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Sunday, March 08, 2015

Women's Day

It was International Women’s Day today. While saluting all outstanding women achievers the world over, especially among the subaltern categories in the poorest nations, I should like to put down a few discordant thoughts.

1.      Why does International Men’s Day get so much less publicity?
2.      Why do the women who have lived the most comfortable, pampered, secure and opportunity-rich lives complain the most about iniquitious mores ‘imposed’ by traditional patriarchy, and why have I met so few of them who talk little and work hard to ameliorate the lot of their far less fortunate sisters – such as the bais who do all the dirty household chores for them, and prostitutes with children, and poor women who have been abused and deserted by their men?
3.      I am proud to see the recent conversation between my daughter and a friend of hers in the comments section of her latest blogpost. I was marvelling to see two mature, sober, rational, highly articulate women, all of 18 summers, choosing to argue their differences as civilized human beings regardless of gender should do – why have I met so few ‘educated’ women 30 and above who can do that?
4.      When shall we go back to the age of Agatha Christie, Toni Morrison and Ashapurna Devi who were candid in admitting that lots of women can be just as bad as the worst of men, and they have special wiles which men cannot fathom, anticipate and fight off before it seriously harms them for keeps? That men who cannot wield sheer muscle power are at a disadvantage in every sense?
5.      Here is an article written in Anandabazar Patrika today by Ms. Swati Bhattacharya, who says there’s nothing either glorious or liberating about women becoming good, skilled and happy housewives. Women so easily sneer at their sisters whose kind of work they either cannot or don’t want to do. A good housewife is worth any number of clerks and hacks and office secretaries who are basically recruited as eye candy or drudges, no matter how bad that might make some women feel (how many women, despite every kind of advantage, end up in the kind of serious careers I have mentioned before?). And for every true ‘achiever’ I see among women of today, I see a hundred who remind me of Chesterton’s priceless chestnut: "Twenty million Englishwomen stood up, declared ‘We shall no longer be dictated to!’ and promptly went out and became stenographers". What’s so great about being paid a pittance to write op-ed articles which the owners (95% male)  insist on simply because they believe it will sell the paper better in the current socio-political climate?
6.      I wrote a long essay twenty years ago when the first World Women’s Conference was being held in Beijing. If anything, having followed the growing-up of thousands of young women before my eyes in the interim, I am far less willing to be sympathetic to their cause today, and God knows I have more than enough justification. I spend a lot of time warning my young boys against the female of the species, and most get back sooner or later to say a fervent thank you for saving them from very nasty experiences.
7.      One warning that will turn out to be very unfortunately and harshly true in the decades to come: women who want to have it all, women who are determined to demonize all males, women who think it is cool and in to spew half-digested anti-male rhetoric at the drop of a hat,  who ‘just wanna have fun’ but don’t mind making thorough nuisances of themselves doing it in the name of freedom, are digging their own graves. I am not alone among decent males of all ages who have grown cold to the real needs of harassed and abused women of late simply because their case has been grossly oversold, to the complete exclusion of lots of people – the very young, the very old, the handicapped, the very poor, the badly cheated, the state-oppressed, the millions of men abused by women lifelong – who suffer great injustice too, simply because such women typically cannot empathize with anyone except a female who has been raped (and - dare I say it? - because rape is so sensational for every tagtivist to talk about!).
8.      How long before women realize that if ultimately all their vaunted ‘independence’ ends up in getting married on their parents’ prodding after a few years of irresponsible flirting around, having realized that their sell-by date is fast approaching (several Bollywood starlets with fading careers having shown the way), and that too dressed up like girls from Jhumritilaiya, they had better pipe down, because they are making cartoons of themselves to all but their mentally challenged friends and ‘admirers’ on Facebook? Women above 25 can go on dressing and acting like koochie koochie teens (I have lost count of mothers coming to admit their kids dressed as though they are going to a wedding), but the whole world is not yet crazy enough to be ‘impressed’ by their antics and simultaneously take them seriously as thinking human beings! In fact, I can see a very clear pattern of ‘men’ who are fascinated by such ‘women’, and the less said about such simians the better. Let them take their time to learn their lessons: I am in no hurry. Time has a wonderful way of righting wrongs.

P.S.: I sought and got full approval from both my mother and daughter before putting up this post.


Ankita Sarkar said...

Dear Mr. Chatterjee,

I belong to that rare species among Carmelites of my generation who do not call you 'Sir', and unlike your students I have reached your blog through Urbi's and not the other way round.
First, I thank you for taking note of our conversation. I feel that the number of people who can sustain an exchange of the sort are in appalling decline, and those who can appreciate one as a third party, even more so.
Of the gender issue (and the race issue and the caste issue and... you get the drift!), I have always felt that it boils down to human nature: if people can take unfair advantage, sadly, they most likely will!
Sure, women have got horrific short ends of many sticks in many situations, but the 'tagtivism', as you put it, ends up desensitizing us to the real horrors. That is exactly the sort of thing that prompted Kiran Bedi, the supposed feminist icon, to casually wonder why the 'small' rapes were given so much attention! Clearly, only the Bollywood-worthy rapes deserve to be denounced!
Sometime last year, I sadly forget on which site, I watched an experiment where actors posed as a couple on the streets twice, first pretending that the man was shoving the woman around, and then with the violence oppositely inflicted. Time and again, the first case was met with protests and threats of involving the law, and the second one with indifference or even mirth! This was done in the United States, but I'm certain that in any 'civilized' place, whether they aid the woman or not, no one will aid the man. I know women who ask for 'dignity' and then flirt to impress male bosses -- what fun! I remember writing an angry essay about this in Class X -- Urbi might remember it.
I have maintained that sexism and racism and any '-ism' is a societal phenomenon, and while the group apparently benefited by the unfairness might be more resistant to change, it is not a war of factions we fight, but one of mentalities. Which is why I appreciate Emma Watson's 'He For She' campaign, where she talks not about the kill-all-men brand of feminism but the, well, sweet kind: she recently asked why she can't treat her date to a meal or open a door to be polite to a man -- and those, I think, are beautiful questions to ask. There is no point in trying to take revenge for discrimination by reversing its polarity -- rather let us try the reverse version of the niceties! I think the dolled-up women you speak of in your post would be horrified with actual independence where they might have to give up their seat for a tired old man.
As for Ms. Bhattacharya's article, I'll not repeat the rant that I left on Urbi's blog about it. I shall only say that anyone who insults perfectly round luchis will not win my favour.
I conclude with an appeal: please don't become cold towards actual discrimination against women. The real cause, ranging from wage equality to dignity and personal safety for women, still needs support -- from as many decent women and men as possible; and being a much-loved teacher, you can change many minds.

Ankita Sarkar

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Ms. Sarkar,

Thank you for commenting.

I do hope you have noticed that I write about a lot of other things: purely gender-based issues are a very small part of things I think about.

Best wishes.

Shubhranka Mondal said...

Dear Sir,

Thank you for writing this post. There have not been many gender specific posts in your blog. So this one was welcome—considering the range of topics that the blog covers. I must confess that I was under the false impression that you sneer at all categories of women. But the first line of the post which salutes the achievements of women in the ‘subaltern categories in the poorest nations’ clears most of my delusion. And it does so with a very strong and thoughtful conviction. Cheers to that!

I agree that some forms of rape receive more attention than other existing forms of oppression. It is in fact shameful in the way the gender institutes even in the best of universities in the world begin their first lecture by discussing the New Delhi rape case of December 2012 and its nitty- gritty. And not on the existing biases in households, workplaces and university campuses across both the rich and the poor countries—the most immediate situations that students sitting in the classes in the most privileged universities could at least relate to.

Still, at another level, I would urge the readers to ask if the social shaming of rape is the equal to the social shaming of the extremely poor.'

Similarly, I think, if the inability of a handicapped person to ride a bus or enter a lift is a serious form of discrimination, the inability of a woman post puberty to avail a toilet is an equal form of discrimination, if not more. The state unfortunately has failed to provide for both.

Will it be an exaggeration, at this point, to mention that the state too is run by a bunch of able bodied, male patriarchs who are only concerned about their major vote banks? Also, looking at the state of public transport in most poor countries,where it is generally unsafe for a woman to travel alone after 8pm or 9 pm, I do not understand why the West is so vehemently criticized for calling itself a little more ‘civilized’ (even in the narrowest sense of the term).

I agree to most of the thing mentioned in the rest of the post too. But I would also like to mention the fact that even after years of struggle when a woman indeed manages to reach nearly the top of the ladder, the level of discrimination does not seem to decrease. The World Development Report on women for example has something called the glass ceiling index.

Lastly, am also curious to know about the cases of ‘millions of men abused by women lifelong’. I would like to know what are the equally grave and debilitating form of discrimination that exists for men and if the levels of ‘freedom’ that a society provide to both its men and women are indeed equal.

Kind Regards,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you for reading the post thoughtfully, Shubhranka.

Re. 'social shaming of rape victims', I shall say only two things here: a) much of it depends on whether the victim chooses to be shamed, and b) you have to know real poverty before realizing how much more serious a problem that is (indeed, women among the very poor are most vulnerable even where rape is concerned).

As for glass ceilings, I have heard enough men (and successful women) assert and prove in their own lives that given talent, grit and perseverance, no glass ceiling stops a woman from becoming a business tycoon, a great teacher, a cabinet minister or a brilliant writer or movie director. Mediocre, lazy and timid women blame it all on patriarchy, it only makes me laugh.

As for your last paragraph, I shall only point out to you dry jokes prevalent in all languages: in Bengali they say bhagyobaaner bou morey, and in English, when one friend exults 'My wife is an angel', the other quips 'You are lucky; mine's still alive'. Where do you think these jokes came from?


Subhadip Dutta said...

Dear Shubhranka,

When we speak about the State in relation to gender discrimination, we must not forget that Sonia Gandhi, Sheela Dixit, Mamata Banerjee are among those women who are nothing short of criminals. So let us not speak too much about the state. Mamata Banerjee is a woman who herself is least bothered about the wellness of women. Sheela Dixit is a 'scamster'. So the less said about women, the better it is. They go head to head with those corrupt men out there about whom you have mentioned.

And when we speak of good roads and public facilities, we must not forget that this is the second largest country in the world. We must not entirely blame the State for all that is happening. Firstly we elect those people as our representatives. And secondly, how much care do we take of the assets that the state has provided to us? How many public facilities have you seen that are absolutely clean? Why do people contract diseases from those places? Why do we litter around after we have a picnic in a perfectly clean place? Does the state teach us to do these things?

I believe these have nothing to do with gender discrimination. The State is very big term. I feel we should not discuss these things when we speak about gender discrimination.

Things, I believe, are improving. There are people who do not get two square meals a day, so I believe roads for the luxury cars and bikes of the super rich are much low in the list of priorities.

I would like to point out certain things in relation to the Delhi rape case. There is a lot of hue and cry that is being made over that case. I hope that you know that a much more horrifying incident has happened very recently in Haryana where a mentally challenged woman from Nepal was brutally raped and murdered by probably 7 or 8 people. They did not stop after that. They went to the extent of cutting off her breasts. Why does nobody discuss about that? I believe this case is much more treacherous. Also, you cannot deny the fact that criminals are out there everywhere. (Those same people in the notorious Delhi rape case had robbed a man of a few thousand rupees just sometime before committing the rape. So this proves, I believe, that they committed crimes on both men and women.) So would it not be better if women used some more common sense, and instead of fighting for their rights of going out in scanty dresses at night, they stayed back in the safety of their homes, given the fact that Delhi is quite a bad place for women and men alike? Also, do you think that men are safe in Delhi? Do you not get constant news updates about some or the other man who has been shot dead or got his throat sliced? Where does gender discrimination come here? We are speaking of criminals and fanatics here, not chauvinists and feminists.

Let me tell one more incident after which I think I should conclude. I have stayed in Delhi for 2 years. For a certain period I used to share a flat in Satyaniketan with 2 other young men. Over time, their friends used to come and go, and I got acquainted with some of those people. One night I heard that one of their friends was sexually assaulted and raped by some homosexual on the street. Everybody passed it off as a very light joke. But that incident kept me thinking. After this incident would it be very wrong for me to believe that women's problems get far more attention in our country than men's? Do you not think that if it was a woman out there this same incident would have made the headlines of the leading newspapers next day morning? Does this incident not make it obvious that crime has got very little to do with gender discrimination or equality, whatever we may like to call that?

I think I said too much. But I have discussed all this with my girl friend also and she has also agreed to most of what I have said here. So I feel I am not entirely wrong.


Shubhranka Mondal said...

Dear Subhadip
First the number of women actively participating in politics in this country or elsewhere is minuscule. So there is no logic in thinking about counterfactuals as to what would have happened if we had 80% instead of 33.33% females and thereby arrive at conclusions to suit our interest or otherwise. Second, at no point do I argue that I support the female politicians that you have just mentioned. Barely a few of them are self-built visionaries without family legacies. Yet at another level, I have more respect for Mamata Bannerjee than for Vrinda Karat or Sonia Gandhi. The division between the struggles of the subaltern and the flashy wine drinking feminist at Habitat Centre has been made in both the first sentences of Sir’s argument and mine’s. So I feel it is unnecessary to speak any further.
Next, coming to the question of the state, the only thing I want to ask is why is there such a large hue and cry when the West calls itself a little more civilized in judging by the way people behave in public places. It is not whether we or the government is responsible for the pitiable state in which we live. The question is one of perception and the inevitable bias in the way the West looks at East or the other way round. Coming to rich state or poor, Philippines ranks among the first five countries in gender equality in the world and is positioned immediately below the Nordic countries. And I have often wondered why there is no considerable research work on this.
Third, Delhi is a one horrible place to live in and I have spent nearly 5 years of my life staying in not only posh South Delhi locales but inside the slums of Jamrudpur. And I agree with you that it is indeed unsafe for both women and men. (And I need no supportive shoulder of a boy-friend to arrive at such a conclusion). It is unfortunate that the state/ society does not understand the pain of anything beyond what is flashed in the news headlines is my argument. Why doesn’t the bhadrolok society ever open its mouth on marital rape and incest is another question that I wanted to raise.
And well, women in Badaun (as I repeatedly mention about ‘toilets’ in my argument) went to relieve themselves in the field, not to seduce men! Also, I do not quite understand who decides what is an appropriate dressing for a woman? So women should not wear skirts because men are seduced. (Of course Chowmein is seductive, because who is there in the kitchen?...women!) Have you ever thought of proposing that idea to an English gentlemen ever?
Forget about dresses, what if I am a journalist or a call centre worker and I have to return home late to earn a living for god’s sake! And I have done this for ages. And each time, I had to wait for minutes (at times hours) for some or the other male member to accompany me in the car, in spite of my accommodation being only 10 minutes away. I used to watch each day how easily men travel in red buses or take the last metro late at night. I never had the guts to do the same. One is free to call me a coward if one thinks so.

Suvro Chatterjee said...


It irks me that in 12 days you had nothing to say in response to my reply to your last comment, but you were so very prompt in responding to Subhadip's comment!

The last time we communicated you adopted a tone which I felt was so inappropriate that I said I did not want to get into any argument with you, following which you sent a one-word email, saying 'Sorry'. Is that what you are trying to start all over again? There is a way of conducting arguments among polite and decent people: if that is not something you are interested in, please desist. Subhadip does not know you at all (while he is a very favourite ex student of mine), neither do I, frankly, because, like most girls, you never thought it worthwhile to let me get to know you. He was not trying to say anything personally against you, and he did write a lot of sense. I myself don't agree with everything he says, but that does not provoke me to adopt a belligerent, accusatory or mocking tone towards him. There was much that was sensible in your comment, too, but it has been marred by the quite unnecessarily aggressive tone you have adopted towards a complete stranger who meant you no harm. And if you believe you can't see where you have given cause for needless offence, I shall repeat the same request: please desist. My blog is a forum for discussion, not pointless quarrels.


Urbi Chatterjee said...

Dear Baba,

Here is an observation - whenever there is a discussion about women's issues, the comments made by women are almost invariably rude, mocking and condescending towards male commentators or males in general. While articles by feminists all over the internet insist that feminism and misandry should not necessarily exist together, real life incidents seem to put up rather a different picture. As you said, both the previous comments had sensible stuff, but the girl has gone out of her way to be offensive and patronizing in her comment. I wish women understood that being independent and free thinking does not require them to put men down all the time - in fact it just identifies them as obnoxious and uncivilized people.

To Shubhadipda I would like to say something. I absolutely agree with you on the bit about women developing street smart instead of shouting "not fair" all the time. However, I object to the bit about staying out at night and scanty clothing. While the latter is definitely avoidable and in bad taste, wearing what some would term 'decent' clothing does not ensure safety from harassment (and not just rape - eve teasing and molestation are bad enough) on roads - ask any girl and you will know. And a debate about proper clothing for women can never end - some may say skirts and short sleeves are improper, and to somebody else nothing short of salwar kameez complete with a dupatta wrapped as a shawl will do. My reason for mentioning this is that it's best to keep clothes - scanty or otherwise - out of the discussion when it comes to women's safety on roads. As for staying home at night, any time after the dark is a potentially dangerous time. It is not always possible to make sure all one's work outdoors is over by six in the evening. So while staying at home may be a solution of sorts, it is not a very practical one, don't you think?


Suvro Chatterjee said...

To Pupu and Subhadip:

Pupu, you have hit the nail on the head with the first paragraph. And as I have often said regretfully, women of a certain type simply don't realize that they are only making enemies even of decent men, and darkening their own futures that way, by tarring all men with the same brush, and talking rudely when there's no call for it. I hope some day better sense will prevail. As we know, lots of women are just as rude and arrogant and unsympathetic as the worst of men, and it seems they just cannot help it.

Subhadip, your query via email has been adequately answered by Pupu, I think. I too refuse to accept that coming home late or dressing scantily should ever be used as justification for molestation, or even mild harassment. And I say this despite deeply disliking women who insist on showing a lot of skin in public - nobody will ever convince me that it is for any reason other than shameless exhibitionism - and despite telling all girls I care for not to stay out till late if they can help it. Men who use that sort of justification for rape are rabid animals, and that is how they should be treated; if I had my way, any such man caught red-handed should be castrated without delay. But to make our roads safe for women, we need to make far deeper societal and psychological changes than we are right now even capable of contemplating seriously, so till then, it is better to be safe than sorry. Think about this: girls gush, and their teachers encourage them to gush, that no one can love like a mother, and no one affects a child more while it is growing up than a mother does. If that is true, when will mothers take a large share of the blame for the fact that their sons grow up to be rapists?


Subhadip Dutta said...

Dear Sir and dear Pupu,

I completely agree with the fact that dresses have got nothing to do with rapes. But something at the back of my mind questions me why there were not so much news about rapes during our mother's times. Rapes used to happen then also, but the frequency, I think, was much less. I seriously do not know the answer, but then when I start considering all the possibilities I become a bit confused. Maybe women were more decent, or maybe the men were more civilized and had less animal nature in them.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Now that's really a very vexed question, Subhadip, and there is no simple easy answer. a) The population is much bigger and more congested now, b) there is much more rights awareness among women, and less reluctance to keep quiet, c) the media is much more active in reporting, d) media-manufactured mischief, distorting facts and blowing things out of all proportion plays a not insignificant role, e) yes, today's men are probably much less well mannered on average, much less inhibited by old taboos, f) a lot of women have discovered that accusing, or even threatening to accuse men of rape works wonders for them in all sorts of ways, and they are using the advantage to the hilt.

This evil will not easily and quickly go away. Meanwhile, try to keep your own women safe.


Suvro Chatterjee said...

I meant 'less reluctance to speak out', of course. My apologies. That's what comes of letting your attention flicker even for a few moments when you are doing something important!

I am both gratified and grateful for this article in The Hindu, especially because it was written by a woman (http://bit.ly/1xQxQeR). Thank God that all 'educated' women have not grown up to be foolish and blindly self-centred, consumption-obsessed, attention grabbing viragos. I cannot praise enough these lines especially: 'Ms. Padukone claims that it is her choice to “have sex outside of marriage or to not have sex at all”. When did making choices in a marriage, including adultery, suddenly become the choice of the woman alone? In a marriage, the consent of both individuals in making any choice is crucial. Suddenly declaring that it is the woman’s choice to do whatever she pleases isn’t a feminist idea, it’s a sure way of damaging relationships.' Also read the last paragraph very closely.

As I keep insisting, I am all for an affirmation and expansion of women's rights: what I am virulently opposed to is how the 'me generation' of women are forgetting a very basic principle, namely that all rights must be circumscribed by responsibilities if they are not to degenerate into licence for vicious selfishness. And at least Deepika Padukone is somebody - in a very limited sense, living on crumbs off the table of SRK and Salman Khan employing herself as the only thing she is good for, namely eye-candy for prurient males (which goes very well with her assertion of her rights and dignity as a human being, I'm sure!) But the millions of wannabe DPs on Facebook and twitter who yell and shriek in her support? They will only get my contempt and ridicule, most especially the tiny fraction of them who have had me for a teacher but learnt nothing worthwhile - while my cook, who lives a hard but very honest working life, will always find her dadababu a very good friend in need...