So a friend of mine is back from her short visit home. Another friend from India is in town on a holiday after a business tour. The past week I have been talking, dancing, reading and listening to a lot of about being a ‘woman’. Somethings have been subtle. Some other observations more on the face. But all of these messages were the same. It all had to do with going through life as a woman. On the one hand I nod in affirmation but we have been talking about these issues for so long now. You know, us girls. We talk to each other about our ambitions, what we want to do with our lives, where we want to go, who we want to become, how we would like to grow older, meet someone or maybe not, have kids or maybe not.
Over the past couple of months this debate has raged over the internet spearheaded by some exceptionally honest and succinct blogs, from the grass roots, from girls who have grown up in these worlds and now find themselves as young women in the same society – nothing has changed.
Which leads me to think – where are the men in this? What do they have to say?
I am not talking about dad or uncles or god fathers or community leaders. I’m talking of your classmates, your guy friends who you have kept in touch with for a long time, guys the same age as us. What do they think of all this, have I missed the tide of dissent from them?
Eve Ensler recently started V Day’s new campaign (well it isn’t very new, perhaps a year or two old) V-Men. The focus up to now is on men from Africa or men from Black and Ethnic Minority groups in USA. So what do men in Asia think? What do Malala’s friends who are boys and of the same age think?
It is funny how I have had discussions on gender equality with my girl friends and cousin sisters. But the only time I remember talking about treating women with respect or about the dynamism between the two genders in India with boys, that is, guy friends or cousin brothers is to do with ‘appropriate’ behaviour. It was when I was given my first orientation to a fact that many of us are aware of – ‘if a boy is a flirt and speaks of a million imagined and/or real girl friends he is a ‘hunk’ and if a girl does the same she is a ‘slut’. Or that if you are a successful woman it is best to stay single, not all men in a relationship are supportive of wives who are more successful than them. It is sad that these are the only conversations that I have heard. We talk about social networks and blogging and all of this technology. With all of this and the exceptional education my friends, family and I have been gifted I can count on my fingers the number of guy friends who have posted articles on women, their rights and empowerment. ONE. This, even including those who are regular bloggers. I understand that not everyone uses social media the same way and that not everybody on your Facebook friend’s list is actually your friend.But I find it very hard to believe that in today’s time, you, the guys on my friend’s list did not once read an article on gender or women or girls that made you stop and want to share it, not to make a ‘happening’ statement but just to say ‘ hey girls! I think all of you are doing fantastic and I am proud to know you.’
Of course, you can say this is not representative, that I have a very conservative set of friends from the opposite sex or that there needs to be more elaboration about the context of the conversation.But even after considering all the possibilities of bias you can think of,I have never heard otherwise. No friend of mine has ever reported having heard empowering messages from their male peers. Rather if you are looking for ‘consistency’ there seems only one. Young men between the age groups of 18-30 much prefer to talk about women as objects to be coveted, may I add ‘ Bollywood/ Tollywood/Whateverwood’ style’. Think about it, my sister, our friends and I have been bought up to be independent, take the risk, find yourself alone and you will learn along the way. The conversations about empowerment are not always materialistic, its ‘wholesome’. It takes into account character building as well as career aspirations. The need to be a good human being first and then everything else.With the boys its always about becoming an engineer or a doctor or a corporate honcho. It is about the first cars, the first expensive ‘date’, about what you did with your first salary. Again, no talk about following what you really want to do, taking the leap of faith; no talk ‘about them’. Talk ‘about’ them is actually talk ‘for’ them or more recently, ‘talk at them’.
Boys in the age group of 18-30 aren’t voicing out their opinions on the same issues that infuriate girls and women the same age because they have been socialised, possibly now more than ever to be ‘talked for or at’. When did you last hear, “my son is doing this and plans to do that” when all along he was sitting right there.
So girls, firstly let us stop and pat ourselves on the back for ‘solidarity’. We aren’t over-reacting or being emotional. That is just a guy’s excuse for his inability to possess good self-esteem. Now don’t tell me I am being arrogant or going with the trend. To you (yes the guy who may be reading this) there is no reason why you shouldn’t be as emphatic as we are about the causes we support or talk about. If anything, your voice should be louder because you have seen first hand the different meanings and connotations of what it means to be empowered.
So if you are a boy/man or whatever you choose to identify as, voice your opinion, speak up when you know that something – thought, tradition, religion, practice etc etc etc is wrong. Be man enough to admit that things can be otherwise.