I understand now. Honestly.
I found myself thinking things that I’ve heard a lot of men voicing, when I watched this video.
“So there are jerks in the world; why do you take it out on me? I’m the one person around who is being nice to you.”
“Why should you tar everyone with the same brush of mistrust?”
“I’ve had a rough day too. How do you think it is for me to come home and put up with your screaming?”
“Don’t dress that way. Don’t be so assertive. Why do you look for trouble and then expect me to come and bail you out every time?”
I get it, I get it now. This video was probably made to make men more aware of a woman’s perspective. But it made this woman aware of a man’s perspective. I’ve written about whether a man can truly be a feminist. Yes, perhaps you can. Just like, if the world were as it were shown in the video, I might have been one of those women who stood for your rights and sounded wounded when you didn’t consider me an equal soldier in the fight for equality. But this video only reinforces something I thought even when I wrote that post. Living a life of oppression, from minute to minute is very different from having conscious ideals and acting on them, whenever possible.
This video made me think of what my life would look like if I were a woman but not the oppressed sex. I’d wake up in the morning as grumpy as always. I’d blame my low blood sugar, my rising acidity on anyone who got in the way before breakfast. Then I’d cheer up and walk out into a bright, new day. If I saw a man being harassed on my way, I’d step up and fight with his oppressors. And if he didn’t smile back at me in gratitude and semi heroine-worship, I’d call him ungrateful in my head.
Then I’d go on to work. I’d probably ogle my male boss and my co-worker. After all, they’d be men of power. If they didn’t like it, they’d tell me. They wouldn’t be the oppressed kind. If one of them had a bruise that showed he was a victim of domestic violence, I’d wonder (perhaps even aloud) why he was being stupid and weak enough to put up with it. I’d be annoyed at his tears but I’d reign myself in saying that he was in a bad place. And I’d feel like a great guy for being so magnanimous and not a douche like the one who hit him.
If my brother mentioned a neighbour who talked down to him, I’d say, “Fuck her, why does her opinion matter to you?” Because I would be able to afford to do that in my own life – everyone would take me seriously of course, so I could always afford to lose a few. And it wouldn’t occur to me that my brother didn’t have the same luxury. I’d get off the phone and shrug to my boss. Sorry, it was the brother, he’s having troubles, I’d say. And I’d imagine the boss man would appreciate what a sensitive woman I always was. He’d give me a tight-lipped smile and I’d tell myself that’s just the way he was – not used to showing emotion. He’d give me my promotion and I’d punch my fist in the air.
Right then my husband would call me from the police station. And I’d run out. Of course. Police station, damn damn damn, what did he do now? To my utter relief, he’d be sitting there in a corner. No handcuffs. Somebody attacked me, he’d tell me. But he’d look okay to me. He just got worked up, I’d tell myself. Those assholes….but thank God nothing happened to him. He’s too intelligent to needle people like that. Yet, he does. Still, being stress-free is about staying calm. That is all it’s about. That’s all it is. I knew life would be this way, if I married an independent man. I’d take a deep breath. I wouldn’t be able to calm him down if I was worked up myself. So, to cheer him up, I’d tell him about my promotion. And he’d smile. We’d walk out.
But outside, he’d stop and burst into tears again. Enough, already. ENOUGH, I’d say and I’d walk away. I married a man, not a child. How much is a woman to take?
I get it. I get it, guys.
– This Woman
I was at a seminar last month discussing the world of erotica, pornography and the internet as it pertained to women. There were exactly three men in the twenty-five odd gathering. One was the cameraperson (silent throughout), another lurked in the far corner of the room and I never heard a word from him. The third was sitting right next to me and as vociferous as the women. It was from him that I had this question.
Put that way, it seemed rhetorical. Feminism is a movement, an attitude, a perspective on the world. Since sex is determined by your body plumbing, a mind activity such as this can’t be a gender restricted one (See this for distinctions of sex and gender). On the other hand, I believe women and men experience inequality, injustice and disparity differently. Their motives to come to this movement are different. And an overpowering life attitude such as this, is a combination of rationale as well as emotion.
I do have several men in my life who are supportive of equality, who even call themselves feminists. This is not meant to disparage their efforts and even their struggles. In some ways, I think it’s even harder to be a male feminist than a female feminist. For one, it requires going against automatic conditioning, peer pressure and media messaging. Then there’s the constant deriding from both sexes (what, you think women are always nice to someone who stands for their rights?). My father (probably the first feminist in my life, male or female) sometimes tells me that women are probably the worst male chauvinists in this country. After all, he points out, it is a mother who makes a mama’s boy. It is a mother-in-law who drives the daughter-in-law harassment. I have to agree with him.
I know my own ‘strength’ and independence are constantly being held to account by the men in my life, not the women. When I bought a new computer recently, dad accompanied me and so did a close (male) friend. This plus two conversations with other men who advised me. One of them asked,
“Just how many men do you need to help you buy a computer?”
Hmm, indeed. My independent woman self is kept in place by the men in my life – now is that ironic or pathetic?
How and why we come to the feminism philosophy is utterly different. These men are feminists/equalism supporters because they believe it is the right thing to do. I support equalism because it gives me access to a better life. When we go into a debate on this, I am fighting for my survival as an independent human being with rights. They’re debating something that may not impact them at such a profound level as it does me. I must also make mention of privilege guilt. There are several men who are struck by advantages they enjoy that are not extended to the women in their lives. They don’t all become feminists but they struggle with the inequality anyway. I think this actually describes the angst of most ‘modern men’ I know today.
Let’s set aside the fervour and commitment for a second. I want to question whether a man can truly understand what it is to be a marginalized gender.
In my first semester at b-school, the Production Management professor, an M.Tech from I.I.T. Bombay spotted me sitting in the first row. He walked up to me, sneered and asked, “Why are you here? Why aren’t you at home learning to make rotis?” The whole class laughed. Through the year, he routinely made fun of my questions and was dismissive of my presence. He was just one professor in the 40-odd faculty members we saw in two years. But his words have never left me. I worked very hard to get into the program, studying on the bus on the way home, reading my texts during lunch breaks at work. I was at the top of my class. Yet, my efforts and my very presence was taken as insignificant. Can a man fathom the utter humiliation and frustration of that?
During the placement week, a very prestigious company came to the campuses across the city. My seniors advised me to not even bother applying as the company had a reputation of being gender-biased. I ignored them and applied anyway. The guy I was dating then didn’t even make it through the entrance exam. I was one of three women in the twenty that got through. And the only woman shortlisted for an interview. And in that closed room, the four men seated around the table told me that while I had made it that far, they couldn’t see the company actually hiring a woman. My classmates and the (then) boyfriend who hadn’t even gotten through this entrance exam – every one of them got jobs before I did. I finally landed a prestigious job, a better paying one than them. Will a man ever understand just why I still feel vindicated by that?
Last year, I was to get married and after a very public engagement, the relationship ended. Friends have behaved as if nothing happened (which I know now is the best I can hope for). And several of them have egged me ‘to get over it’. I can see how uncomfortable they are with having to be okay with something like this. I have also had a few people stop talking to me, some parental units ask their kids to not invite me over any more. I know the ex has not had to face anything of this nature. He is a self-acknowledged feminist but he won’t acknowledge that this is happening. How, I want to know, can he rightfully be a feminist, if the world treats him differently from me, in the same situation and he does not see that difference?
I am not at such a place of anger any more. I am able to engage in conversations (rather than arguments) with men about attitudes to women. I find myself thinking that the man before me has not had a chance to experience what I have. I’m willing to make allowances for their limited experience range and be grateful for their extra effort. But don’t these considerations negate the equalist philosophy? And if so, how can a man be a true feminist?