Five women. Lots of laughter. A flurry of questions. Interesting answers. An appreciative audience.
At a recent panel discussion titled “How Society Stereotypes Women” held at Oxford Bookstore noted women authors, Andaleeb Wajid, Sheila Kumar, Radha Thomas, Vijaya Lukose and Shoba Narayan came together to talk about society, its women and the roles they play in it. Drawing from their cultural heritage, professional experience and personal stories, the panellists engaged in animated discussion, witty comeback and lively debate that amused and engaged participants.
“I do not think we can escape stereotypes but we need to find a niche within it,” says Sheila whose book Kith and Kin , is a collection of short stories set in Kerala, which revolve around a matriarchal Nair family. Talking about her book she notes that in spite of the matriarchal traditions, there is perhaps no society as male-centric as Kerala. Objectification of women is however not really restricted to India, says Shoba Narayan, award- winning author of Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes . “America too objectifies women,” she says adding that every country has its fair set of problems. “We worry about different things in India and the US.”
Vijaya Lukose who has over 20 years of experience in the aviation industry and has recently released her first book titled Ten Steps to Become an Air Hostess however states that Indian travellers still don’t treat air-hostesses respectfully. “International air-hostesses don’t face the sort of harassment that the ones on domestic flights face. They also do end up having to work harder,” she says, adding that “It’s changing but it will still take some time.”
Radha Thomas, though an anomaly of sorts in the male-dominated Jazz circuit says that though she has never performed with another woman she has, “never felt objectified or attacked in a particular way”. “A woman is first a human being,” she adds.
Andaleeb Wajid, author of Kite Strings and Blinkers Off, believes that though stereotypes cannot help but exist, they also can be altered. “I come from a conservative Muslim family — I was married off at 19 and I wear a burka yet I managed to become a writer. Stereotypes can constantly be changed — in fact we make a change as we speak.”