Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gender Dynamics

The case stated at the two ends of the spectrum are, women have gotten assertive given their new found economic strength, they treat men shabbily. The other end being men are being boorish, don't give women their due, today she is at equal footing and then why is she still expected to carry out chores which have traditionally been on her plate, whence she is doing as much if not more than the man is.

The other point of discussion that keeps cropping up is the comparison of India with the western world. If they can, why can’t we? Are they not better off? Why is the Indian man being defensive and in a state of denial when compared to his western counterpart?

Let’s get the easier piece out of the way. Comparison beyond a point is meaningless. If we know where we want to be, where the rest are should not matter to us. Where it could add value is to set benchmarks and aspirations. The challenge is, a large part of our perception about the western world is formed from popular entertainment and brief cursory peeks into their world. This can result in flawed views of their world. Another divide is the urban and non urban, just as much as our social values/norms and acceptance of deviations from them are a lot higher in urban India, so is the case with the western world. They too have the divide leading to different levels of acceptances to deviations and levels of freedom to operate purely based on individual choices. Hence when making comparisons we might want to keep this factor in mind. The challenge of society readjusting to an assertive woman who demands equality and the right to make the choices she deems fit is by far faced world over. Each society is at a different stage and the degree of acceptance of the woman being an equal varies, not just in between Countries/culture but within these geographical confines, in terms of urban and non-urban. Socioeconomic parameters and structures play a significant role.

Are man and woman equal? See no reason why not. They are different and have carried out for a long while distinctly different functions. They are not the same is obvious, but does not make them unequal. Are they equals in today's world? No they are not; I doubt any sane person would even try to debate that. Where lies the rub then, it is in the degrees. It is by and large the man's attitude - 'it used to be a lot worse, count your blessings....’ or ‘I have given up so much of my power, yet you’re not happy'. Power shift is at all times a messy affair, the one in decline trying to hold hard - for remember though in a decline, it remains the more powerful and hence is likely to resist. On the other hand the emerging force will do its best to unseat. Given this nature there is bound to be chaos.

Society is at all times in a flux; it is in a transition given the dynamic nature of life. The woman is finding her place and today is beginning to find the strength to assert and hold her ground. From an Urban India perspective, I would call this the first generation of working women. For many of us in their late 30s, if one looked back at our childhood a working woman was the exception not the rule. Today in urban India it is a lot different, a large number of women do go out and work and make enough monies to support them-selves. Slowly but surely a small percentage of them are finding their way to positions of power. Many of them are in a position of financial independence with which come, the freedom to be able to make choices. Does not mean that the deep set social conditioning vanishes, for the few who are able to transcend that conditioning they find that they are in a position to make choices.

My sympathies are for this generation at large, men and women. I as a 'man' grew up in a time where clearly the 'man' called the shots. The social landscape I grew up in told me this. If I the man told so, the woman would do it. The man put the money on the table so he pretty much set the rules. If he did not beat his wife up, it was his benevolence. Most of us grew up watching Daddy ask for tea and Mommy making it. Father just sat at the table mother brought the food. Division of labour one could argue, but the point remains I grew up watching the man order and the woman listen. Depending on various parameters the ordering might have varied from autocratic and harsh, to an order sugar coated as request. Without dwelling on the reasoning or being judgmental, suffices to say that it was the social norm of the day.

Today now when I am grown up and it is time for me taking over the baton, ain’t I likely to replicate the old order, and more so given it is an order convenient and kind to me. But hey here is where I am in for a shock, the order is changing (Like in 'Who moved my cheese' Hem and Haw did not see this coming - and some of us are still in an empty cheese station howling and ranting). Today the woman is in the process of finding power, given her financial independence and the belief that she can look after herself (at least in many parts of urban India) and does not have to take all that is dished out to her. Now here lies the crux the issue, the shifting power and two entities finding themselves in places they are not used to being in. It will take the man a while to realize that the order he grew in, no more exists and that he has to move on and live in a new order (like the mice and men in "Who moved my cheese (pdf)" - the men take a lot longer to learn then the mice) and in this period of learning, he is lashing out hard and making it difficult for himself as much as for her. He needs to realize the old order had inherent flaws; it treated the woman as being subjugated to the man which is not tenable in today's world. As for the woman who has this new found power in hand, she is not sure how best to use it. Given the generations of oppression she is likely to be hitting really hard at every small and big issue, though understandable it does a fair share of damage. This phase brings with it, its own sets of challenges. Compromises don't come easy with both sides hardening up. Many more small fights are fought with same uncompromising fervour of the large. From the man's point of view the woman has a lot to celebrate. From the woman's point of view the man has a lot of growing up to do, lot of insecurities to shed, and lots more work to share in areas he will never have dreamt off. The woman has many a rightful grudge. If the man entered the kitchen it was like he lifted the Himalayas, where as he was just sharing work load. A man looks after the baby, and 'Awwww he is babysitting so sweet of him', heard of a retort from a not so pleased wife ‘He is parenting his child not babysitting' so no big deal. These are milder anecdotes. Many of the stories, many of us have heard cease being anecdotes and are nightmares.

Changes in society takes time coming, in individuals it could be faster, generally an intellectual acceptance to the need for change will be the first step, once that is made one needs to undo the deep set conditioning of the mind, an act easier said than done. Hence the dichotomy we see in people. In principle I would accept many things. But my actions are not driven only by my intellectual understanding but also by the conditioning of the mind. No wonder it is so common to see a person you think is strong and will have the strength to stand up for herself and make the choices she deems fit, falter time and again. So many times we see them not making the choices they want to in-spite of being convinced it is the right thing to do. Leaves us wondering 'she is confident, can look after herself and yet takes the shit she does'. This plausibly comes from the deep social conditioning, reaffirmed over generations until now, stating her place in society based on the old order. Same would apply to the man, where in theory he sounds perfect, and liberal, believes all are equal yet his actions might not match up.

We say the urban western world is way ahead of us, they are possibly in the second or third generation where the working woman has been the norm and hence they have learnt a lot more (They too continue to face challenges). Can we not learn faster? For that there has to be a primary acceptance that women are equals and hence any act that serves the purpose, needs to be seen as a correction and not an act of charity or concession. The systems / laws of the land need to reflect this consistently. Social norms and values will follow. In time the man will, or rather one hopes he will find the confidence to be himself and let got the old crutches of power that help him oppress. The woman in time would learn to wield that new found power better. Yet lot would depend on how well the man readjusts to the new order and in the interim we are going to see gory stories strung out to justify extreme reactions on both ends of the spectrum.

This upheaval is not true only for gender; probably the mechanisms remain same for all social inequalities old and new.


  1. You saw your mother pandering to your father's orders...but did you see your father pandering to his boss's oders, bending backwards, just to make sure that there is enough money for the dinner to be bought, for your fees to be paid?

    1. Valid point you make. Implied there in, is the fact that the man is the boss of the house. For he puts the bread on the table and hence the woman being subjugated is acceptable. That sure was the old unquestioned order in society. Is that a desired one is a question to be asked, any sort of oppression right or wrong will questioned with time. Today with woman being as much a part of putting the bread on the table, the status-quo is bound to be questioned and is being questioned..... and that has been the thrust of the piece, the pendulum is bound to swing, there will be chaos.... the thrust of the piece is, can we manage it better with understanding and appreciation from all stake holders......