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Teaching boys to respect girls can go a long way towards eliminating the need to protect them from the threat of violence. The onus is on us.
One day, while I was walking my dog, my eyes met those of a boy seemingly in his teens — a paper delivery boy. There was something cheesy in the look of this little boy that made me feel uncomfortable and speculate about my attire. It was ‘decent’ and ‘not revealing’. The jacket was zipped up and the track pants intact. I wondered if the boy’s behaviour had anything to do with his upbringing and the environment in which he grew up.
That got me thinking if he had a family and if the women in his family were treated fair enough. Were they the subjugated lot where the father came drunk in the night and beat up the mother before the children, while the girls lurked behind a cot or a curtain and the boys found joy in the entire exercise?
I’ve seen my maid toil all day long without complaining, while her husband sat at home complaining of a back pain and just loitered around the locality waiting for her to come home and serve him delicious food. Her day began at 5 and ended at 11. She delivered her duties unfailingly, thinking that she was born with a chit of responsibilities that included taking care of this man too.
On careful introspection, I found that instances of patriarchy dwelt in my family too, which I always thought was a progressive family, where women walked shoulder to shoulder with men and they commanded most of the familial affairs. Maybe the disparity was not that obvious, but it definitely raised its hood somewhere or the other. My daughter got shouted at, if she asked for a tumbler of water but my sister’s son got handed a clean tumbler of water by my mother, who is again a progressive lady, who always fought against injustice to women. These tiny incidents could be the primary cues for a boy to assume that he commanded some superiority over his sister.
So, is it in our genes to associate a few norms with males and a few with females or treat the opposite gender with great respect and our own gender with lesser privilege? Maybe, maybe not. Time and again I remind my mother that both the children should be treated equally and that what is administered to the children in the form of norms, restrictions, and liberalism is what will define them as they grow up, be it involuntarily or voluntarily. According to me, the sense of superiority or inferiority arises during the formative years of a child. I also believe that no one is born a feminist or a sexist. It is the circumstance and the incidents in our lives that do so.
My daughter often asks me, why her brother is allowed to play with the boys after 6 pm and why she is not. I was never able to give her a satisfactory answer. Deep inside, even I feared for her safety, her mingling with the boys may lead to unpleasant situations. Even allowing her to play with the boys was looked at sceptically by our neighbours. Was I bottling her up by doing so, or was I being protective? I fail to construe. Or do the biological factors intervene in such situations where the girls are mostly at the receiving end?
Coming back to the important point here, does our demeanour or attire give the opposite sex a license to disembark their lustful antics? The culture of victimizing the victims of sexual harassment has been increasing by the day. The recent incidents in Bangalore and elsewhere in India, have only asserted this fact, with the self-proclaimed people of great stature admonishing the victims for all that befell upon them.
How a man treats a woman, be it in the house, the office or on the streets, depends on his mindset. If you observe, most of the attackers do not feel guilty of the act because, according to them, they were just teaching the woman a lesson or two on where she stood and where she ought to. That she can be superior to him in many ways, but eventually by conquering her body or by even outraging her modesty, he wants to let her know that she must stay within her limits. Her vulnerability is his bait.
All of these originate from the simple reason—disrespect for a woman or a sense of superiority over her. It is natural to get attracted to a woman, but to not go beyond her will and step into her bubble of protection is what differentiates a human being from an animal, because he has been gifted with what is called ‘conscience’. And this conscience can be tamed to differentiate between evil and good by teaching, while still young, how to respect and love the opposite gender, be it at home or in school. Instead of educating girls on how to be safe, we ought to educate our boys on how to respect girls and offer them a safe environment.
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