Right now I am engrossed in my latest project which is writing about how gender roles have been defined throughout the first half of the twentieth century and how slowly they have changed towards the second half. My research has made me wade through the ‘feminine mystique’ and sift through countless ‘feminist theories’ to try and explain the gender disparity that existed (and still does exist, yes it does!) and the stereotypical roles that women have been playing over the years. The good news is that a lot has changed. Laws have come into existence, revolutions have been brought about and innumerable amounts of newsprint has been churned out to help the cause. It would probably be heartening to hear that women now comprise half the workforce of…no wait…it can’t be India right? No it ain’t India. It is in the United States of America. I am writing how gender roles have changed over the years in the US and how much change still needs to come about.
The state of affairs in India is perhaps best described by the points of view of two young ladies aged twenty and twenty one. While one of them keeps telling me on what to expect from my ‘in-laws’ after I get married and how ultimately I would have to be the one serving them tea in the morning and ironing my husband’s clothes, the other retorts with a very blank: ‘what’s the point of it all…’ These two young girls are both studying and planning to have a career, have boyfriends and somewhere deep down in their cerebrum hope to have happy and copybook married lives with the men of their choice. Excuse me ladies but there is just one flaw in this Great Indian Dream: how ready are we to ‘settle’ down into our ‘expected’ straight jacketed roles in the domestic sphere? But the most appropriate question is: WHY?
In middle class India, most parents’ concern are their daughters between ages 20 and 28 who are yet to get married. A handful of them I spoke to (of course from different states across the country but with a common social standing and demography) still feel young girls with an average age of 25 rightfully belong to their ‘sasuraals’ or the in-law’s houses. Even if their daughters are financially independent, these parents feel that by the time they turn 25, the mothers and fathers should be through with their duty of ‘getting them married’. The scenario strangely changes when the daughters live away, in a different city or country. Somehow, the feeling then is one of resignation. Why are parents so fraught with agony over their daughters in their mid-twenties? Why does ‘getting them married’ form their top priority the second these daughters are born? But a more pertinent question is: why do these young girls help propagate this ideal by choosing take the path of domesticity irrespective of whether they are ready for it or not?
The traditional role of women as caregivers and men as their providers has been portrayed time and again by the media. Most television soaps we know of are based on this stereotypical characterization. The advertisements are no less. Whether it is that of an automobile brand which shows a nine year old boy shopping for his favorite car to take his girlfriend out when he’ll be eighteen or the one he’ll ride when at twenty four, he’ll be the vice-president of his company (Women buy cars too! But they mostly buy it for themselves and not to take their boyfriends out! And not surprisingly, it is the father of the little kid that comes looking for him at the car showroom and not the mother!!). Or soap ads that feature mother and daughter bathing together stressing that fussing over looks and beauty is something that comes naturally to girls from a very young age. Most insurance company and bank or finance related advertisements feature men totally overlooking the fact that a woman can buy insurance too! Hell, I have paid a good thirty grand for mine this year! A mobile service provider ad which features a young girl crashing her father’s car and sheepishly saying sorry, whereas another one (of the same company) shows a young guy returning home really late at night when the father politely (with a subtle underlying humor) wishes him Good Morning. What would have happened if the roles were interchanged?! Can a guy crash his father’s car? No way! Men are born drivers! Hah! That’s the feeling they exude at signals! And a girl returning late!! Where have we heard of that in a ‘civilized’ society?!
The best way to change the mindset of an entire society is by first changing the mindset of each individual family. But who is ready to take the first step? Anyone? Hello….??!!