06 Mar What we need for an equal world; an appeal to the propellers of Generation Equality.
A blog by Tasha Neel, Fifty Shades of Indian Patriarchy.
There is a lot that could be said on this International Women’s Day. A lot of well-rounded ideas and motivations will be published to further the principles of feminism. Almost all of them will resonate with someone, help someone or make someone better. I, however, want to talk about something that I have always wanted to read about during such times. I want to talk about mind-sets; the real but invisible villain responsible for all the violence, physical or emotional, towards our women and eventually our society at large.
An equal world is an enabled world. No matter how many laws we make or rapists we may hang, nothing shall change until a shift in mind-set is made. We all need to believe in equality to work towards this. That is a tough process which requires a lot of unlearning for men and women. Having worked with non-profits for almost a decade now, one thing has become exceptionally clear to me; a change is mind-set is neither fundable nor quantifiable. It is also not easy and hence never really an important agenda. My appeal on this women’s day is to make it an agenda. Do this ourselves. Unlearn and communicate.
How do we do this and what do we need to create an equal world. I think the easiest way would be to practice empathy, self-awareness and kindness. They may sound basic but are really very crucial practices.
We grew up in an extremely competitive world which was not made easy by the patriarchal pressures that robbed women of equal opportunities and voices and constantly threatened to emasculate men if god forbid, they were outdone by a woman. What a self-fulfilling prophecy! But do we realise what this constant psychological pressure, financial burden and physical competitive eco system does to us? Think about it. I believe it has made us more intolerant and cruel. Look at how we behave on the most common platforms that we use for self-expression. For example, the constant belittling of people on social media for making one insignificant mistake. “Haha you liked your own picture, how desperate”, “Boo. Typo!”, “Alia Bhat is so dumb”, “Dont be such a girl”, “Go make a sandwich”, “Slut” etc. etc. This competitive spirit has made perfection such a compulsive need that we dehumanise people who make mistakes. If you are not perfect, you are not spared. We aim for the perfect activist, the perfect movement, the perfect leader, the perfect revolution, the perfect man’s man and the perfect woman.
Sometimes I feel society has become so proud of the success it has achieved by putting women on a pedestal and forcing them to fit on that pedestal that this attitude is seeping towards everyone who is beginning to challenge these boxes we are supposed to fit in. We have lost our empathy. We are failing to understand that no one is perfect. For example, you can pull out what someone said 10 years ago and call them incompetent on the basis that today, when they are factually better and are actually making an impact. We are not perfect. No one is. Its ok to make mistakes and grow. Empathy will enable us to relate to each other, understand our problems and help solve them together. It will help change the way we think.
This lack of empathy, due to competition or social pressures is not just limited to one strata. It is the same combination that doesn’t get a daugher a glass of milk because it makes more sense to give it to the son. She goes to a government school in the village but her brother goes to a nearby private school. She will stop going to high school because that involves walking a long, unsafe distance to the nearest high school in the next village. She grows up to be a young mom and shifts to a your city and works as your housekeeper to make ends meet since she has 3 kids and her husband is an alcoholic and beats her black and blue because he has always known since childhood how little respect women deserve; where you yell at her for not displaying basic cognitive skills that her sexist school teacher did not provide to her because she is a girl and what will she amount to? A housekeeper? Do you also notice, that when you yell at her, there may be many thoughts dominating your yells at that moment, but a tiny part of it is also stemming from this compulsive need to be perfect? Does that person not deserve your empathy because they are not perfect? A little empathy towards her will go a long way in helping her and in helping you.
Have you ever noticed the massive trends of the cancel/call out culture on social media these days? Have you ever thought of the mind-set behind that trend? Obama once said, “The world is messy; there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you. This idea of purity and that you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff; you should get over that quickly…That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change,” he said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
Yes, it’s easy. It is also cruel, lacks empathy, and is not coming from a very self-aware place. It shows a reckless spirit of quickly judging someone enough to make them qualify as a product or a service in your head. Not a person. Not a human. Those are real people. You cannot cancel a person. They are not a TV show or a shampoo line or a late food delivery. Ask yourself what are you doing and why? Add that with your empathy and you will get your answer. You will understand where Obama was coming from. Ask what made you behave this way? Would you prefer switching places with that person? Is your judgement even fair? Do you know all the facts?
Know that when you yell at your made, you not only lack empathy that makes your mom keep separate utensils for your maid but the societal class divide is also deeply embedded in you and that you realise this person lacks the agency to fight back.
Think about what makes her husband behave the way he does and do you have certain behaviours in common with him?
The next time you tell a boy not to cry, understand that someone told men it’s not accepted to show emotions and be jaded. But you are educated enough to have the resources around you to understand that this is just how society wants men to behave. Men are allowed to have emotions and not live like unfeeling rocks.
The next time you tell a woman to come home on time, or call her slut, or check out her rack, or ask her to smile, or see her do the same job as you and get paid less, or call her a bad driver or see a woman riding a motorbike and feel like she dabbling outside her station, think about what made you think that way. Go to the root of that problem and figure out the morality and validity of logic of that.
The next time you are okay with extra judicial killing of rapists and scream “hang the rapists”, think about the sexism in your house or your housekeeper’s house where the women were always considered lesser and how our society at large is actually perpetuating the rape culture while it yells hang the rapists and absolves itself of all responsibility.
Become more self-aware.
This lack of empathy and self-awareness are not your solitary afflictions. Be kinder to yourself when you reach these conclusions to help yourself unlearn. But. Be kinder to others as well. #HeForShe cannot prevail without mutual kindness. If you are around a man or a woman who has realised the patriarchy instilled in them, now is not the time to shame them, cancel them or yell at them. This is the time for kindness. Help them unlearn.
The next time you find an obviously sexist person, try kindness first. Next time you wish to call a woman too emotional, try kindness first. Next time you find a man who is great in a relationship but unable to express himself, try kindness first. Next time you find a woman lecturing another woman on how to fit on the pedestal, try kindness first.
A massive change in mind-sets won’t happen in a day and certainly won’t happen organisationally on a large scale anytime soon. I am just glad there are Non-Profits working towards this but we need to chip in too.
If we each want an equal society, we need to start with Empathy, Self-Awareness and Kindness. Practice it. If you already do it then spread the word. Help create a thinking, kinder, aware and equal world. This can be the starting point of a world created by #GenerationEquality.