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As the year ends, it’s appropriate to reflect on how the year was – for women. After all, dictionary.com has declared the word of 2022 to be ‘woman’.This can, of course, be called out to be confusing and misplaced (Women, after all, are about half the population of this world!
As the year ends, it’s appropriate to reflect on how the year was – for women. After all, dictionary.com has declared the word of 2022 to be ‘woman’.
This can, of course, be called out to be confusing and misplaced (Women, after all, are about half the population of this world, and the word has existed forever, as have women).
Dictionary’s argument is that 2022 was critical for women because of landmark events like the Roe vs Wade reversal in the US and Iran protests for rights (From close interaction with some Iranian friends, I am convinced that Iran protests are not on the headscarf and is beyond gender – it is a fight against oppression with women leading the front).
Now, while I find it a bit depressing that a year (even in this decade) would need to be critical for a demographic that’s approximately half the human race, the stronger feeling is that there were other years not too long ago more deserving. With #MeToo, 2017 could have been the year of Women, as could have been 2018 and numerous other years in the past decades.
For India, 2022 wasn’t eventful or even mention-worthy. We did have our usual. Dowry deaths, violent assaults on women, children getting raped, and mixed judgements from courts.
But 2022 marks the ten-year anniversary of 2012 gang-rape of Jyoti Pandey – and if there was ever a year of women in India, it was in my opinion 2012 and the following months in 2013.
In the decade that followed, there was hope, there was fire. The fire dampened with whether a landmark shift happened for women in India.
But hope remains, and I am an eternal hopeful. I see women coming forward, protests continuing, and rapes shifting in narrative – from victim blaming to survivor honouring.
So, to honour 2012, it makes sense to take Dictionary’s suggestion and end the year reflecting on ‘woman’. How do we do that, though, is the question I struggle with.
I don’t want to collate stats or verdicts. That has been done. I want to reflect, through a few of this year’s events (and matters that transcend years) on what we should be reflecting on.
On what can’t be measured or counted. Most of my blabbering, in what will follow, will not offer answers. The intention is, instead, to ask the questions.
Let me start with the Karnataka schoolgirl protests. The protests, unfortunately, were looked at mostly through religion, not gender lens. It became quite quickly a matter of religious autonomy for supporters of the protestors.
And those who supported the government said to be doing so for the girls: to free them, against their wish, from having to cover.
Do women who want to cover up do so with autonomy? Or are they conditioned into believing that they want? Well, the rabbit hole then we need to get into is, do women (including myself and my daughter), who wear clothes that often reveal, do so of free will?
Or are we conditioned, too, into believing that we need to look good and do things a certain way? I have been perplexed by this question enough to allow space. To trust the women who say they would like to cover, unless there’s clear evidence of force, just like I allow myself to wear what I want.
The next matter is one that transcends years and, unfortunately, will continue beyond 2022. Or maybe if we reflect, it will stop.
During my book launch in Gurgaon earlier in the year, a fellow author spoke of jokes in WhatsApp groups while discussing soft patriarchy. Friends and family sending highly sexist jokes.
Women are portrayed as husband beating perpetually demanding shopping obsessed spouses. The women in the group staying silent. Or complying against their will with laughs. Or, sometimes, sending them. More importantly, more often than not, women (and men) have bigger issues with the sexual jokes, not the sexist ones.
Though, I am quite comfortable with sexual jokes and would take them anytime over sexist ones, I don’t expect everyone to be as comfortable as we are brought up to be uncomfortable around the topic. But why aren’t we brought up to be uncomfortable with sexist portrayal of women?
Why do men send them? Why do women I love and adore – for example, my mother-in-law – send them? I don’t fault her – but I often wonder if she finds them funny. Or harmless? Or does feel she has to? Why?
The last one on my year-end reflection list is on ‘NRI brides’. A friend forwarded a recent article on Scroll my way in which the plight of ‘NRI brides’ was talked about.
The issue is not one I am unfamiliar with (I am married to a Punjabi and have spent significant time in Punjab, where I have witnessed first-hand the phenomena of what is described as an obsession for moving abroad.
There have been TV serials about the matter with the protagonists married off-to NRIs with the promise of life abroad, deserted and left to live a life of struggle instead.
The recent article mentions the 2018 petition to Indian courts on stronger action against dowry (often given by families to marry their daughters to NRI grooms, money being the primary motivator for such grooms).
I find myself perturbed by the irony. This is a dangerous line to walk on – for we don’t want to question the victims (and as noted by Louis Hay – we are all victims of victims) – but it’s an important question to ask. If we don’t, we will not resolve, we will only react. Forever.
What led these women, and their families, to get into marriages that involved paying a dowry in the first place? What desperation, what custom, what conditioning leads families to engage in a practice that devalues their daughters and robs generations of wealth?
It’s a question to ourselves, the society we live in – not the women and their families. If no family agreed to pay a dowry – if women chose to remain single rather – would the practice of dowry continue?
Yes, accepting dowry is a crime.
So is giving.
Does marriage increase a woman and her family’s value at the cost of losing their financial security and often her life? What leads us to believe that it does? Why do so many men in our nation see this as a viable option?
As it’s now apparent to those who have read through, the examples above have something in common. They are all on conditioning – who we believe we need to be as women, what we think we love, when we stand up and when we comply, and what we fight for, or rather, don’t fight against.
Everything is because of what we have been programmed to think, and we need to reflect on that. We don’t need milestone events to trigger revolutions that die out, we need constant pondering on the subtle ones.
Until we do, how will we stop needing a year of women?
Image source: Getty Images, Pexels, Pixabay, free on CanvaPro
Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...
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