Monday, March 31, 2014

Women's Day!

Happy Women’s Day- I may be a tad too late for this post, but work has been crazy busy since a few weeks and time is scarce (though I strongly feel that today people tend to glorify being busy, trying to sound important :)).

The first memory I have about this day was when I was twelve years old and my mom had wished me a ‘Happy Women’s Day’ just as I woke up and dragged myself into mum and dad’s room rubbing my eyes lazily in my polka dotted pajamas. I became stiff with embarrassment when my mom wished me, as my parents sat on their bed drinking their morning cup of tea in two big coffee mugs. Feeling my cheeks burn, I quickly and sternly retorted, “I am a girl, I am not a woman.” My mom insisted, “Now you are a woman, you are not a girl anymore.” I thought my mom was being very mean early in the morning, teasing me like that- right in front of my dad! I had got my periods just a few months before that morning. Being a woman felt like a curse.

Now though I don’t think being a woman is a curse, I do feel discriminated by the male and female stereotypes that exist in the society. I was exposed to discrimination right at the very moment when I was born in a quaint hospital in the pink city of Rajasthan. On that breezy day of September, I was the only girl child born in the hospital while hundred other boys wailed their way into this world. Incidentally, I did not cry when I was born. I was slapped hard so that I cry and start breathing. It was some complicated delivery in which I was born with blue arms and legs due to stunt oxygen supply. While my parents were happy and excited about my birth, there were people from adjacent rooms and nurses in the hospital who came to console my parents at the ‘second’ girl child. My mom was fairly young, and people told her that ‘bhagwan ke ghar der hai, andher nahi’- my parents were encouraged by those random strangers to try for one more baby. Our neighbours did not believe my father when he distributed laddoos celebrating the joy of a new family member. Who celebrates a second girl child?, they wondered and thought that my dad was fooling around with them. They came over to the house next day to confirm if I indeed was a girl and what was there to celebrate? According to them, our family was not yet ‘complete’- whatever that means!

That was years ago. But even today there are simple instances where I feel discriminated. Like how when I am out dining with a male friend, the bill is always given to the guy and the ‘feedback form’ is given to the girl. Always. It is just infuriating. Another instance, I was on an international flight and there were two guys- an American and an Indian- sitting next to me, I had the window seat. The air steward was offering drinks to everyone. The guys asked for beer and rum respectively. Then the steward asked me- “What would you like to have, ma’am?” And I asked him what were the options (I wanted to know if there was wine, but I didn’t want to sound too demanding) and he told me Orange juice and Apple juice. Hahaha. I almost laughed, the joke was on me. I smiled and said, “Apple juice”. When we were exiting the plane, the Indian guy saw me carrying a bottle of Absolut vodka and champagne in a “Duty free” bag, and looked surprised. We talked for a bit about buying alcohol at duty free.

Recently all the books I have been reading and all the movies I have been watching have strong female protagonists. And with the whole Lean in ‘phenomenon’ started by Sheryl Sandberg, and the celebrations of Gloria Steinem’s 80th birthday this week- I have been thinking about feminism a lot. The book I finished reading today (by the way I have made a pact this year, my first real new year resolution ever, of reading 3 books every month- and I am so happy :) it’s working so far) was The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik. I am not quite into Indian mythology- many a times I confuse characters of Ramayana with Mahabharata, and I have never followed either of the epics- but this book is beautiful. Placing the story in the period of Mahabharata, it is fascinating how Devdutt conjures contemporary issues of gender and gender roles relevant even today. The Pregnant King is about a king who has two sons- being a father to one and a mother to the other- how he experiences both fatherhood as well as motherhood. It demonstrates how power lies with the man and how he needs to prove his manhood to grab and sustain that power. It is these acts of taking control, the thirst of being the mighty one that leads to violation of the opposite gender.

In the same vein, all the rape cases that we hear about in our society- is it really about the girl asking for it or men not having high morales? Not completely. Psychology behind raping someone is the power play- he does it, because he can, because that makes him feel more manly, because that makes him feel more powerful and the girl powerless.

I recently read the latest book by Jhumpa Lahiri called The Lowland, also nominated for the Man Booker Prize (did not win though). On the cover of the book it says that the story is about two brothers bound by tragedy. . .giving details of the plot. But for me the book was about the woman protagonist. She falls in love with and gets married to the younger brother who gets killed in the riots, and then as she gives birth to a child, she is married to her husband’s elder brother. Spread across different timelines, the woman is the only character who is constant and present at every curve of the story. When I had read the reviews online, people had some really bad things to say about the character of the woman- that she was bitter and selfish and ungrateful and stiff and emotionless. When I read the book she turned out to be my favorite character. She was not the conventional wife and mother. She was strong. Opinionated. Unapologetic. Focused. She was not heartless, like others perceive her to be. She only had a different way to express that love, she had different priorities. She reminded me of another fictional character- Dr. Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy. She is my absolute favourite character in that TV show (apart from the yummy Dr.Shepherd ;) ) 

One thought struck me when I was pondering over these characters and human behaviour. In the same plots, the same characters, if you just change the gender, people’s perception would change diametrically. Now imagine if the woman from The Lowland was a male character who could not be loyal to the second wife because he was in love with his first wife and had seen her being murdered . . . haunted by that past, he could not focus on the present and left the house, his second wife and daughter, to pursue higher studies, his career and distanced himself from everything that reminded him of that past. Does it make the character hate-worthy? But because this was a female character, the readers were spiteful. A woman is supposed to be a nurturer and her priority needs to be her family, her kids. If you don’t fit that mould, you are selfish.


  1. Oh ignorant me! I got to learn some new things from this emotion packed post.
    Thanks a lot.

    Keep writing regularly please.(Yes of course when you are free from your busy work :))

    Happy Women's Day !!! Celebrate and Spread the joy being so special and so important- Of being A Woman.

    1. haha...yea on second thoughts, this post is full of 'information' :P didn't intend it that way

      i am not so 'busy', i am just lazy! :D

      thank you : )

  2. In the lowland, the woman marries the younger brother first, no? Btw, is this your regular blog?

    1. are right..i just realized the mistake : ) thanks for pointing out.

      yes, this is my regular blog. good to see you here : )

  3. And all these days I was at the other blog, waiting for an update!

    1. haha..which reminds me i must update that too : )

  4. I am so happy that I came across your wonderful blog and could read this awesome post !
    Happy Women's Day !

    I have written on the same day in case you would like to read

    1. Thanks for your kinds words : )

      I checked out your post on Women's day.

  5. Fortunately I live in a country with the highest degree of equality between men and women, almost to the extent that it challenges some very basic beliefs (like if women should bear children). It inculcates a completely different set of beliefs. Yes, bias still remains to an extent but it does not interfere with daily life.
    Interestingly it is a cultural phenomenon mostly driven by geography and economic development (both of which are related), if you look at the gender inequality index you notice that all the nordic countries make it to the top ten:

    1. Yea, I had read about the index when you had mentioned it before.

      It is interesting to observe the two opposite sides of the spectrum. You said - bias still remains to an extent but it does not interfere with daily life - in what way do you see this inequality then?

      I completely agree with you that it is a cultural phenomenon related to geography and economic development- the lower rung of countries in that index clearly shows that.

      India happens to be dangling in between- neither completely developed to embrace equality, nor completely blind to the changing times.


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