The more things change, the more they remain the same. Picture this:
Shweta’s husband regularly attended all her Kathak performances, while they were courting. Once married, he insisted that she give up performing on stage, as he didn’t like the idea of every male in the audience “mentally stripping her.”
Kamini will be “allowed” to work after marriage, so long as she refuses transfers and doesn’t upset the domestic applecart, thereby bidding goodbye to any chances of promotion.
Bina is a gynaecologist with a thriving practice, built painstakingly. Her husband demanded that she spend more time with the family, as he earned “enough for both.” She curtailed her evening practice, feeling resentful at this clipping of her career wings.
The Indian woman has come a long way. Education has empowered her and there is little that she is leaving unconquered. From corporate boardrooms to politics, sports, literature, technology, aviation, and business, women have been making huge strides in new India.
So, what kind of man does the woman of today want to be with? A man who can cook and help in household chores; who will not feel insecure financially if she earns well; who will respect ‘me time’ for both; who won’t expect her to sacrifice her career prospects to primarily suit his needs, and will understand and be sensitive to her feelings, among other things.
But are the men living up to the changed expectations of women? While we raised our girls to be assertive, stand up for their rights and chase their dreams, we seem to have ignored sensitising our boys to the changes in their sisters! “Boys will be boys!” “It is what it is,” we seem to believe, resulting in a whole generation of young men still being raised the way they were for the last several decades.
Traditionally, there is an assumption that strength, empowerment, passion and drive are predominantly male attributes, and that receptivity, expressiveness, kindness and gentleness are the domain of the female.
But clinical psychologist Randi Gunther writes in Rigid Gender Roles Enemies of the New Intimacy: ‘Every man and every woman has the capacity for both assertive and self-sacrificing behaviours… some are genetically more naturally inclined to take risks, to assume control… just as others prefer to follow someone they respect and feel naturally more comfortable in a supportive role.'
When a matrimonial advertisement asks for a ‘modern woman with traditional values’, what are the expectations? Saumya, an architect, explains, “A woman who is confident but not too forward, stylishly dressed but not too provocative, intelligent but not over smart, articulate but not outspoken, holding her own but not arrogant, successful but not self-centred, sexy but not slutty, to give a few examples.”
Cicilia Chettiar, HoD, Dept. of Psychology, MNW College, Mumbai, says, “A patriarchal mindset is strongly entrenched in both, men and women in India. Women do go on to accomplish several goals, but with a very loud voice in their head saying, ‘I, being a woman, have done this’. It should be ‘I, being capable, have done this’.”
Beneath all this lies a darker subtext. The firm belief that whether speaking of premarital sex, dating, career, dressing, or socialising, the modern woman is taking equality ‘too far.’ One day, she may even dispense with the man! Hence, she needs ‘checking’ and ‘monitoring.’
Chettiar says gender stereotyping occurs daily and is so subtle, we may not even be aware of it. “A simple example. Whenever guests come home, it is assumed that the woman will offer the standard glass of water, while the man will sit down with the guests. How many homes have you seen the reverse happening?”
Gender stereotypes are an issue because they provide a set of rigid, inflexible rules each spouse must abide by. These stereotypes are indoctrinated in children from early childhood when children are taught what colour of dress they should wear, what kind of toys they should play with, how they should sit, stand or conduct themselves with others, what hobbies they should cultivate, whether they can go out alone, whether schoolwork or domestic chores take precedence and the like.
Chettiar is emphatic that, “Treating a woman as an equal has to come from childhood, from the home and schools. Pushing it into their systems later is still window dressing attitudes.”
She summarises, “Stop treating men as different. Don’t hesitate to ask men in the home or at work to do what you have always done. And don’t leave traditionally male roles to men. Women must start thinking they are equal and they don’t have to try hard to prove this equality. They just are. Believe it.”...