When your son cries do you tell him, ‘Why are you behaving like a girl?’ or do you encourage him to cry his heart out and probably talk to you. Can your son cook, can he clean the house and do his own chores? Do you heat the food for him and serve him or does he do it himself? Have you made a will where you leave everything equally divided between your sons and daughters? If not, have you made it clear that is so? Or will your flat go to your son and your daughter knows that. When you both come home from office, who cooks or heats the food and worries about the dabbas and the maids in the morning?
Those are my trick questions for anyone throwing indignant rage at the way women are treated. In the wake of the Delhi gang rape everyone, people like us, media, government, has been going on, rightly, about changing mindsets. Can we then include ourselves in this change? Surely as fathers, brothers, sisters and more importantly mothers, a lot depends on how we behave at home. What signals we send out to our children about women. If even half the mothers in this country decided that they will ensure that their sons believe, I repeat believe, that women are their equals, we could have a better society.
Rape is one way of repressing another human being, there are dozens of others. This need to repress, as sociologists say, comes from the belief that women are not equal to men. Rape is a particularly violent way of expressing it, but so are the others denying them education, killing them in the womb, expecting a woman to do housework and look after a kid after a gruelling 12-hour workday while the man puts up his feet, are others.
The last , by the way, is the story of thousands of couples even if their salaries and working hours are similar. Boys grow up watching their mums slogging at home while their dads chill, on holidays and working days. They then end up thinking that they have the right to chill while their sister, wife, girlfriend cooks a meal or does the chores.
This does not mean that guys who don’t work at home or can’t cook are potential rapists. This is to say that our society is geared to treat women unequally and till we, at an individual family level, change that, society can’t change. This belief is so subliminal and intrinsic that we don’t even think of it consciously.
Think about it for a bit. From studying, flying a plane, building a bridge or running the country, over the decades women have been, gradually, doing everything men do. This is because we have spent a lot of time in the last few decades bringing them up to believe that they can.
In that same time, how much have men learnt about the stuff that women do? While we were spending time training women to deal with the world of men, we have spent very little time training men to live in a world where women’s roles are completely different. We have given them no skills, no tools to live in a world of working wives and girlfriends with strong minds and a personality that is their own.
When, as a society we set out to improve the lot of women, we succeeded to a great extent. But we have damned them by not focussing, at the same time on the lot of men who share physical, social and work spaces with women. These are the men we fall in love with, marry and have babies with.
They may be nice people but they are ill-trained to deal with the needs of the multi-tasking like mad modern woman. Can we now start training men, from early on, to cope better in a world where women are equal if not better at doing the stuff that men do. God knows that he made them equal. Now if only we would all realise that.
The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik