Empathy in Moderation

I have been reading a few very interesting posts (specifically, this and this) focusing on women rights and feminism. So, here’s the deal. I had stopped writing about feminism long back (I think this was the last post) because everyone’s idea of feminism is personal, unfortunately. I say “unfortunately”, because as passionate as we all are about the cause, we define our limits of what is feminism according to us, and somewhere one person’s independence becomes another’s scandalization/inconvenience causing much mayhem and general loss of purpose. How? Consider this (and this is just a sample). For some, having the freedom of being able to dance the night away and getting home late pissed-drunk may be where it’s at. It clashes with the idea of feminism which may be “limited” to being able to work without getting irresponsible-mommy-jabs for another person. Not saying these are necessarily mutually exclusive, but could be. Hell breaks loose when the former starts believing that the latter is short-selling feminism as a concept. And the other believes that we need to start with more reasonable things.

 In 99% of the cases, the former and the latter are women (data exclusively sourced from comment boxes of such ‘controversial’ posts). I think, in conclusion, we can safely drop the “man-hater” tag from the description of a feminist. Because essentially, she is a person seeking equality on her own terms, and for that, she is prepared to take on men as well as women. Trouble is, she wants it for others too but only on her own terms.  Whatever happened to tolerance!  This is why I call it “empathy in moderation”. We can relate with other women’s pain and issues, only so long as their needs don’t step on our toes.

Mothers will “allow” daughters to study, only as long as they don’t get the “wrong” idea that being settled in life means something other than marriage. Because anything else will be nothing short of blasphemy, and will counter the need to be seen as a perfect parent with settled kids.

Best friends will remain best buddies, only till one quits her job one fine day to stay with her kids and believes that her kids need her more than her work. Because of course, she must be judging the working mom for her choice.

Mothers-in-law love the daughters-in-law, only as long as she is doing a stellar job of keeping her opinions to herself.

Why is one woman’s desire to wear a skimpy skirt and not get groped, smaller than another’s to wear a sari? If not, why would it get a comment like “she called it upon herself” from another woman on getting molested?

Why is someone’s choice to work outside her home and let a maid share her responsibilities, inferior than someone else’s choice to stay home? Or vice versa?

Why is it that as educated, smart, feminist women, we can always feel all eyes on the back of our heads and feel this compulsive urge to stuff our definition of equality down someone else’s throat?

None of my thoughts have even ventured into the less privileged sections of women and their plight. Because the inequalities they face – no doubt way more shocking that what we ever would have to – are ironically, less hypocritical in nature.  There’s no lip service or wordy justifications made by their oppressors in their defence. Arrogance, ignorance and hopeless insecurity, yes. But no disguised, going-round-in-circles fuzzy logic and exasperating, sugar-coated platitudes, that suck the energy out of us – the women of Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai or Calcutta who are all striving for each other’s approval.

Does this mean we have to hold a huge conference and arrive at a common definition of feminism? Absolutely not. We just have to be able to look in the other direction, if we do not agree with someone else’s choice. Seems like it isn’t an easy thing to do.

Anyway, here are a few things I have observed in the last few days. These are instances that happen around me and to women like me. Do tell me if you have an opinion/story related to these:

1. Being the new-age wives we are, it’s increasingly become easier and more acceptable to say that you don’t like cooking or washing clothes or ironing or whatever. But if you end up saying “I hate all of these” to another woman, you WILL get tagged as lazy 😀 Like it’s just not possible that a woman can hate all kinds of housework!

2. You will often get told that a house becomes a home when there’s a girl in it. While that made me feel complimented for an embarrassingly long time, it’s such a reverent way of labelling you as the housekeeping department. Why don’t they say that a house becomes a home when a responsible couple stays there? Because that would mean that the housekeeping is joint, and that’s so not hawt!

3. “Ghar mein lakshmi aayi hai“. Why are we given the Durga and Lakshmi labels the moment we are born? Ofcourse, one reason could be the expectation that we will all grow ten arms and be super efficient at the solitary housekeeping. But often, there’s also a sense of compensation in that label. Why else would someone not say “Ganesh aaya hai” or “Ram aaya hai” when boy babies are born? Because it’s a “boy” and bus naam hi kaafi hai? 😀

Let me leave you with this post that made a whole lot of sense to me: On Sluts, Rape and Fuckery. It was tweeted by someone on my timeline, but I can’t seem to remember who, for the life of me. If you know who posted this link on twitter yesterday, do let me know and I’ll update the info here.

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17 thoughts on “Empathy in Moderation

  1. It’s not just that everybody’s idea of feminism is different, it’s also that, specially in India, we are living in so many different centuries. Some of us take for granted, what others are fighting for or what others don’t even see as a right yet, because we’ve had it for generations.
    (please delete the last comment)

  2. Nice post! To me female equality has always been about the right to decide what I want to do, and be free to do that, without judgment. Hope that makes sense. For many of the points that you point out here, I can point out the exact reverse scenario, most of which I have personally experienced. When you talk of 2 working moms, who are friends, one of whom quits, if you think she judges her friend, for continuing to work, you have no idea how many comments and criticisms she recieves from the ‘modern feminist’, for quitting her work, and becoming an SAHM. I still hear from ‘friends’ about, how I am enjoying a vacation, or wasting my time, or just being lazy. The modern feminist is often rude too. And its true! About wearing a short skirt and not getting groped, I get your point, about having the freedom to wear what one wants to, but looking at it practically, its sheer stupidity, if I am going to Chandni Chowk in a pair of hot pants and tank top. Dressing needs to be sensible, we cannot just say I am a modern woman, and I will wear whatever I want, wherever I want. And again, I don’t think feminism has anything to do with pubs, drinking late and wearing short skirts anyway. Feminism, is about removing exploitation of women, getting them the freedom to chose their life path!

    I have this huge post on pseudo-feminism in my mind for ages, but I don’t think i will ever post it, simply because I see this thing from a very very different end, from most women bloggers I know. And it will never be about starting an argument, because I know we each have a right to our own opinion. And know what, not everything is a feminist issue, sometimes people are just critical, and we have to understand that and not brand everything as being a feminist issue, it so takes away from the real issues!

    Sorry for the huge long rant. I understand your irritation, at facing what you do, but you need to realise we are in a transitional phase in India, and not too far away is the time, when people will think differently. And yes, why care about what people say, as long as you are sure of what you are doing, what is the need for justification or approval from others?

    • GM, there’s no such thing as a modern feminist, afaik. There’s just one belief and then there’s another – the tag of modernity borne by neither.

      And let me still rephrase this: YOUR feminism is about removing exploitation of women. MY feminism could be about the skirts and the alchol. Without judgment, as you put it. Here’s why?

      1. I want to be able to wear jeans, shorts or tracks in a train and not be seen as loose. I have had the most terrible experiences in trains and railway stations, despite dressing lech-safe and yet, if I decide to wear shorts in a long 14-hour train journey, apparently the problem is with ME. Why?
      2. Since you brought up Chandni Chowk (which in my opinion is not as bad as the North and South Campus area of Delhi University in terms of lack of safety, and ironically so), who set this appropriateness of dress for a geographical area? Believe me I understand about the practical stance you’re taking, but why should anyone be labelled “sheer stupid” for wanting to wear something? Is Chandni Chowk a place where rapists congegrate? No! They’re spread all over the city.. by that coin, let’s be practical and not sheer stupid and start wearing oversized salwar kameezes and burqas everywhere in Delhi. Let’s not admit that the anger that comes from being groped in a salwar is exactly the same as the one that comes when you’re wearing a skirt. Let’s look away from the simple premise that when one wrong is done, it’s not the victim but the wrong-doer who can do something to prevent it. You know what? I refuse to be practical, because in some twisted way, my practicality tells potential molesters that they’re teaching loose women a lesson and they’ve learnt to cover up.
      3. Why are there no Chandni Chowks in Mumbai? Ofcourse, there are multiple cases of sexual crimes here too, but no earmarked territory? Or a certain time of the day, when curfew begins for womenfolk? Maybe because the women of Bombay have always dressed a certain way that was practical for their long working hours and train rides, and that HAS gone a long way in defining the culture of the city i.e. there’s no BIG deal with a woman stepping out in a skirt/ maxi/ pants/ shorts. It is so liberating to be in a city where you don’t have to always walk with pepper sprays tightly held in your hand. I like to believe that that change has been brought as much by women’s mentality here as by men’s willingness to change.
      4. About the drinking, it’s not what feminism is about. But it’s surely what a lot of women can want. Why not? Again, it doesn’t have to be aligned with your particular way of thinking. Let’s say for me, feminism is the choice to never have kids and not to be judged for it. Is it fair for all the women with kids jump on me for that? Can I not make a simple choice for myself without you extrapolating that I look down upon you?

      I do know that what you posted here was your personal idea and you wanted to counter what you see as pseudo-feminism, but I don’t agree with dissing any form of feminism irrespective of how much it agree with you.

  3. Thanks for the link love. And yes, to me feminism is personal and defined by my situation in life and my experiences. But then that is true about every concept a person has – it is personal. Our perception of social norms, our fashion sense and even our concept of God.

    • It should definitely be personal, Ritu. But should the perception be so set in stone that we start believing that other women need to follow it too? Just like religion, fashion sense and everything else, individual opinion doesn’t have to become an accepted universal reality, is all I am trying to say.

  4. Pingback: Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so is perversion. « The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  5. Pingback: Perversion lies in the mind of the pervert. « The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

  6. Lovely read, loved this bit “Why else would someone not say “Ganesh aaya hai” or “Ram aaya hai” when boy babies are born? Because it’s a “boy” and bus naam hi kaafi hai? “

  7. Very interesting post, this.

    You know I sort of gave up on feminism a long time ago. I don’t care if I am considered loose if I stand under a tree outside my office and smoke 3 cigarettes in a row. I don’t even bother to change anything about anyone who looks/ stares at me while I am at it. I have stopped caring! I am sure it’s not a good thing, but it is really working for me these days.

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