Penning down the abstractions and contradictions of a society with multiple layers of social mores is a humungous task for anyone willing to address them from within. It is the first step that can streamline attention towards a common archaic belief system propagated both in nuance and practice.
All of us might have come across some or other form of discrimination – caste, religion, gender or class based. It can also manifest itself in multiple ways, often overlapping these porous categories.
When it comes to gender inequality, it usually begins right at home for many of us. It is often the social prejudices that resonate in the behavioural and psychological patterns of our kith and kin that tend to foster the idealistic gender characteristics of young girls and boys.
Growing up in a family where gender disparity gets normalised through consistent parental efforts in maintaining a distinction between men and women nurtures a sexist, misogynist and grossly patriarchal mentality among boys. It also firmly entrenches among young women the ‘idealistic’ notions of love, responsibility and sacrifice.
While men are expected to be dominant and assertive, women are expected to be submissive, responsible, docile and emotional. This nuanced distinction reinforces the need for women to have a male counterpart for financial and moral support.
The disparity is so deeply ingrained in the minds of parents that it often disguises itself under what they believe to be their moral responsibility. This in turn makes it difficult for their children to question their rationality. Relatives and neighbours too condition their stance.
For instance, Nitu Ghanghas, a boxing gold medallist in the recent Commonwealth Games, had to face numerous taunts from her neighbours. According to them, it was unsafe for a young girl to travel alone in the afternoon for training. It eventually convinced her father to leave his job for three years to accompany and guide her all along her training period.
“Men will be men”, “sibling fights are common”, “boys don’t cry”, “girls don’t fight or speak loudly” etc, are all sayings we are all familiar with. However sexist it may seem to us now, we too might have come across and ignored these remarks at least once in our lives, hence indirectly normalising such notions.
What may be a clearly evident episode of physical abuse might seem to us a frivolous argument between siblings. What may be a clear case of domestic violence, might seem to some as a punishment that woman deserve.
There is no dearth of such occurrences and we often come across them in gory newspaper headlines. Take for instance, the recent news of an Indian woman living in New York who died by suicide due to the constant physical abuse inflicted by her husband because she was unable to conceive a son. Such incidents compel us to understand the nuances behind gender discrimination.
While family is one domain, add to this today’s rapidly expanding visual media industry that serve as a mode of influencing public opinion. It grossly misrepresents gender roles by neatly categorising an ideal man and an ideal woman.
Bollywood films like Sholay, Border, Student of the Year and Kabir Singh have all portrayed gender stereotypes where female leads are generally portrayed either as caring mothers and sisters or passive romantic interests of the male heroes. Their roles are confined to them being supportive of the male lead’s heroic ventures.
The recently released Darlings incidentally portrays the opposite, with the female lead ‘mockingly’ torturing her male counterpart. It is concerning how gender inequality is being addressed by reversing gender roles. Women are now portrayed as strong, independent and idealistic emerging out of extenuating circumstances as torchbearers of their family. How far such portrayal will impact the mindset of people at the grassroots level remains to be seen.
As India completes 75 years of Independence, the inherent contradictions within Indian society that tend to accentuate gender disparity need to be actively addressed.
Sakshi Mavi is a history graduate, feminist and a Citizen Historian with 1947 Partition Archive, actively researching on the emotional nuances of people’s sufferings, particularly women.