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Saturday, August 14, 2010

My Fight against ‘Gender-Stereotypes'

I started writing this on being tagged for ‘My 10 sins against Gender-stereotypes’ but it took a form of its own. I have included a poem I wrote long back. ‘10’ is too small a number for the list my sins against gender stereotype and ‘otherwise’ (lol), a hundred would be the nearest estimate. Since I may end up in a lot of trouble for such confessions, I have, instead, given you a true story from the story of my married life.

I wish it were as simple as calling a spade a spade.

It is not.

It has a history that has proved difficult to rewrite. I think is started in the cave of the early man where muscle and stamina decided the fate of a tribe. A pregnant woman couldn’t hunt, nor could a mother carry her newborn into the battle field. Blessed with a leak-proof and uninflatable body, man took over as an ever-ready protector of an unfortunate vulnerable species called ‘woman’.

Centuries of stereotyping
Has set in concrete minds
Reinforced by the need
To get the menial jobs done,
Created a species alien to man
Ruled and used and wooed to comply.

Stereotyping!  Who’s to be blamed?

I think women are more to be blamed for the image that is in vogue today! I bet she gained more from it than she would like to admit. And did it make her timid and afraid to try new things? I think it did.

Most women I see around me, have resigned to the fact that they are inferior. Women, who see domestic violence as natural and accept it as a way of life, may be on the decline, but they still do not recognize emotional blackmailing as an offence. That’s were societal stereotyping plays a role. Step out of the line of accepted behaviour, and you are branded. The same behaviour in men is warranted ‘macho’, and (accepted by women too) as a biological right.

Branded she is in everything she does
GOSSIP she does while men just communicate
SCHEAMER she is while men strategize
She NAGS on and on while he just insists
Mask in place she is DUPLICITOUS but world-wise he is
if the mask were his
SHREWISH she is while men just shrewd and clever
Progress makes her NYMPHOLEPTIC
but he is but a go-getter
Lateness gets her the LOOSE WOMAN tag while man
relax and bond late into the night

Are there women who have braved the onslaught of verbal abuse directed at them by the protectors of societal virtue?

Kamala Das comes to mind. Branded an ‘iconoclast’ for her description of female sexual desires very candidly, unfettered by society’s notions of right and wrong. She simply embraced the role of a very honest woman, very unlike any regular Indian woman poet. She had the guts to say, "I always wanted love, and if one doesn't get it within ones home, one strays a little."

Women everywhere are rewriting rules
Labels flying as new domains open
Retaining her name and meeting him halfway
The revolution is here with wheels spinning faster
Get off the brand-wagon and join in the fun.
Remember she does the cooking 
‘coz you don’t know how.

So what is being the opposite of a stereotypical woman? If she is not submissive, then she is arrogant. If she has no time for small talk, she is proud. The list is never-ending.

Can you be polite, sensitive, elegant, well dressed, nonprofane uttering smart go getter and still be known as a proud, my-way-or-the-highway type.

Working women are hard pressed for time and the burden of the stereotypic ‘domestic labour’ falls on her shoulder. She ends up doing both with aplomb. As I have said in my poem, “Remember she does the cooking ‘coz you don’t know how.”  And it is time for men to “Get off the brand (male-stereotype)-wagon and join in the fun”.


With 3 men in the house, I went on a 4 day spoon-down some10 years ago. I neither cooked nor fetched, picked-up-after nor laid the table. I ate what they brought home from the Hotels. I slept, after the TV was switched off, on top of discarded towels and clothes. No morning alarms and no time keeping. Chaos reigned. My home sweet home, looked like Laila had come visiting.  After the 4 day strike and after some earnest finger-pointing, there was dialogue. Lines were drawn and redrawn, till we were all exhausted.

I think it is all about being ‘assertive’. Woman has to stop being an ever-so-overused- foot-mat and unfurl to assert herself. Set limits for foot-mattishness. Get the family involved by assigning duties and make each one of them accountable for those. It could be a Mahabharat at home during the initiation but steer the boat through those choppy waters with humour!

The change starts at home. Fight for what you want. Be the change you want to see. The world would be a happier place if there were no inequalities, so would a family.

Give the woman her due.

26 COMMENTS:

Lazy Pineapple said...

hey Nalini...loved your post..I so totally agree on being assertive and having equal rights. We are three sisters so have always been taught to be confident and fighting for your self respect. There is no gender bias in our family.

Thankfully I married a guy who also believes in what I do..though sometimes he derails and starts thinking like a typical man..I do stuff similar to what you did and things fall back in place :)
Sorry have not been able to read regularly...undergoing the long process of settling down back in India. But will be regular reader soon..

Purba said...

Not many women will have the guts to be so brutally honest. To go on a strike against what is normally expected of her.

We are what we let ourselves be.

A standing ovation for the woman who wrote it!!!

Anonymous said...

I would like to exchange links with your site nalinihebbar-poetry.blogspot.com
Is this possible?

Shri Ram Ayyangar said...

You could have added Kiran Bedi also.

Ana_treek said...

Why do all these things haunt women when they are so blatantly wrong?!.. I think its so because women keep quiet, but why?!

Hari said...

Maybe we should stop looking at each other as men or women but just as human beings.

Nalini Hebbar said...

Ah! I am glad this topic has generated some heat...let the fire burn on and change will come if we keep the fire going...keep saying it and it will not be unheard...this seed of thought will have to blossom one day into something that women all over the world will be relieved to see...thanks everyone

anjugandhi said...

loved your post
and realised what ever you have written is so true
but very few has the guts and the power of expressing the way you have done

anjugandhi said...

since childhood the girls and boys are taught certain stereotyped roles
so it becomes very difficult for either of the sex to deviate from that set
i also tried once to involve my husband in the household work and what i got was comments and comments from inlaws -- how could a newcomer let the apple of their eye to such menial jobs as helping in the household work
if the strike worked for you than you are a lucky one indeed

Nalini Hebbar said...

@ LPine...the younger generations have it a bit easier and I am happy that you have striven for a balance and have achieved it...way to go!
happy settling-in! must be tough...India is a crazy country but there will never be a dull moment, I bet.

Nalini Hebbar said...

@ Purba...25 years of conditioning can't be overturned even by a 24 year old marriage...now and then the red flags do come out of the closet! :)

Nalini Hebbar said...

@Ana_trek...to fight the gender stereotype is not easy coz you can get labled as bad woman/mother/wife and most women would rather live with a few snatched happy moments than live a tortured emotionally drained life always on the guard.

Nalini Hebbar said...

@ Ayyangar...Kiran Bedi is my favourite and she has achieved so much against bias in the work place-Tihar Jail posting which is ultimately used to turn the jail around with her wisdom but I hope she has not had to face it at home ...I have heard that theirs is a marriage made in heaven with each there for each other but living their worldly roles with commitment.

Nalini Hebbar said...

@ Hari...that's easier said than done! :)

Nalini Hebbar said...

@ Anju...life has too many tough choices...don't we all take the easy way out! Sometimes it is easier to just resign and go with the flow that to suffer torturous comments...what influences my decisions is that daughter-in-law who's life seems to hang on how I mould my sons! Scary thought!

heyithinkthisway said...

Hey Nalini..
Loved your post..As you told these matters get solved once if every home start solving it..
About Kamala das..Yes,,she was an awesome woman who was very assertive..her autobiography was a great book.I felt the malayalam version of it was the best.

Coming to the issues..most of the women are scared whether they will end up ina broken marriage or not..if its a joint family then their they won't attempt at all :(

zephyr said...

I so agree with you that change should begin at home and a little assertiveness would go a long way in smoothing things out for the woman! Loved the post.

navsingh said...

Loved your post twice because i red it twice.Good Work

arpana said...

Really liked the assertion made by you.But females are simply different persona with different strength, and family and society cannot do without us.

Acai Cleanse Detox said...

Sure equality and equal treatment of genders is a nice thing, but the main problem is that the customs and the thinking associated with such matters cannot change overnight.

Nalini Hebbar said...

@heyithink...big fan of hers too!...joint families had some advantages long long ago but now they are breeders of discontent...every member has a different economic status...this leads to jealousy and dissent...thanks for visiting and sharing your views:)

Nalini Hebbar said...

@zephyr @navsingh...thanks a ton for visiting...do read often

Nalini Hebbar said...

@ Aparna...women are of different types but it is the underlying principles that are questionable.

Saras said...

There is a limit for tolerating gender bias. I agree that the only way to correct it would be to resist and insist on correct behaviour. As a wise man said, "Your freedom stops where my nose begins."

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