Wordly Wise

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Archive for the ‘Gender Issues’ Category

Petty Politics

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So finally we have the first woman president of India.

Shiv Sena declared that it supports the candidature of Ms Pratibha Patil because she is a Marathi woman. So now we choose presidents based on their mother tongue. And I thought India was a secular country, where things like caste, creed and religion didn’t matter.

The UPA chose Ms Patil as their presidential candidate because she would be the first woman president of India. So now we also choose presidents because of their gender.

And NDA did not support Ms Patil because it simply did what every opposition party always does—it opposed the candidate of the ruling alliance!

What about merit? Does that feature anywhere in the decision-making process?

If a meritorious candidate who is elected as President happens to be a woman from a specific region/religion, it is a matter of pride for the country—that we do not let gender/caste/language come in the way of merit. Unfortunately, the other way around seems to be happening. We’re letting issues like gender and caste overshadow merit. Will our politicians ever rise above petty politics?

Written by Manoj Khatri

26 July 2007 at 8:59 am

A letter to Ms Sanghamitra Chakraborty

with 12 comments

Sanghamitra Chakraborty
Editor
Prevention (India Edition)

Dear Editor:

I was taken aback on reading your note in the latest (July 2007) issue of Prevention magazine (India Edition).

Here’s an extract of the note that I found particularly startling:

“I know of a man who had devised a simple way to sort his laundry. He would fling them on the wall in front of him. If they stuck, thanks to the grime, they were ready for a wash. If they didn’t, he would use them until they did.”

From this you conclude that “men are wired differently” and that “men don’t waste their time fussing about cleanliness”.

You also go on to call the July issue of Prevention a “user’s guide to men”. You seem to have decoded men in entirety.

I am sorry to say but this is the worst kind of gender-based over-generalisation I have read in my life.

First, you have simply declared that “men” care little about cleanliness.

Ms. Chakraborty, just because you happen to know an unkempt, scruffy man who doesn’t wash his clothes till they become “sticky” doesn’t mean that all men do the same. Far from it…in fact there are as many men out there who fuss about cleanliness as there are women.

Then, you mention men not being interested in “cooking elaborate meals”. I would like to draw your attention to an interesting statistic: 79 percent of all lead kitchen positions including chefs are men; and these guys cook nothing if not elaborate meals. Not that it makes any difference. Chefs or not, if you ask me, cooking elaborate meals is a matter of personal interest and has nothing to do with gender.

If I sound like I am writing in defence of men, then I am not. I am only writing against gender-based over-generalisation.

To prove my point, let me give you an example of another common and absurd over-generalisation – this one stacked against women:

“Men are better and safer drivers than women”.

You’d be pleasantly surprised to know that in 1998, American women caused only 27 percent of fatal crashes while American men caused the rest. (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, USA)

Moving on, the article you refer to in your editor’s note (Steal His Routine, Prevention, July 2007) is equally absurd. It says:

“Guys go from fast asleep to ready for work in 20 minutes flat.”

Are you kidding? It takes me at least, and I mean at the very least, an hour to get ready for work from the time I wake up! I prefer two though. I know many of my male friends who need similar timelines to get ready in the mornings. On the other hand, some of my female friends are quicker to get ready.

Any kind of over-generalisation only reflects prejudice. Physiological differences are all right. But behavioural differences between men and women are not rules. I think it is unbecoming of a magazine like Prevention to take such a biased view of half of the world’s population. I hope you prevent such a prejudiced view of the world in your future editions.

Unbiased,
Manoj Khatri

Written by Manoj Khatri

2 July 2007 at 11:19 pm

Celebrating Womanhood

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On March 08, the world celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD). Newspapers, TV and radio channels and even hoardings were shouting hoarsely about the importance of Women’s Day. Most of it was empty rhetoric — lip service, if you will.

I wonder what the true significance of the day is. When I ask someone why it is celebrated, I get answers such as “to celebrate the power of women”, “to emphasise the role of women in the modern world”, or even “to establish the superiority of women”. Lofty objectives, those! What I fail to understand is: how can one token day in the whole year help achieve them?

Here’s what I think:
Women, who comprise approximately 50% of us, are far too important to us than what one single day can highlight. By dedicating one day in the year to them, aren’t we doing gross injustice to their contribution to our society, our lives? Women are mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, bosses, subordinates, teachers, friends and so much more. In highly evolved cultures, women are worshipped. Womanhood ought to be celebrated every single day.

Nature has bestowed certain unique qualities to both genders. These qualities are complementary, not opposed. For instance, women bring a fine balance to our world with their compassion and love, which they can express more easily than men. If men are physically stronger, emotionally women are stronger — they are able to withstand pressures with more grace. Men and women complete each other and fulfil the universal law of polarity.

I feel observing Women’s Day the way it’s done these days is more like acknowledging that women are a weaker sex. It’s like “let’s give them one day in the year to rejoice womanhood, let’s give them a day to air their voices”. If this is not tokenism, then what is it?

Upon researching, I found that IWD was first observed exactly 100 years ago as a collective voice against the lopsided social mores of the times. The social repression of women continues in many parts of the world. But if the objective of Women’s Day is to make our society more sensitive to women’s issues, and to bring some balance, then we are missing the point. Judging by media’s slant, Women’s Day has become an occasion to bring out the differences between men and women. I found that so many stories in the newspapers were about how women are greater, better, or superior than their male counterparts. Many others were about how some women have made it great in the world dominated by men.

I read one story that revolved around a social issue. It was Shabana Azmi’s guest piece in The Times of India, which focussed on the declining sex ratio across India. She opines that, among other initiatives, offering incentives to couples that have girl children would be a good way to set the gender ratio right. Seems like a noble idea but I don’t feel comfortable with it. I don’t like the idea that couples will now have girl children because of some external monetary incentives. I would like to think that the only reason anyone would want daughters is because daughters are blissful! They are a gift of love from God, from nature. They are little bundles of joy. They are warm sunlight. They are fairies and angels. These are the real incentives for having daughters.

Coming back to Women’s Day, I think the original significance of the day is lost. IWD is now simply a commercial opportunity that individuals and companies exploit to create an impression, to establish a “connect” with half of their target audience — the better half! (Incidentally, the advertisers and sponsors of most women-oriented features were cosmetics and jewellery companies.)

Let’s stop trivialising women by observing a day in their honour. I am not suggesting that we turn a blind eye towards women’s issues. In fact, they deserve more attention than what we can offer in one token day. Much more…

Written by Manoj Khatri

11 March 2007 at 10:06 am