March 8 was International Women’s Day. The day has been celebrated as International Women’s Day since 1917 when Russian women gained suffrage. Later in 1975, the United Nations adopted it. In India, it has become popular since the past decade.
Women’s Day is indeed a good reminder to reflect on how far we have come and how much further we still have to go in treating women as equals. It is a day for reflection for men and an aspirational day for women. On this day, men are reminded to be progressive in their outlook towards women and women are reminded of the milestones they have covered and the progress they are yet to make. But as I opened the papers, watched the news and surfed the social media sites, it felt like Valentine’s Day again.
All advertisements were about clothes, jewellery, food and spas. I thought March 8 was a day to celebrate women’s achievements in a man’s world. It was a day to speak about women’s empowerment. Why then were most advertisements pink in colour and offering women discounts on products and services that have stereotyped them?
Women want to be treated as equals. They don’t want to be stereotyped. I wish instead that women could be offered a discounted course in self-defense or may be a free handy-session where they learn to fix basic plumbing and electric issues; Problems that men think only they have the strength and skill to resolve.
Even better would have been for businesses to offer men discounted courses in activities that are considered typically women. A free session on ‘home management’ would go a long way — from how to buy vegetables and fruits, how to swab and clean, how to get children to bathe and do their homework. And finally a course on cooking healthy meals and preparing a lunch box. This would lead men to appreciate women more and, who knows, in its own way bring about a sense of equality with the inclination to lend a helping hand at home.
Interestingly, progressive men love to see women do what is perceived as typically “manly” things. If a man gives his woman a screwdriver while he picks up a broom, it’s a sign that he has a sense of equality.
On Women’s Day, a video was circulated in social media where a lady in an attempt to speak about women’s empowerment starts off by stating, “When a boy is born we deck him up in blue”, then she sadly adds, “But when it is a girl, it’s all pink. Why?” Well, as a man I am upset too by this gender colour coding. I am a man who likes pink but when I wear a pink shirt, I get called “gay”.
Now why are women sticking to pink if they don’t want to be stereotyped? Why is the breast cancer ribbon pink? Men don’t have a blue ribbon for testicular cancer? Why is there a Pink Chaddi Campaign? Why not just a “Ladies Chaddi” Campaign ? Why are women falling into the pink trap?
Sometimes it feels women don’t realise that by following gender stereotypes and by their silence, they do more damage to their own cause. Speaking of silence, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein comes to mind. It was the silence of powerful women that allowed Harvey to molest and rape aspiring actors for two decades. These women by being silent became enablers and abettors to Harvey’s actions. Women’s rights will truly empower women when powerful women put women first and fame next.
The same for Indian stars who keep mum, but love to put up women-centric inspirational quotes on International Women’s Day. The same Indian actors who are vociferous about not objectifying women post pictures of themselves in bikinis week after week. They claim it’s part of being empowered, as they are not ashamed of their body. But the plain truth is they want to rake in followers on social media, it has as little as their bikini bottom to do with women’s empowerment. These actors often choose fame over feminism. It’s a disservice to women.
The same applies to dowry harassment cases. The law is meant to protect women from this regressive practice but ends up being the most misused law in the country today. Of the nearly 90,000 dowry cases filed in India today, over 10,000 are false! False dowry cases waste the court’s time and delay justice for women who have genuinely suffered.
In the end, education and wealth creation is what will truly liberate Indian women. Once educated, a woman has better control of her life; her finances, choosing her partner and having children. But to get there, women need the help of progressive men and not paint all men with the same brush.
For now, I’m reminded of what Veteran Journalist T.J.S. George wrote about women’s rights: “There are ways to ensure the human rights and dignity of women. But to make these a reality, those in power need two simple qualities — honesty and guts. And these are just the qualities those in power will not have. They will have no honesty because they are politicians and they will have no guts because they are men.”