The men I know, are not likely to murder their unborn babies in the womb for being female. They will probably not set their wives on fire for not bringing in dowry. They won’t insist on their women climbing into the funeral pyre after them when they die. They’ve never actually said anything like ‘Women are inferior’ (which by the way, my grandfather said to me, so please don’t say that nobody says such things). They also have no intention of raping or murdering their female colleagues, friends and neighbours.
I can understand why this kind of man feels victimised by the more aggressive feminism. “But I’m not that guy!”, I hear him protest,
“I’m not a bad person. I admire strong women. I believe women have their rights too. Why then, do you club me in with the rapists, the acid-throwers, the foeticide practitioners and the dowry thugs?”
It’s because doing and being the things I mentioned in the first paragraph, do not preclude one from chauvinism. The fact is that we live in a world that ranges from subtly chauvinistic to brutally hostile to women. Normal life is painted in shades of poor treatment of women; it’s just the degrees that vary by geography and socioeconomic class. So unless one actively goes against the grain, taking a stand for fair treatment of the sexes, one falls into chauvinism, by default.
Let’s meet the aforementioned man again. He is not a bad person. He is a law-abiding citizen, thorough professional and a responsible family man. But he doesn’t actually believe that women have worse lives than he does; even the women in his life. He has little patience or sympathy for the realities of women’s problems. And when forced to confront it, he usually responds with control issues – the sister’s social life to be monitored, the mother to be ‘shielded’ from all manner of reality, the partner’s clothes to be censored. No, he doesn’t even understand why that is a problem. He sees these as solutions to the problem, refusing to acknowledge that he may be a part of the problem.
I often get branded a feminist, almost always by men and never in an objective or factual manner. All manner of male chauvinists hang this label on me. The MCPs are easily spotted with their foaming-at-the-mouth tendencies. But the Bystander Chauvinist, he is the one whose words are accompanied by a rueful tone or a sneering glance. I won’t go so far to call it an insult. But it is meant to be a mild put-down, a slight diminutive.
This incidentally is also the man who proudly proclaims that he will never raise his hand on a woman, assuming that that is the very essence of feminism. He is accordingly judgemental of men who lose their tempers or are violent. When pushed (and only when pushed), he is likely to blurt out an unhappy, impatient, “But why should she be all helpless?”. There it comes – the deep-seated hint of resentment against women being able to claim sympathy for offences that he sees meted out to him as well. These offences look the same to him, so why, he reasons in his mind, does a woman have to get special treatment over a man? Only because he’s a nice guy.
The undertone is one of ‘It’s because I care’. I believe that he does genuinely care. But these actions do not support women, neither abolish the problem nor take a stand against it. And because of that, they undermine the confidence of women and their right to assert themselves. This is why this attitude is an offence.
The thing is, I do not have a personal vendetta against men, this kind or the rabid chauvinists. I only want my rights (respect, privacy, freedom). And I want justice when these rights are denied. It’s not fair to punish the man who has not actively denied me my rights. He just…hasn’t done anything to help me get them. He has been a passive bystander, which even the law understands as party to the crime. What’s most troubling is that I am not angry with this man. He is the best of his sex that is available to me. He does not mean me harm. He is a friend, a lover, a brother, a partner. I care about him too. And this makes it much harder for me to tell him that his behaviour is unacceptable.
I tread an equally uncomfortable, narrow path as this man. I’m the Passive Feminist, the counterpart to the Bystander Chauvinist. Like him, I don’t take a stand unless pushed. And then, like him, I react with misplaced anger and resentment. But perhaps in these uncomfortable exchanges, there is a little bit we teach each other – how to be gentle and firm at the same time, how to stand for ourselves and for each other both in one.
I live in hope. So does he. That’s why it exists.
*Image courtesy David Castillo Dominici on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Here’s welcoming XX Factor‘s second guest-contributor. He’s as smart as the next man but he’s still perplexed by the complicated world of women. He brings his brand of wry musings, politically (in)correct observations and gender role confusion to this blog as the ‘Armchair Philosopher‘. Over to the chair.
Hello everybody. The unicorn’s here. The phoenix, the Bermuda triangle, the Loch Ness monster. The modern equivalent of a mythical creature no one has seen but everyone seems to talk about- “the Modern Man“.
So who is this creature? What does he look like? Is he human? Or has he been sent to Planet Earth by alien feminists? Is it his mission to spread his subversive propaganda about how a man ought to be, in order to ruin it for male chauvinist pigs all over the world?
Can a Modern Man be comfortable with a dominant woman, a woman who has her own life and friends and does not fit any of the gender roles he has been raised to accept as gospel truths? Can he really? Or does he just train himself to make all the appropriate responses? Or worse still, is the only way he can be modern, by assuming indifference?
The Modern Man is a myth because of the sheer relativity of his existence. A Modern Man has no real features of his own. A Modern Man is simply a man who can complement a Modern Woman . His modernity is defined by his responses to the modernity of the Modern Woman.
And therein lies the greatest problem of all. The Modern Man does not know who he is because the very reference point of his existence, the bedrock of his existentialism is the Modern Woman herself. But the Modern Woman does not know who she is either!
Stuck between Superwoman complexes and conflicted between her instincts and her principles, the Modern Woman is a mess. The Modern Man grows up with the naive principle that we are all equal. But when he lives with the Modern Woman, he realizes there is nothing equal about how she is treated. Landlords and electricians address him but ignore her. Waiters at restaurants offer you the bill even when she pays. And let’s not even get started on the great Indian family.
So what do you do when you see that the equality of gender you took for granted was a lie? What do you feel? Guilt and shame for being a man in a world that beats down someone for having a vagina? But when you believe something your whole life, it is never easy to accept it as a lie. So you try and convince the Modern Woman of the ‘equality’ she is blind to. Convince her it’s all in her head. And we all know how well that goes.
This post might seem like a rant of questions but that is the life of a Modern Man. So many questions. And anyone who says they have all the answers is lying. Till then, we shall all chase that elusive unicorn. And till I figure it out, I’ll still open the door for her. I will still carry her bags and buy her chocolates. Because I like how she smiles. That is the only thing I can really be certain about. Everything else is just questions.
A during-commercial-break conversation about an irritating chickey-type female of our common acquaintance.
Me: She’s one of those women who just are like that, you know?
Mr.Everyday: All women are like that.
Me: *raising eyebrow*
Mr.Everyday: *in his usual failed save manner* What? Look at it objectively. Don’t just react because you’re a woman! You’re a writer, after all.
Me: I write about women and relationships, babe.
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So gender jokes and misogynistic statements are now politically incorrect. But few people seem to have any qualms bitching about women drivers. These are usually accompanied by rolling of the eyes and a knowing nod (from the listener). I find it hard to believe that in this day and age of rational thought and scientific evidence, people can still think that a person may be a bad driver simply because she’s a woman. Driving is a skill (just like swimming, cooking, painting, mathematical thinking), one that involves a sense of direction, co-ordination, space, speed and timing in addition to knowledge of using the vehicle. How could it be gender-specific?
One thing that is notable though, is the harassment that is meted out to a woman on the road, even in a so-called ‘safe’ city like Mumbai. When I’m trying to cross the road, I find drivers often speed up in an attempt to ‘scare’ me. I know this because when I jump, they usually laugh and often even slow down just to show that they were just doing it for a joke. To aggravate the matter further, when I then try to cross, the behavior continues and my only alternative is to wait for the boors to pass before trying to cross.
A woman behind the wheel, faces a vehicular version of the same thing. I’ve seen drivers swing in alarmingly close, try to cut off, lane-change and blare their horns unnecessarily when they notice the person in the driving seat is a woman. I know all of these are visible to any driver; it just seems a lot more when the driver is female. As above, these are usually accompanied by jeers, laughter and even offensive gestures. So the average woman driver has to contend with bad roads, traffic jams, pollution and noise and above all that, harassment too. How many men would drive well if they were subjected to the same thing, every minute that they were on the road?
There is any number of bad drivers on the road and yes, some of them are women. But it’s preposterous to label the entire gender as being bad drivers. The accident rates don’t show any discernable differences between offenders of either gender. That makes me want to think women on an average, may be better drivers (and not worse) since they handle a more stressful situation with the same degree of success (or failure). Male chauvinists, think before you make a wisecrack about lady drivers – this time the joke’s on you.
A version is also posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.