Why do women feel guilty for being women?

For gender equality women should stop settling for less
Voices Blog Tuesday, December 19, 2017 - 15:44

Almost eight months ago, I was part of a panel which judged a personality contest at the college from where I graduated from four years ago. Despite being one of the oldest engineering colleges in Kerala, it carried a curfew in the ladies’ hostel which needed women to be back inside the building before sunset. I put across a question to a girl finalist of the contest, asking her opinion on this practice which was grossly unfair, considering that the men’s hostel did not have sunset as its curfew.

Surprisingly, she went on to justify the curfew, educating us on how parents and teachers genuinely cared for girls and have hence enforced it. She felt girls were incapable of taking care of themselves. Irony outdid itself when she answered our next question around what her ultimate dream was, as she told us that she wanted to live like a man for a day, free to travel anywhere he wanted, at anytime he wished.

A caged parrot is a safe parrot, but not necessarily a happy one.

She was holding herself guilty of being a woman, letting herself believe that she couldn’t do many things she wanted to because of her gender, and justifying her belief with thoughts around her safety, sugar coating all the restrictions placed on her as love and care from those around her. She convinced us that the curfew was just the college authorities being practical. The panel of judges for that contest was led by activist Rahul Easwar, who summed up the girl’s thoughts aptly by telling her this before she stepped down from stage. “Madam, you just spoke like a male chauvinist.”

I recall this in the wake of a recently ‘viral’ social media post by a lady who identifies herself as a fan of a leading Malayalam superstar, who claims that she didn’t find the movie Kasaba to be misogynist (note here that this movie has received legal notices for its alleged misogyny). As I read through the uncivilised manner in which the post shames the actress who expressed her disappointment at Kasaba, I’ve come to realise once again that a big reason why women still continue to be discriminated against is because many women themselves continue to accept discrimination as something they deserve.

The class of IIM Kozhikode I was part of, 2013-2015, was historic, as it was the first (and till date, only) batch in an institution of national importance (IIT/IIM) to have more women graduates than men. My batch had 54% girls, and being in this misogynist world, I’ve heard us being referred to as the ‘tits and asses batch’ at multiple forums, that too among crowds with the best of education levels in the country.

I recall an instance where a girl vociferously argued during a classroom discussion that she hated being told that she got into an IIM only because of additional points and reservation given to women, and that she would have rather settled with what she would have got only through merit.

She fails to realise the true implications of the word ‘merit’, and fails to see that the obstacles in a journey to the same destination for a man and a woman aren’t the same. She was constantly reminding herself that she got through on virtue of being a woman, and carried a guilt that she was not deserving of it. She does not realise that out of sixty-five faculty members at the institute that year, only two were women, and that out of five hundred odd corporate executives who came to recruit graduates, barely ten percent were women. She does not realise that if we let the status quo be, the world would continue to be unfair.

We deal with parents, teachers and elders, all of whom strongly believe that a woman’s biggest, or only virtue, is her reputation. I’ve seen a friend go through grave post-breakup trauma, where insult was added to injury by a man who threatened to post screenshots of their old conversations on the internet. She never reacted, she had to remain respectable.

If the idea of practicality for the society of the most educated state in the country is to lock up women indoors for the sake of safety, I’d rather be impractical all my life. If the idea of maturity for the people of the most literate state in the country is to tell women to hide themselves from everyone and only accept what her ‘merit’ gave her, I’d rather be immature all my life. If the idea of respectability for a man from the most culturally rich state in the country is to remind a woman that shame is applicable only to her, I’d rather be irreverent all my life.

The salary earned by a son working late night away from home isn’t different that earned by a daughter. The bruises on the skin of your son attacked at night shouldn’t be different from those on your daughter who faced the same. Just as you’d teach your son to get up and punch an offender back on his face, you should teach your daughter to kick any offender right through his balls. We should, as a society, remind women that they need to start seeing themselves as equal in every manner possible to a man. And for that, we first need teachers and mothers who find the courage to stop justifying idiotic norms that put the responsibility on women for everything wrong with men. 

(Views expressed are author's own)

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