turn her can’ts into cans and her dreams into plans, only if she is allowed to. And she now has to make sure she is allowed to, because the rest of the world will really not be bothered. A woman always recognizes the need in others to rise above themselves and will always stand rock-solid behind that person, because their own experiences and those of women before them gives them a unique advantage and probity. Men however, rarely stop to think that women could need similar support to go ahead. I look at men around me and am amazed at how un-self-aware they are.
No one notices what a woman does, till she does not do it. Try falling so ill that you cannot lift your head up from the pillow and watch your household. (And yes, there are exceptions, but they are just that, exceptions). You can watch your whole household go haywire. Nobody has a clue where what is, the dog sulks in a corner because his food has been forgotten while the master finds a ready answer to the human members’ food problem with a quick call to Dominoes Pizzas. Crockery and cutlery will get dumped in the sink till kingdom come, or till the maid comes, whichever is earlier.
Sure women are, at least partly, to blame for this state of affairs too. We let others, our own family, our places of work, treat us like this. We have ignored our wild natural selves, the powerful force filled with good instincts and passionate creativity. We have to give ourselves that right and ensure no one can snatch it from us. We have to wake up and make mountains move, because that is what they are, mountains of obstacles. Women need to be seen beyond their good looks and charm to being rational creatures. We can deal with stormy weather, we don’t need men to come tell us everything is hunky dory and calm. When real crisis happens, it is the women of the family who hold it all together. My father would have fallen apart if my mother had not hidden her astounding grief from all to normalize things when life happened to us. We would have been destroyed. Instead, I think she destroyed herself bit by bit, but she still wont admit defeat. She reshaped her own perception of how she viewed herself, and how we began viewing her.
She was and is the full circle. She has the power to create, nurture and transform. And she did.