Female Power

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ON January 21, 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, tens of thousands of women got together for a march in Washington D.C. to send a message to the new administration that women were not going to tolerate their rights being trampled on. Women in other parts of the world came out on the streets in other marches, Sister Marches, to show solidarity with American women.

But the future of women’s status doesn’t just rest on the shoulders of a few people — or a few million in this case. All of us have a role to play, so our daughters can grow up in a safer world, with more rights, freedom and safety than we as women have had. Here are just a few things we can teach our children, to reduce the perceived gap between genders.

Men and women are equal: Never say anything to your children that contradicts this premise. If you have safety concerns regarding sending your daughter out at night, you should have the same concerns for your son. Drunken driving, access to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, unprotected sex.. both boys and girls are vulnerable. The only inequality lies in the different rules we have for our sons and daughters. If you impose a deadline on your daughters, impose the same on your sons.

Don’t encourage dependence: There is even a widely held belief that a woman who is ‘too independent’ does not a good wife make. She is less able to ‘adjust’ — code for ‘put up with abuse’. I know friends who tolerate abusive husbands because neither were their parents willing to support them if they walked out, nor did their parents provide them with the tools they require to be independent. When parents teach their girls how to be tolerant, submissive, sacrificial wives and daughters-in-law, instead of teaching them how to stand up for themselves, to give and demand respect, to succeed professionally, they have failed at parenting.

Teach sons to be respectful: We Indians sometimes believe ourselves to be morally superior to westerners when we compare divorce rates. A reality check lets us know the only reason divorce rates are not that high here is because women are conditioned to stay in a marriage even if they are miserable. They tolerate abuse, verbal and physical, and in doing so teach their daughters that this is what they must accept and put up with, and teach their sons that it is okay to ill-treat wives. Instead of teaching our daughters to be more tolerant, how about teaching sons to be more respectful of their wives? How about teaching them to treat wives as partners, where both look out for each other? This is what makes a far happier, healthier family. It’s not rocket science!

In our country it almost seems scandalous to suggest that a mother teach her son to bow to his wife’s wishes every once in a while. Indian mothers believe their sons are veritable Gods, and should be treated as such by their wives as well. They’re not. They’re human, and should be raised in such a manner that they grow up to be good humans.

Housewives are not second-class: Hard-working home-makers are often looked down upon by women with successful careers. As a woman, support other women no matter what they do or whether or not they earn. Every woman is deserving of respect, irrespective of how much money she makes.

Save up for her education, not marriage: Why do so many women choose to stay on in abusive marriages? The reason is largely financial. If her parents don’t want her back, or if they cannot provide her with the lifestyle her husband can, she will be very hesitant to leave.

The best gift you can give your daughter is a good education, so save up for her education, not for her marriage. Because her marriage may fail her, but her education seldom will.

Feminism is not about whether or not you keep your last name. It’s not about whether you fast for your husband on karva chauth. It’s not about how you dress or wear your hair.

You can celebrate your femininity and still be a feminist. You are a feminist if you believe you deserve the same respect, the same opportunities, as a man, because of who you are as a person — irrespective of your gender.

 

(Celebrate Woman Power and Feminity was published in The Hindu on January 30th, 2017.)

 

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