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I am thinking I will really go to this meet. And I will speak. Not merely to have a good time or to network. But because I really think it is essential that I should speak about it.
Here is the fourth winner of our August 2017 Muse of the Month contest, Rashmi Raj.
The cue for this month was from the movie Angry Indian Godessess. Indian women are policed and shamed for their choices, whether it is the kind of clothes they wear, or other things they do – woe betide the woman who smokes! And this is not just in their homes in middle class societies – it is everywhere, even in case of supposedly ’empowered women’. What women want is freedom from this and be able to make their choices without being judged.
Ayesha looked around the conference room. Five men, two women. Japanese. All dressed in business suits. She had just spent two hours giving them a presentation detailing how her company was the best suited for what they had in mind for their products. Her superior, nicknamed Boss Lady (for her overbearing nature and holier-than-thou attitude), had also sat in. Looking around the room now, Ayesha could see that she had impressed the clients. And when she locked eyes with Boss Lady across the room, she received an imperceptible nod, confirming it. Ayesha was glad, the day had begun well.
Later, as she was about to leave for lunch, Boss Lady walked in. “You did good in there,” she said, leaving Ayesha waiting for the other shoe to drop. “But couldn’t you have worn something else today? Something more… appropriate? One of those business suits maybe, or even a kurti would’ve made sense, but this?” she made an impatient gesture at Ayesha. “And dangling earrings, for God’s sake! You aren’t sixteen, you know!”
What is wrong in wearing a saree to work? Ayesha thought. Last I checked, sarees qualified as formal attire too! She had worn a simple cotton saree today, nothing too flashy. The earrings had been a Rakhi gift from her brother and she had wanted to wear them today; and they went perfectly with this particular saree, so she had just worn that to work. Ayesha sighed, put on a fake smile and let the insult slide.
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Oh come on Dad, it’s just a summer job!”
“Just a job? You will be working in a pub!”
“Dad, please. I will be working.” Nayah pleaded. “Why are you blowing the top?”
“Blowing the top! Nayah, we are good respectable people, and girls from families like ours do not take up jobs in pubs and wait tables!”
It was late evening; and Ayesha had just walked into her home to find her husband, Kabier and her sixteen year-old, Nayah, engaged in a serious argument.
“What’s up?” she asked, startling them both. They had been too engrossed in their arguments to have heard her come in.
Then Kabier told her that Nayah had accepted the job of a DJ at the local pub. And even as she shook her head and went in to change, the father and daughter continued their argument.
“If you take up this job, you would be working late hours!” she heard Kabier say. “And that isn’t safe. And I don’t even want to get into what kind of dresses you would have to wear…”
“Dad come on, you talk like we are living in the stone age! Don’t you work late? Mom works late too sometimes? How is that safe?”
“We get dropped back in office taxis!”
“And that is safe? Really?”
“Dad! You are just being difficult!” Nayah screamed.
“I am being difficult?” Kabier was livid. “I am only trying to keep you safe…”
“By keeping me cooped up inside the house? By not letting me explore my options? By dictating what I should wear, where I should work, what I should do with my life? This is my life, okay? If I ruin it, it will be on me; you don’t have to worry about it Dad!” and she stalked off to her room.
Kabier sighed. Ayesha smiled in the bedroom.
Later that night, they were getting ready for bed; when Ayesha’s phone pinged. She checked the notification and said, “Oh,”
“What’s up?” Kabier asked.
“Email.” she said. “I have an invite to attend a Women’s Day meet organised by the Women’s Forum this Saturday.”
“Cool! You going?”
“Don’t know yet. But if I go, I would have to talk about the ‘rampant unfair judgments women have to put up with’.”
“Typical pseudo liberals…” Kabier muttered.
“Ah, nothing. I think you should go. Make a good speech, get some networking done. Might come in handy when you launch your website.” he winked.
“Pseudo liberals?” Ayesha couldn’t let that go.
“Oh, come on Ayesha. Don’t tell me you believe in all their women empowerment spiel. Anyway, do you have to reply now? About going?”
“No. Not right away.”
“Then I suggest we call it a night. I am tired. And you better catch some shuteye too.”
With that, he turned and picked up his phone to set the alarm. He then sat with his emails for some time. Then, switching off the bedside lamp on his side, he pulled up the covers.
Ayesha continued to sit on her side of the bed, with a light on, while Kabier tossed and turned. After a few minutes he turned on his side, raised his head on one hand and asked, “what?”
“What do you mean by pseudo liberals who only talk and do nothing? I write for the Women’s Forum, Kabier, and I do it with a conviction that when I write, what I write makes a difference. You, of all people, said I was good at this. You encouraged me. And now that I am…”
“Haan, so I am still encouraging you. Please go. Spout some feminist wisdom, enjoy a good evening. Who’s stopping you?”
“Spout some feminist wisdom? Kabier, I write because I enjoy writing; and I know you fully encourage my free thinking and endorse what I write. But now it seems to me that this isn’t true!”
“Ayesha, come on! That’s not what I am saying.” he said, exasperated. Then he sat up to reason with her. “Okay, do you think all the people who are part of this forum or contribute to it in anyway really believe in every single stand they take?
Don’t be naive Ayesha. They are just a platform where people can voice their opinion. And a lot of people become popular because of it too. Everyone just talks about all the evil in the society and how women suffer and how a lot of things should be done about it all, and do nothing about it. They talk about all these issues plaguing teenagers, and then they all get in their posh cars and go home and try to “fix” their own children who wish to experiment! Their kids are taken care of by nannies, by the way; nannies, who stay up late till their employers get home, and then go home themselves to a drunk husband who would beat them up for staying out late! What do these people do to stop that poor woman from abuse? Nothing!”
“I cannot believe you are saying this, Kabier. I attend these meets too. I write for these forums too. Are you saying I am like that too? Are you telling me, that when I write about gender equality, I am doing nothing about the reality?”
“I didn’t mean you. But most people are like that. You’ll find very few fighting for the really oppressed women.
You see, most are happy waging a war against gender inequality and talking about women empowerment from the elevated platform of social media. They get a million likes and comments and they and their forum get popular. But how do these likes on social media help the really oppressed woman on the street, tell me? How will it ever make any difference to the person who is really suffering?
Okay, suppose you talk about women being judged unfairly that night; okay? So, then what? When everyone goes home that night, they would all be reformed? You think they will not judge a woman in a short dress ever after that? You mean they will suddenly become lenient towards women who smoke in public? You mean they are going to stop cracking sexist jokes from then on? Are you kidding me?”
Ayesha took a deep breath. She had been married to Kabier for close to two decades and in all these years she had known him to be the gentlest and the kindest person around; albeit with his own set of ideas.
He had always respected women, had supported Ayesha in everything she did. He had stood by her when she had wished to continue her career all along. A few years back, Ayesha had gotten seriously sick; and had begun blogging to pass the time during her long recovery. They had soon discovered that she had a natural gift and Kabier had always encouraged her since then to continue writing.
In time, Ayesha had become a popular and prominent prolific writer; and was approached to contribute to several different causes. She gladly took these on; as she was happy to be making a difference, a small one maybe, in influencing people’s thinking.
“You know Kabier,” she said now, “I am thinking I will really go to this meet. And I will speak. Not merely to have a good time or to network. But because I really think it is essential that I should speak about it. Women are being judged inordinately; and that needs to stop,” she said remembering Boss Lady’s blatant judgement of her work attire today. “Or at the very least, addressed.” she concluded. “Look at Nayah, for instance,”
“What about Nayah?” Kabier asked, sounding upset.
“Aren’t you being unfair on her Kabier? Shouldn’t she have the freedom to make her own choices? If you dictate her life, then how are you any different from any of these people who judge? Any different from my own parents who forced me to wear only a salwar-kameez ever since I was tall enough to stop wearing frocks; or compelled me to get back home before 7pm, while my brother was allowed to play till much later. On summer vacations, on beaches, I was always supposed to “dress appropriately” while my brother and cousins got to walk around in shorts. It was all for my protection, they told me. And now we are going to do the same to Nayah?
Just because she is a girl, she shouldn’t take up a job in a pub, she shouldn’t stay out late, she shouldn’t do this, wear that – don’t boys need protection too, Kabier? They are always expected to “man up;” but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer. It is also most convenient that boys don’t get pregnant, so then the family name won’t be tarnished! Ergo, it is okay for boys to roam around late in the night, wearing only shorts or a vest; but woe betide the girl who wishes to do that, is that so?”
“I know you don’t think like that, Kabier,” she said gently, when he looked hurt at this, “I know you are all for gender equality and respecting women; and about Nayah, well, you are just being a loving parent trying to make life easy for his daughter; but it isn’t just about one family, na? The attitude of the society needs to change. And that won’t happen by itself. Someone will have to keep pointing out the wrongs for the society at large to see them, acknowledge them; and do something about them.
And that is why I want to go and speak about this. Not because suddenly they will all stop judging women then; but because I believe, that if I can manage to get through to even a few people present there and influence the way they think about these things, it will be a job well done.
Kabier, I know it will take a way bigger tide of change for the society to change its ways and thoughts; but this will be a small drop in the ocean, a small step in the right direction, a little nudge from me.
And you know what? We are going to tell Nayah tomorrow, that she can go ahead and take up that DJ job, too. Yes?” And before Kabier could say anything, she added, nudging him, smiling sweetly, “Maybe, we could even go there sometime, have a drink, you and I?”
Rashmi Raj wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2017. Congratulations!
Image source: pixabay