I have to travel to a different city this month for work. And my first thought was what will I wear to the meeting? I was more worried about what time I will reach there, where will I stay, will my clothes be in synch with the trend there. I realised, I did exactly what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in her book ‘We should all be Feminists’. If I was a male, I would have prepared my notes, set up my schedule for the meeting. But, as a female, I thought about that last. Isn’t that how we are all wired to think? Isn’t it a bit unfair that we have to worry about our appearance, an external, superfluous facade while the men can just go in crumpled suits and bad hair and get the work done?
We should all be Feminists is an essay prepared by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author, for a TedX talk in 2012. It was published as a 52 pages book in 2014. You should all read it, atleast once. Or listen to the talk which is available on the net.
Chimamanda talks about the differences we apply when treating women, just because they are women. She says in her own words, ‘by being born female, she is guilty of something.’ We women are victims of our own society, in the way we are raised. It is in the way we are asked to dress, not to appear too smart in front of a prospective groom, look down when we talk, do not raise your voice against men. Well, we can have whole chapters on honour killing, female foeticide, child marriages, sati. Many of our laws also do not grant equal freedom or financial security to women. We even have some famous phrases in Malayalam like, “when men are talking, there is no need of a woman to give her views or concern as it is insulting to the men.”. In fact, when searching for a bride in the family, we are put off if we have to speak with a woman even over the phone. Comments like, “the woman seems to be the decision maker in the house” is passed and looked down at. We have to put on symbols to show that we are married like the mangal sutra, sindoor. What about the men? They do not have to declare their marital status so blatantly. One of my woman friends started earning more than her husband. I remember her mother was so concerned that the poor husband will feel bad about it. Bad for what? For being successful? For having an intelligent, educated and well-earning wife? If it was the man, the woman would have been proud about it and may have flaunted it.
Chimamanda has pointed out that we are doing a great “disservice” not only in the way girls are brought up but also boys. She says, ““We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.” As the mother of two boys, I whole-heartedly agree with her. Boys are automatically expected to study harder and earn better than their spouses. It is mandatory that they should be a success financially. It pressurizes the boys to get better jobs without giving a thought to what they want to be. There is not much of creative freedom for them as well. They have to be these aggressive, strong and successful human beings who have to protect and support the females. Why? We do not want to be protected or supported. Just let us be. The recent suicide of a young man shook me. He was successful in his studies and seemed a gentle soul. But, he was a failure in getting a job. Ultimately he gave up. If it was a female, he would have worried about just getting married instead of feeling like a failure as she has the choice to remain unemployed. But a man keeping house is somehow considered inferior or unsuccessful. I wish we can stop gender stereo typing and let people be. It is bad for the boys, but worse for the girls.
When young, we give the girls wings to fly and tell them to reach for the stars. As she grows older, we tell her to fly slower than the boys and only take those stars left behind by the boys. Further ahead, we also tell her that she should not go for the stars. She should be glad that she has a place on earth. Every day we kill her dreams one by one.
This book is full of similar thoughts, things we take for granted never realising that we are contributing to the gender problems. Read or hear this book. Let it make you uncomfortable and change your ways in bringing up the next generation of boys and girls. Highly recommended for all.