Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Myth of modern feminism

This is a scene from a very conservative family - less than 40 years ago. A young man walks into the house, with a smirk. His mother is at her usual place - near the entrance, on her “Diwan”, overseeing the running of the house.

The young man makes a comment about a girl from the colony. The mother looks at him sternly and gives him a piece of her mind for talking about a girl disrespectfully. “This is not what we have taught you. Daughters belong to everyone. You will never talk about a young girl like this again. You have sisters in the house. You dont want anyone to disrespect them.”

The young man makes his exit, duly chastised. He may still harbor his thoughts. But they will not translate into actions or words in a hurry again.

That won’t happen today. Not in a metro, educated household. In our bid to be progressive, we have undermined and systematically killed an entire social structure which existed to protect the rights of the girl. We believed that we were harbingers of a modern era.

Let me correct that perception a little bit. The first Western study around sexuality happened in the 20th century. In the Kamasutra, both men and women are classified - according to (take a guess) - NOT their experience, NOT how much sexual activity is expected from them, NOT their social or economic class. The classification exists for BOTH genders - men and women. And the basis of that classification is - the inherent libido of the person. That’s an important thing to note. Contrast that with our world, where we believe that all men are forever ready for intercourse and all women must act shy or women do not have a libido as high as men. Vatsayayan would tell you thats bumkum. Many thousand years ago. The needs of the woman were studied and documented as diligently as the needs of the man. And in the gunas that we match during the wedding, one of them is the libido of the bride and the groom. We know about sexual compatibility and its importance in a marriage. We just don’t know that we know.

But let’s not go back that many years. Is 40 years close enough to your reality? The same boys who today have the courage to pass comments, would have been chastised by their parents, the neighbors, the onlooker, anyone at all. Because of the firm belief that daughters belong to all. It was a collective social pressure - that worked to ensure that no one can speak ill of a girl in front of the elders. “Ghar mein maa behan nahi hai kya?” Was a common response to eve teasing. You do not want anyone to speak disrespectfully about your family, don’t do that to another person’s family. Does putting it in English make it easy to understand ?

OR, go back a couple of generations. Who does not know the shameless, nose poking grandmothers who speak about sexual positions, frequency et al, among themselves and with new brides and young girls, with a nonchalant comfort that would put Cosmopolitan to shame? THAT is the culture we left behind. Where sex was openly discussed, young men and women were duly chastised, but the needs of everyone were considered. When a young girl came of age, no one pretended that her sexual needs did not exist.

Was everything great in that system? Of course not! But instead of borrowing what was good and leaving behind what needed correction ( aka assimilation), we did alienation. We created a parallel Victorian culture. We denounced everything Desi and wanted the hinterlands to abandon their entire value system to adopt ours.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have failed. That, is why movies like Pink don’t talk to the hinterland.

Maybe its time for us to take responsibility and change the dialog. Perhaps its time for us to consider the fact that the first Indian female NASA astronaut came from a village in Haraya that is ruled by the Khaps. In my view, those social systems have strengths that need to be acknowledged and used. When we work with communities, we work with their existing frameworks to bring change. Maybe its time for us to understand, adapt and assimilate, and not uniformly condemn.

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