The Open Page (The Hindu, August 29, 2010) was enriched with five articles on gender issues, mostly from a feminine perspective. We cannot but empathise with the humiliation of a victim of being teased in public, the anguish of women forced to give up education and career for the sake of marriage and the prejudice and discrimination they continue to experience despite progressive laws that, however, exist only on paper.
The concept of gender equality needs to be re-evaluated and reinterpreted. Gender parity has been reduced to a cliché. It has become so banal on account of overuse that we don't pause to ask what it really means. Let us be clear about one thing — men and women can never be perfect equals. Nature never intended them to be. Men cannot do all that women are capable of, women cannot perform all that men do.
Women are the gentle sex, not the weaker sex as it is commonly understood. Grace and beauty are typically feminine attributes just as physical prowess is a manly quality. A role reversal is neither possible nor desirable. What I am advocating is mutual appreciation of roles — a partnership which is not constrained by notions of superiority or inferiority, but one that takes into account the inherent strengths, weaknesses and limitations that nature has imposed upon the two sexes.
Nature has gifted women with the power to create and nurture a new life. Motherhood is a glorious privilege that has been denied to the menfolk. This life-creating quality alone is enough to make society and men treat women with respect and reverence.
I support women's right to pursue higher education and a career. At the same time, deriding marriage as slavery is not wise. The family is the basic stabilising unit of a progressive society. Twenty or twenty-one may be too early to marry, but 30 or 32 will be too late. Biology is harsh on women bearing children late in their life. Late marriages can play havoc with their reproductive systems. It is good neither for the mother nor the child. It is sensible for women to start a family by at least 25 or 26.
Teasing women in public is a perverse crime that has to be tackled in its various dimensions. A friend of mine who visited the USSR and Eastern Europe in the 1970s was shocked to find women moving around in the streets alone at midnight. An attitudinal change will be possible if we sensitise boys at an early age to the need to respect the opposite sex.
In our reluctance to implement a meaningful adolescent education, we end up perpetuating misconceptions and ignorance in the minds of boys and girls. Children should be taught about the need to appreciate and accommodate the natural gender differences. Sexualisation of films and literature is a dangerous trend. Filmmakers and writers have a responsibility to portray women in a responsible and respectful manner.
Doing the daily chores inside homes can be exacting and physically draining. I salute both housewives and working women who manage their homes without a murmur of compliant. As the lone male voice in the Open Page advocated, men should learn to share household chores to lessen the burden on the lady of the house whether she is working or not. If women go out to work, do shopping, pay utility bills, why can't the men at least share some of the domestic activities?
None of the articles spoke of the travails of the women belonging to the poorer sections. The sufferings of middle class women pale into insignificance when compared with the ordeal and hardships undergone by women on the lower strata of society. These women do not have the advantages of education and economic independence which their well endowed counterparts enjoy. Millions of women in villages, especially in northern and western India, experience widespread discrimination and prejudice on account of entrenched conservatism. It is these poor women who need the support of the government and society.
Gender equality is not about parity; it is about providing an equal and enabling environment for growth and prosperity for both sexes. The relationship between the sexes should be based on mutual respect for each other's role capabilities and sensibilities. Gender equality is passé, let us usher in gender partnership.