You don’t have to go as far as high numbers of teen pregnancy, dowry deaths or street sexual harassment to know how deeply we hate our women. Start in a home. A girl child, these days, is constantly being pushed to doing everything a boy child does. So much so that I know families where dolls or breakfast/kitchens sets will not be bought for the girl lest she think that is her “role” in life, to nurture and cook. I myself am guilty of steering my 3.5 year old away from those horrendous little kitchen sets, I must confess. While I might be getting in the way of nature, I do it with the intention of not giving her the idea that primarily, domestic chores are a girl’s work. Ironically, I don’t realise that I am her default role model — I do everything from changing light bulbs, hunting rats, running every errand to baking muffins with them, bathing them and tucking them in — and because of that I shouldn’t be worried about her getting stuck with any stereotypes . Which is what early feminists who decided that buying little girls dolls and breakfast sets gave out subliminal messages of domesticity were trying to do in the first place. But all you need to do is watch a three year old as she wanders wide-eyed and greedy through the aisles of the toys section in a store. She goes for pink, she goes for baby dolls and she goes for breakfast sets. At least, most of the time. In my case, my daughter also goes for monsters, snakes and spiders but dolls come first. And I’ve never bought her a doll till she demanded one last year.
Friends who have boys for children tell me of their experiences with watching little girls of their friends. They tell me with more than a hint of pride in their voice about how their little boy was all over the place and being a “kid” and how their friend’s little girl was prim and proper, and gave her mother a peaceful time. Parents who have little girls sometimes tell me their daughters are quiet and manageable; that they wish she becomes rambunctious and tom boyish as she grows, that they feel she’s too proper and is having no fun just because she’s not bringing the roof down.
Let me not even count the number of women who glow with pride when someone tells them they are tomboyish. (There’s no reason they shouldn’t. But how many of you glow with pride when someone tells you, “wow, you’re so feminine/macho”. In fact, if you’ve noticed, this is usually employed as a snide little comment most times.) Or the number of women who say they are “one of the guys” and cannot behave like a girl. Pray, tell me, what does a girl behave like? This is a list I get. From girls, mind you. Gossipy. Senti. Jealous. Love shopping. Clingy. Not sporty. Not technical. Complicated. Not one nice word about our own kind. For every word that is used to describe a girl’s purported behavior, I can find 10 boys who fit that description. Except, maybe, complicated. That, I have to reluctantly agree, is a woman’s forte. But that’s only because we do it so well.
For example, look at this nonsense.
Who comes up with self-defeating, woman-hating crap like this? Exactly who has set down rules for what a lady acts like? Even if you can forgive that, how on earth do you forgive the third line?!
As mothers who want our girls to be storming male bastions (forgive me, anti-cliche god) when they grow up, we’re doing everything in our power to take them away from what might be their natural tendency. Which is to be fierce, intelligent and delightful creatures who say things like “dinosaurs look like dinosaurs and nothing else.” While a boy may hang from door jambs, I find a girl will hang on to a thought, develop it and use it later in conversation. A boy might be able to identify cars well before he’s three by their marques, but a girl may be identifying behavior pointers, books and tapping an imagination that may or may not turn her into an entertaining drama queen later in life.
We’re telling our women to not be emotional at work because it undermines our authority. We’re telling women to not take days off to be with our kids when they are sick because it gives us a reputation of being unreliable. We are encouraging employers who ask us what our “family” plans are when they hire us by assuring them that we have no intention of getting pregnant for a few years, because, as we all know, the kind of satisfaction nine hours in a cubicle gives you comes nowhere close to raising a child. We’re telling our women don’t wear distracting earrings, try and avoid bright feminine colours in corporate settings, we’re telling our women keep our hair short because it’s easier to manage and is less distracting in a corporate environment, we’re telling our women to not cry like a girl, to compete like a boy and to be everything a man is, except shirtless. We’re telling our women it’s more fun to be a guy than to be a girl. I see this all around me — teenaged girls doing their darnedest to not be feminine, blossoming at compliments when they are told their tastes are those of a guy; grown up women actively drinking what is popularly considered a “man’s drink” not because she’s developed a taste for it but because she wants to be considered equal to a man; so many instances of this aspiration to be a man. Subtle, unconscious, relentless but we teach our children to dislike women much before they can even say misogyny.
I grew under the kaleidoscopic upbringing of a mother who never doubted my capacity to do anything I wanted. If anything stopped me, it was my own severe lack of confidence as a teenager. I don’t think she ever imposed restrictions on me. There were unspoken limits but to my then-sensible mind, they were acceptable. I fought the odd how-come-he-gets-to-go-out-after-9 battle but that was it. She empowered me, subtly and dare I say, without saying the words explicitly, that freedom was about being free in my mind, and not about what I wore, who I hung out with or what time I got home. She would, of course, tell me to sit like a lady, or that girls don’t certain things (smoke, for eg) but I honestly don’t remember any of that; what I do remember is her unspoken messages that I was as good as the next guy without her pushing me to become one. And at 32, it is her I give credit to when I have reached this conclusion. That women and men can never be equal. Somewhat like elephants and marigolds — there’s no comparison. We may have and fight for equal rights in all social contexts, we may demand equal pay, we may even ask for equally nice leather goods. But to think that intrinsically a woman can be a man is just defeating the very purpose of there being two genders. Because, you know, I don’t want to see a man breastfeeding and a woman peeing standing up.