Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dear Women, Stop being Hypocrites...

Personally, I have nothing against Ms Kavita Krishnan. But I do not agree with her methods.

The one thing feminists across the world fight for is equality. To demand equality is to accept that we want to be treated as fairly as possible or as is commonly assumed, we want to be treated like men. 

There should be no discrimination of any kind against females. If I can put in as many hours as my male colleague at work, I deserve to be paid as well as him. Since I am an equal stakeholder in raising a family, whether as a homemaker or not, I deserve to have equal rights as a wife and mother. I should also have equal rights in inheritances, and must be treated at par with a male counterpart (father or brother) for the same. Many of these rights are granted to us under law but there are many rights we still fight for – the right to raise a female child, the right to her education and future, to make marital rape recognisable under the law etc.

Rights are good. Equality is good. The problem arises when we want equal rights but don’t want to accept responsibility. 

So we want to have the right to free speech on a social media platform, but we don’t want the baggage that follows. We want the freedom to use abusive language against another person (because we are ‘right’), but don’t want reactions. We want to have the freedom to make insinuations, but once the volley of abuse begins, want respect and dignity because we are women. We want the freedom to voice our outrage/accusation, but want immunity from the backlash ‘because’ we are women.

Many so called feminists and supporters of women's rights especially in India are caught in this quagmire of hypocrisy, where equality means bashing up men on a public forum, indulging in name calling, making insinuations and resorting to the use of abusive language and then asking complete strangers to show restraint because they are women.

Freedom of speech and expression is never absolute. It comes with great responsibility. And at a price. Gender abuse is one of them.

Abuse in any form is condemnable. But it is a reality we know has existed long before social media was born. When we raise a voice, the only way our voices, as women can be smothered is by threats – of violence against us, of rape, assault and worse, even murder. 

A very renowned child rights activist from Pune who has uncovered several adoption rackets in the city and the state of Maharashtra, receives threats frequently. Once during an interview she opened her wallet and showed me a pack of condoms that she carries with her at all times. “The worst they can do is rape me” she said stoically. If they killed her, well, that would be 'it' she believed. In an ideal world, children would not be put up for sale and a woman like her would have had to find another cause to fight for. But this is the real world and she is aware of the pitfalls of her life’s calling.

The Internet is not a safe place for women. Of the 3,787 people who reported harassing incidents from 2000 to 2012 to the volunteer organisation Working to Halt Online Abuse, 72.5 percent were female. Since the number of women users has grown exponentially since then, this number is also bound to have grown. (There are no figures for India.)

Just because we get trolled or pilloried on social media doesn’t mean that we stop expressing ourselves. On the contrary, we must make our presence felt even more, raise our voices individually and collectively, fight for causes, for our rights etc.

But we must be aware of the responsibility that comes with it. If we use the keyboard to express our views or opinions and rant or vent, we must stop asking for privileges due to our gender, stop crying wolf and stop expecting the world to be nice to us. 

We must also remember that ultimately, 'niceness' is also a two way street.

Postscript: I sent this opinion piece to several online journals and sites, a couple through contacts as well, but no one responded. Perhaps as a dear friend told me, trolling of women is far more dangerous, rampant and sexist than it is for men could be the reason no one wanted to carry it. But I think that is one reason why women ought to read this.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Clothes Make a Man, But a Woman is Damned Whatever She Wears

So Smita Sabharwal, an accomplished IAS officer from Telangana, known for her “ethnic style” wore “a trendy trouser and frilly top at a fashion show” and grabbed eyeballs.

The story first appeared in a column titled Deep Throat in Outlook magazine recently and sparked a controversy because it made derogatory remarks against the lady. It said that she makes a "fashion statement with her lovely saris and serves as 'eye candy' at meetings." The caricature carried by the magazine is distastefully sexist and, quite rightfully, the IAS officer has slapped a legal notice on the magazine.
This is the caricature carried by Outlook 
The problem is not just that the column sought to insinuate that the lady held a position of favour with the Telangana chief minister, it also made crass remarks about her having worn perfectly acceptable attire to a fashion show – trousers and a top – which, the officer clarified in her legal notice, she attended with her husband and not in the capacity of a civil servant.

The episode serves to highlight the conundrum for many of us – what should we wear to suit the occasion? Working women who often have to juggle other responsibilities (such as raising kids and having a ‘real’ life, which could mean catching up with friends after a hectic work day) must spend a lot of time each morning deciding what to wear depending upon what their plan for the day is.

A linen kurti with jeans if you’re teaching in a college is acceptable, or a tee with the same blue jeans to go grocery shopping. But you surely can’t wear a tee with jeans to college because you’re a ‘teacher’ and have to set the right example!

You would be gawked at if you wore a western formal suit at a civic body meeting (aren’t journalists ‘supposed’ to dress fuddy-duddy?) and would perhaps be confronted with questions like, “What’s the special occasion?” if you wore a sari to work one day instead of the usual salwar-kurta. A linen skirt wouldn’t work at an evening party, or at a seminar. But a shirt with jeans or trousers would probably work for both.

Most often, the confusion exists because working women want to be seen as serious and professional in the workplace and so the way we dress becomes important. We can’t be seen as being provocatively dressed (sleeveless tops, a skirt shorter than ankle-length, or tight-fitted trousers would fall in this category) or dressed too well (the silk sari falls in this category). As long as we wear the kurti that covers our butts, a dupatta that covers the bosom and a salwar or trousers to hide our legs, we have a chance at being considered ‘decently dressed’.

In the case of Sabharwal, it seemed like a double-edged sword because the saris she wears to work and the trousers she wore to a fashion show, both became talking points for the magazine.

Sadly, hers is not an isolated case. In the recent past, Malayalam writer and secretary of the Kerala Book Marketing Society, Babu Kuzhimattom wrote a Facebook post saying that the leggings women wear are provocative and ‘arouse’ men.

It seems that the freedom to wear what we choose is a Utopian ideal confined to the Page 3 sections of newspapers and websites. In real life, a woman will probably get undue attention and unwarranted observations for wearing a swimsuit to a pool.

This post first appeared on