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There’s A Woman Behind The Wheel!

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.

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A version is also posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Who Says You Can’t Wear The Pants In The Family And The Apron Too?

The Knife comes up against a different kind of gender stereotype and defies it in his own way.

One opinion voiced in the article was that men cook by rules, follow recipes to the step… wouldn’t know that you can dilute coconut milk powder in water if there is no coconut milk and so on. The argument stated that women are more instinctive when it comes to cooking.

Come again? I think that is a sweeping generalisation. I hate following elaborate recipes. Most of the stuff I cook up are by instinct, visualisation and a sense of balance of spices. And I know that I am not the only one.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

I’m the mirror image of The Knife in that I’m a woman who struggles under the assumption that I’m a good cook while he opposes the idea that as a man, he necessarily isn’t. The kitchen, in my mind, is reminiscent of the dungeons of Harry Potter’s Potions class – warm, dark and full of alien smells and eerie bubbling noises.

My earliest lessons were of learning to turn the pressure cooker off and on and landing the weight right at the top. I was petrified of fire but my parents weren’t too sympathetic with my fears and learn I did. Tea and coffee and rice came next, followed by sambhar and dal. I must add that to this day, I consider Indian cooking extremely indulgent and wasteful. I mean, patriotic sentiment aside, we just don’t have the time and effort to put into soaking spices, boiling the dal, frying the tadka, chopping and stewing the vegetables and then bringing them all together for the grande finale. It just is too laborious and all for something that disappears in about ten minutes.

I carry over that attitude into the rest of cooking as well. I’m a Mumbaiker after all, I’m always looking for the shortest, fastest way to get things done. Three hours of preparation for a ten-minute result and a subsequent clean-up ritual of another hour is just not sensible, no matter what anyone says. Of course, there is the fact that I’m not exactly a foodie and consider food, simply fuel for the human body to be able to do other, more meaningful things.

I can tell you this attitude of mine has not been well-received at all. My otherwise liberal father showed his disappointment in my lack of interest and talent in this field over many years with what he thought were funny lines like…

My daughter can burn water very well!

I don’t think he even realized that there was a fundamental chauvinism in that statement till I stood up to him and pointed out that I cooked every time my mother was not around. Not just sandwiches and Maggi but full Tamilian meals complete with sambhar, curry, salad, rice and home-set curd. I even managed to pack lunches for both of us. Admittedly I did not enjoy it and I was nowhere near my mother’s expert cuisine but my food never sent anybody to the hospital. I dramatically concluded with,

If you don’t think that being a girl entitles me to special treatment, then why do you assume that I should possess any special talents in the kitchen just because of my gender?

He didn’t like it but he didn’t reprimand me for backtalk. He taught me to think for myself after all. Needless to say, the jokes have stopped and each time my mum has been unavailable, dad and I both share the cooking.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Other men, however, are not so accomodating (which brings me back to the premise that there just is no one like Dad!). I remember an ad a few years ago showing two girls on a moped, meant to show off the ‘modern-girl’ attitude where one of them asked the other,

What if we start asking the boys questions like “Do you know how to sew? Can you cook?”

It struck me as a brilliant thought and I actually did do that. The first man I asked that to, gulped and goggled at me like I was an alien from outer space. And then – would you believe – he had the temerity to say,

But why do I need to know?

That date didn’t go very far but my confidence in the question increased as did my patience with men’s answers. I realized that most of them had never been exposed to the idea of being truly independent. A career was all very fine but they had always had doting mamas, subservient sisters and later, girlfriends and wives to pick up for them. Well, that’s a little bit of another story but to come back to the point.

All of us eat, don’t we? It’s a human need, non-specific of gender. Isn’t it just as important that a man be able to fend for himself as a woman? Women are learning to take care of themselves in the physical rigours of the outside world. And really, truly, it isn’t because we’re trying to take away something from the men. I think all of us really see it as taking responsibility for ourselves and burden off the men’s shoulders. In turn, should the men also not start shouldering responsibility for their own upkeep and needs? And hence, why should a man not know how to cook too?

Of note, when I raise this question, I’m often hit with the argument that most of the world’s best cooks are men. That is so not the point. I am not talking about finesse in an art, I am talking about possessing a basic survival skill. It does not matter if all the best cooking in the world is done by men. At an individual level, are you able to manage your own needs without depending upon another person, whether you are a man or a woman? I’ve just admitted freely that I am not a great cook. I do not possess talent but I have sufficient skill that I can take care of myself. And that in my mind, is true independence.

And finally, the Knife has my sympathies for facing such blatantly ignorant stereotyping. I have great regard for people who can do things that I can’t and what’s more a man who cooks well, is someone who has overcome both the fears I have as well as social norms. Men in the kitchen, bravo!

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