The India BlogThe India Blog is about the socio-political-economic landscape of the country, its cultural moorings and the challenges it faces – whatever affects the lives and future of the people living within its boundaries and beyond.
How often have you walked down the aisles of a toy store and picked up a "Barbie" for your adorable nephew? Never, right? It's not as if we have anything against that statistically challenged, perfectly coiffured doll. Why, we have always bought them and their million accessories for our little girls! Smiled indulgently as we watched them spend hours dressing and undressing the Barbie and cooking imaginary meals for a party. Now, imagine your son doing the same. Wearing a crown on his head and pretending he's Ms Universe! You'd be horrified, right? Pray that this too shall pass and he will come back to his senses.
How often have you sniggered at a man wearing yellow shoes and a pink shirt! Asked your son to stop crying and be a man - called your friend henpecked when you saw him cooking and cleaning up after dinner while his wife sat with a glass of wine in her hand or dismissed the overtly assertive woman in your office as a bitch. Honked at the slow moving car and mumbled: only a woman can drive so badly!
What if someone came up to you and called you sexist? You'd be shocked out of your wits. Protest loudly and sputter that you believe in equality and have respect for members of either gender.
Bullshit. The truth is that we are all sexists.
I don't blame you. It's the way we have been brought up. We have been colour-conditioned since childhood by the 'pink is for girls and blue is for boys' mentality. Girls were meant to look pretty in their frills and boys were meant to look cute in their dungarees. We went to toy stores and didn't bat an eyelid before picking up trucks for boys and dolls for girls. Watched umpteen number of movies where the beautiful girl gets rescued by the swashbuckling man and rides with him into the sunset. Found ads where the woman cooks and cleans and worries about her husband's growing waistline, perfectly normal.
These are essentially roles men and women are meant to play in a normal society the woman as the care giver and the man as the caretaker. That's how our hairy, cave-dwelling ancestors lived. Papa caveman hunted and mama cooked and bore cave-papa children. She was loving, compassionate and ever willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family's happiness. He was strong, independent and always ready to put up a fight for the sake of honour.
I agree times are changing. Traditional ideas about male and female qualities have shifted to serve different purposes and in line with different roles. We have women heading multinational companies and uber successful chefs who are men. A man can change diapers with as much ease as a woman who plans business strategy for her company.
But let's admit it, a man behaving like a woman or woman cussing like a man, makes us uncomfortable. We expect our daughters to be ladylike and our sons to be knights in shining armour. We are happy playing the roles society assigned us. When a woman is in trouble, she knows she's expected to fend for herself but still expects the men around her to come to her rescue. When they don't, she feels let down. The definition of honour for men and women is completely different. A woman with multiple partners is a slut. A man with multiple partners and a fickle mind is George Clooney.
Men burp loudly and crack fart jokes. Women don't.
Many of you will argue that you brought up your girls like tomboys. You encouraged them to ride cycles and climb trees. But how many of us will brag about sons who loved dressing in frocks and loved playing house-house?
Pity that we are happy with our girls acting like boys and not otherwise.
Pity that to be a feminist you have to play the victim and diss men.
We still have a long way to go to be a seamless society where your gender doesn't define the roles you can play.
Till then we will let our prejudices colour our perceptions - indulge in lazy stereotyping, crack dumb blonde jokes, think that calling northeasteners names is our birth right, insist all Punjabis are loud and boorish. We do it because it suits us. Because we are too lazy to question what has been handed to us for ages, why black cannot look like purple, why femininity and masculinity should be gender specific.
And those of us who dare to think and behave differently are regarded as anomalies. It takes decades for the rest us to realise that they were not stupid but right.
Rights and wrongs evolve with knowledge. Rigidity will get us nowhere. And till realistion dawns upon us, we will all continue to be sexists.
More about Purba Ray
Purba Ray is an economics graduate who taught computers to high school students and finally found her calling in the written word. She is not a crusader, but someone who has opinions on anything and everything. She enjoys books, movies, music(not just any) and is an avid traveller.
In 2009, selected Indian children (from Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu chosen as representative states) took a test called
As an Indian, I will always revere 'Athithi Devo Bhava': expatriates or guests are 'god-like' and we must and