“We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” ― Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem is the demi-god of feminism and I do agree with quite a few of her widely spoken philosophies about women getting equal respect inside and outside the house. However, I have a major difference of opinion when it comes to the above statement, as I believe that it may be killing the very basis of a peaceful, prosperous and healthy family life. Moreover, it does not promote gender equality as Gloria Steinem had believed.
Gender equality is not about raising our daughters more like our sons and vice versa. It is not about women doing what the men does. It is not about women behaving how the men behaves. Gender equality is not about gender neutrality.
Gender equality is about equal respect and dignity for men and women in their own roles, which are guided by biology, physiology, anatomy and more importantly, choice.
According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Gender Equality, also known as sex equality, sexual equality or equality of the genders, refers to the view that men and women should receive equal treatment, and should not be discriminated against based on gender, unless there is a sound biological reason for different treatment.
Quite unfortunately, I see that we are confusing Gender Equality with Equality of Gender Roles. I see daughters being primarily raised like boys with a clear objective of having a career and financial independence. At first glance, there is nothing wrong with it, but if we look closely, we are curtailing the choice of a girl to decide her own role in a society. We are imposing a role for her to become financially dependent. It is similar to enforcing an engineering or a medical degree on to boys, irrespective of his visible or latent interests.
The girl is taught to, not be like her mother, and to earn for herself. It starts from the tender age of schooling where she has to compete with the boys in the traditionally masculine school curriculum. For instance, the school curriculum doesn't generally have competitions in the typically women centric activities like cooking, dressing up etc., as much as it has competition in the men centric activities like running (athletics).
Instead of teaching about the need to respect men and women equally to our kids, we are teaching a certain way to grab respect, and that too, to our female children primarily. Women have started demanding equal opportunities at everything men used to primarily do, in the guise of getting equal respect. As John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize winner for literature would say, “And finally, in our time a beard is the one thing that a woman cannot do better than a man, or if she can her success is assured only in a circus.”
There is a serious fallacy in the understood and perceived concept of gender equality. The fallacy is its benchmarking against what men used to do, or does by being biologically masculine, for no fault of theirs. We are trying to create equality or homogeneity in gender roles, instead of true gender equality. In effect, we as a society are not even moving towards gender equality. We are in fact creating gender tensions.
Here are a few tension inducing facts in the Indian society:
- Since the girl is considered 'parraya dhan' in an Indian family, she has more pressure to earn for a living as compared to the boy, who may inherit his father's properties. So if we indoctrinate a girl child towards financial independence, she is more likely to be under pressure.
- A boy can easily find a bride till the age of 40, which is sadly not true for a girl. It becomes very difficult to get a groom after 32 years. So, if a girl gets caught up in the career spiral, she may never get married. We see a large number of spinsters in urban India today.
- Trying to become like men in terms of career and lifestyle, the women folk are slowly losing the virtues typically attributed to women. They smoke as much. They drink as much. They sleep and wake up late. The patience level of women (generally considered higher than men) is diminishing with changing lifestyle of women. A boy may share a smoke with a girl without a question. He may actually encourage it. But he would not want a wife who is addicted to smoking.
- Men are not brought up differently to understand the changing expectations from a women. For instance, a mother would tell her daughter to be a career woman, but would refrain from telling her son to get ready to marry a career woman by learning the household chores (for instance) as well.
- Since the boy is not brought up to share household chores, we see Indian women working equally hard both at office and at home. Men just work at their offices. This creates tremendous tension in the family life and we have seen increasing divorces and lesser child births.
As Author David O. McKay would say, "No other success can compensate for failure in the home."
It's no stretch to say that a person has a serious advantage in life if they come from a loving, supportive home. Many people still succeed though they come from less-than-ideal family situations, but having our basic needs met, knowing that our parents love us and learning life lessons at home make all the challenges of day-to-day living that much easier to face. Likely, as an adult you want a happy home for your family. This is no coincidence that natural evolution has organized us into families so that we grow up in happiness and safety, and so that we learn to love others selflessly.
A happy family life - may be nuclear, preferably joint - is the reason why there is an urgent need to re-define the concept of gender equality. We need to understand that gender equality is about respect and the celebration of choice over tradition. It is not about what we DO. It is about what we FEEL. The current understanding is weird and warped, and is proving to be the primary reason for disintegration of families, rising divorces, unhappy marriages, suicides, murders, bad childhood and perhaps rising heart and tension related diseases.
I am in no way meaning to say that a girl should not be educated. Neither am I saying that she should never work outside her family. In fact, I think family life becomes rewarding if the wife of the house is smart and highly educated. All I am saying is that we should give priority to building happy families where kids can grow up happily. All I am saying is that life cannot center around making money and becoming consumers of conveniences.
Let us examine a few lifestyle realities of our times.
- Earlier it was shameful for a girl, not to know cooking. Today it is perhaps fashionable. Neither should that be shameful, nor fashionable. It should be part of the upbringing process. Even boys should learn cooking. I have met girls who have discovered that they love cooking only after their marriage, when they were compelled to cook.
- Child marriage is bad, but not marrying till the age of 30 is equally bad. Once, in a quick study in my place of work, all boys above 24 were married and all the girls above 24 were unmarried. We had girls above 35 as well in the set! This upsets the natural process of reproduction and maintenance of cosmic equilibrium.
- When I talk to my kid-cousins and nieces who are in school, their questions to me is not about what to study, but about what kind of career to choose, as if education will only make sense then. However, education should not be about getting a job, or about building a career. Education is primarily to lead a happy informed wholesome life. There is no harm in a doctor becoming the wife. It is only good for the family and the neighbors. Becoming an active doctor has its cons. For one, it is highly stressful and demanding in terms of time.
- Housewife is derogatory. Home-maker is the in-word. This is a direct off-shoot of the shame associated with being a housewife in our times. It is with utter disgust, I say that we as a society have failed the role of a wife in a family. We have demeaned it, just because it does not earn a monthly salary. One of my aunt (a housewife) has a beautiful garden in front of her house, and to me, she is a 'gardening expert' or an expert gardener. The joy that the garden provides to her husband and her kids, and the pride they all feel when visitors come to their house, are no less than the monthly salary that the husband brings home. Likewise, it is a for a good cook, a clean house, well mannered children, well cultured children, happy grandparents and the list is endless.
- I want to work because I want to be financially independent. I find this lifestyle statement dangerous, materialistic and mechanical. I do support working but not with the end goal of financial independence. One should work because he or she likes working in that particular field. It is difficult for men to follow this philosophy, as they must earn by any means (they can't give child birth!). Girls need not get into this vicious cycle of finding work just to earn money. If she is a singer, she should continue working (singing). If she is a doctor and loves treating diseases, she should continue working. Secondly, financial independence can also come from sharing the income of the husband. Every month, 30% (or an agreed amount) should go to the bank account of the wife without her asking for it.
- Rise in crèche is going hand in hand with the rise in the number of lonely grandparents. A family is not a family if the kid goes to a crèche at the tender age of a few months, and if there is no support system for the grandparents who have given birth to you. With working wives, it is seen that grandparents just come to visit. Either they stay in their own house alone, or keep shifting between sons or daughters. Similarly, a kid is left to the crèche in the name of development of social skills as the mother has to go to work that she most often hates.