That the world is spiraling towards the nadir of insensitivity and rude behavior is not news to me. We have companies selling products to women that tighten and whiten their vagina. We have men who want us to believe that catcalls are a compliment to our beauty. We have a society that is raising an entire generation of women telling them that it is all very well that you are smart and educated and we will celebrate your success too, in one or two instances like when you win an Olympic medal or when you are part of a prestigious space mission but please don’t make the mistake of thinking that you will ever be as important as your male counterpart. We will always ask you to make the sacrifices – your dreams, your aspirations, your hopes. They will always be the first ones to be tossed in the name of maintaining peace in the family or for keeping the family together. God forbid you think that you have any authority to make decisions just because you are more educated or bring home the bigger pay cheque.
For the most part, it is easy for me to dismiss the greater injustices that are committed in society since I am blessed to occupy the strata of society that is educated, has a liberal mindset and is hyper aware of women’s issues since most of us are parents to daughters. This definitely does not mean that gang rapes, eveteasing, mob molestation, dowry deaths don’t shock or depress or sadden me. Every case that I read about or watch on television leaves me despairing about the world I am bequeathing to my child.
A couple of instances in the last few weeks have hit close to home, though. What is agonizing is in both these cases the perpetrator or the one at fault is a woman.
In the first instance, one of the elders in our family passed away. He had, for the majority of his life lived with his nephews and nieces, his wife and a son having died long ago. A few days prior to his death he was in extremely bad health but his death was unexpected all the same. The entire family kept expecting him to pull through. He is survived by one daughter and grandchildren. On his passing, the nephews called the daughter and asked her to come to the village as quickly as possible with her son so that the last rites could be performed. She flat out refused. Her argument being he had died on a weekday and none of them could take time out from their “busy” schedules to come perform the last rites. She asked the nephews to go ahead with the rituals and she would try to make it to the 13th day, if they had the time. One component of this behavior is also the fact that she did not want to spend any money on the funeral. If she didn’t show up for the same, the nephews would have to undertake all expenses.
The second instance involves an acquaintance of ours. We are an extremely small community in the suburb we live in. Most of us are recent immigrants and have no family to fall back in the country we call home now. Our friends fulfill the role of family for us. We counsel each other’s kids, watch them, feed them and offer the support system that grandparents, uncles and aunts would have offered back home. It is extremely normal for us to yell at each other’s kids if they’re out of line. This kind of behavior would never fly in India but it’s considered ok here because some of the people that yell at my child are also the ones she goes to, when she has an issue that she and I don’t see eye to eye on.
It is a relationship where we rely on each other’s sensitivity and honesty. The unwritten rule is no matter what, we will not talk behind your back. If we have a problem, we will let you know face to face. Ours is also a very disparate group in terms of financial status, lifestyles etc. We have a group where some are rolling in money while others lead a middle class existence, some of us are working mothers but we have an equal number of stay at home moms. Some of us are extremely religious and spiritual while others are atheists and agnostics. Despite our differences we have bonded because we have the ability to respect each other’s point of view. While one person is teaching our children the vedas and the underlying meaning beneath, we have another person advocating science and scientific explanations for the same. Our children are allowed to pick and choose what they’d like to believe.
This particular acquaintance of ours is very tied to social status. With her, everything has to do with what kind of cars you drive, what address you live at and how much jewellery you have. She constantly compares and will make friends with you if you meet her social criteria. I do not fit her criteria but she’s friends with me because she wants to be friends with one of my closest friends who meets all her criteria of social status. The other thing I am not a 100% comfortable with is she constantly bitches behind people’s backs. “Oh, you know X, she has a weight problem, she needs to eat less. Her baby’s already 9 months old and she hasn’t lost any of the baby weight.” Or “you know Y, she’s a miser, cannot stand to spend money.” or “M doesn’t have any sense of style, she’s fat and just doesn’t know how to dress according to body type.”
The people she talks about are close friends of mine. I know the struggles of the woman who hasn’t lost the baby weight. She’s forever watching what she eats and like we all have been telling her, her baby’s only 9 months old. She will lose the baby weight slowly but surely. The one who lacks a sense of style, I know she doesn’t dress according to her body type, but she is always decently dressed. The woman who can’t stand to spend money, I know what her financial struggles are.
It doesn’t help that this acquaintance of ours has a parenting style that is completely different from ours. Her kids are spoilt brats but God forbid you ever point out to her that her kid’s out of line, (None of us has ever bothered to correct her kids since it will lead to a long, horrible argument with language not fit for company. I have witnessed a few hapless souls who made the mistake of correcting her kids) she will defend her child and his wrong doing too. Plus, I don’t know what she’s been telling her son but I have, on two occasions caught him telling DD she’s dumb because she’s a girl.
It is one thing to blame a patriarchal society for the wrongs perpetrated on women. A society where women do not understand each other’s struggles and show appalling lack of empathy and sensitivity is to be feared a lot more, in my opinion. Women, for the most part are still primary caregivers in a majority of the families. We shape our children’s thinking and their world view. To tell a child that it is okay to miss your grandfather’s funeral because he died on a weekday or to let a child believe that his mother will defend his wrongs just so she can continue to believe she’s doing a good job parenting is unjustifiable.
These are the kids that will in the future have zero issues with “punishing” women who dare to dress in jeans or work late at night or throw aged parents out of the house because they have become a burden. How do I get the point across to these women is the question I am posing. Please chime in with replies. Any wisdom that you can pass on will be greatly appreciated.