I grew up without a father figure. I have a father and we keep in touch. My mom and him are still together, but he always worked abroad or in a different state. I studied at an all girl’s school. I grew up at a church where the guys never spoke to me. My male relatives were a non-prominent part of my life. So I grew up not knowing anything about men. At around adolescence, I started getting attracted to men, but I guess that was more biological than anything else. Men were an enigma to me. A mysterious sub-species that I knew nothing about. I was drawn to them in an inexplicable way.
I completed my Bachelors at an all-girls college – 3 years at Women’s Christian College. I met a few guys, crushed on a few of them, crushed long and hard on two of them, was completely appalled by some of them. I lost my fascination with men at the end of three years. My professors and classmates and friends helped me build up my self-esteem, something that had long been destroyed at my school. I became one of the smart ones. These three years are what I call the Golden Age of Lebanah, the best years of my life. I thrived, I grew, I was happy for once in my life.
I did my Masters at an all-girls college and threw myself completely into the wonderful and strenuous world of English Literature. I forgot all about my fascination with the male of the species as I slogged away at assignments and tests and seminars. I studied some texts that irrevocably changed who I was. I settled for friendships with men. I met some strong, independent women. My Stella days are what I am proud of. They were two difficult years and I wish I could have had more of them.
I fell in love with the idea of love and married a man who claimed to love me. I thought I loved him too, but neither of us knew what love really was. Four years later, I think we’re finally beginning to understand what it truly means to love one another.
I started working at a place where 8 out of 10 people are men. I still work there. There are more men in my life now than I have ever had in all my life. Students, co-workers, my boss – so many men.
Maybe women who grew up having a proportionate number of men around them don’t find men strange. But the more I know about this half of humanity, the more outraged, appalled, disgusted and irked I am.
I never knew how strongly against men I had started to feel, until one day my husband gestured across the room at me and asked me to join a group of people at church. I started walking towards them, noticed they were all men, thought to myself “ugh” and gestured back at my husband that I’d rather stay where I was.
Most Indian men are sexist. They don’t even know it. If you point it out to them, they will be appalled. They’ll deny it, but they are. That’s what makes me so angry at my culture. Indian culture in itself is sexist in nature. The cherished traditions of our ancestors oppress women. The fact that it is so ingrained in the psyche of everyone makes it harder to recognise it for what it is. Most women are sexist too. Maybe if I had been brought up with a beloved sexist father at home, I would have easily slid into the role that was meant for me. But no, I was brought up completely by women. The number of adult men I encountered on a regular basis, as a child, as I remember them were:
- Pakkathuveetu maama
- paal podra Gopal uncle
- Paper edukra Balaji Uncle
- Christopher driver
- School terroriser/caretaker/supervisor – Pandian Uncle
I am starting to ramble now!
I don’t quite know how to put my frustrations into words. Let me try again.
Growing up with no men around meant that we women had to do everything by ourselves. Even now as an adult, I crinkle my nose at women who look around for men to carry heavy objects. I guess in a mixed school, boys would be asked to carry tables or chairs and put up charts on the wall. But we girls grew up doing these things by ourselves. We even got out of our school bus and pushed it a few times when it wouldn’t start.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I hate gender roles. I hate that society dictates what men should do and what women should do. I hate that most women bring up their sons to be irresponsible boy husbands, instead of strong, self-sufficient men who don’t need a woman at their beck and call. Some men are lost without their wives or mothers. Even though they may be well into adulthood, most Indian men are incapable of looking after themselves.
I have a theory about how this came to be.
The whole world was sexist. Most women weren’t allowed to be part of the larger society that men were an integral part of. The only place that a woman had any control over was her household. The only roles that she was commended for excelling in were those of wife, mother, cook, nurse, maid, caretaker and teacher. So she learnt how to play these roles even when they didn’t come to her naturally. Over the years, this became a norm. Women fiercely protected their territory to have a control over this small sphere of their lives. Most times, they did not allow men into this world and sometimes vehemently protested against the men entering into their own tiny spheres of influence.
Over the years, these qualities came to become the virtues of womanhood. They tried hard to keep the men in their lives (their husbands, and sons who would become their future caretakers) under their thumb by being doing everything for them, in what everyone, including the women thought was love, but was actually just a vigorously fierce assertion of their importance. This is the only thing they had, they didn’t want to lose this.
It was difficult for most women at that time to feel important anywhere else. I don’t know how it started, but somewhere it did and it grew to be the norm all over the world.
This changed in the Western World after World War II. Most of the world was at war and most countries sent every able man to war. During those 6 years between 1939 and 1945, women started working and were employed in the army, they filled the roles of men at desk jobs, they were also working at home to provide for their families.
Women soon realised that they had the capacity to do so much more. Women who got jobs during the war kept their jobs even after the war ended. They demanded more rights and had become highly independent! They wanted to work, and the divorce rate rose.
Feminist movements became rampant and as always the influence of the West spread to the East as well. But since Indian women had no such cathartic experience, we are still stuck half way between here and there.
Dowry is still a problem in India, instead of finding a way to eradicate this social evil, instead of elevating women to a status above that of a glorified slave, we abort female foetuses and kill female infants. This country truly disgusts me.
As an only child and daughter whose father always spoke as if he regretted that I wasn’t a boy, I can say that I am more than just outraged.
I see men with fragile egos, who fail to realise that they cannot demand special treatment, simply because they have genitals that distinguish them as different from women.
I was talking with a group of men about how I support a woman’s right to divorce her husband in case of marital abuse and I got a remark from a man who said, “We men have problems with women too”.
“What problems?” I asked, genuinely interested in his reply.
“Women talk too much!” he said sniggering flippantly.
“What? Seriously? I am talking about men who beat their wives and you’re telling me about how your wife talks to you?”
“Yeah, and then she expects me to talk to her too!” he said still sniggering.
“What do you men want?” I asked him.
“Men need love, respect and admiration” he said.
I blew my top. I completely bit his head off and tore him to pieces! I hadn’t lost my temper like that in a few years!
“You don’t want to spend time with your wife, you don’t want her to talk to you, you don’t want to talk to her but YOU want love, respect and admiration?” I demanded!
Men like this irritate me! Men who are flippant about the sacrifices their wives make for them. Men who talk about how their “freedom” is gone, now that they are married. It irritates me because as a married Indian woman, I know that we women make greater sacrifices than men do in marriage. And if marriage upsets you so much, why did you get married? Why do you stay married? You want a slave who will do everything for you and question none of your actions and expect nothing in return! You dear sirs, are assholes.
For those of you who still don’t understand what equality means, treat a woman as you would a fellow man. Would you hand a man an empty plate? Or a dirty cup? Would you interrupt two men who are talking seriously to make a stupid joke? Would you ask a man who is busy to come and serve you food that’s an arm’s reach away from you?
Indian women are also to blame for this! They enable their husbands to continue to be sexist and teach their sons to do the same. We need to change this! One woman at a time, one husband at a time, one son at a time.