Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Barricades in the Bourgeoisie

This article of mine was first published in Bell Bajao's '16 Days of Activism' blog. I re post it here.

A life in the educated, peaceful upper middle class family in the urban area, more so, in the country’s capital will seem to so not be the focus of any feminist study. After all, you see little girls being welcomed into the family with expensive pink cradles as there would have been blue ones for the boy. The baby girl is given as many dolls and tea sets, as the boys would be given a cricket set or a toy plane.
“We do not discriminate between our sons and daughters”, the great Indian middle class proudly announces. They assume it is a phenomenon among the uneducated. In fact, they claim to pamper their daughters more than their sons. If the girl wants to sleep a little more on a winter morning, or get dropped and picked up from a friend’s house, she is more likely to get her way than the son.
But how long does this pampering last? And more seriously, how healthy and well meaning is such attitude towards the daughters?
It is quite shocking as to how many girls ‘automatically’ learn cooking and cleaning, along with the burden of their tenth or twelfth board exams! They never think twice as to why their brothers get to sit with their fathers and uncles, discussing the world and their careers, while they have to giggle with their mothers and aunts about manicures and recipes and gossips.
Really, do they like doing it, or are they indoctrinated by our society to be like that?
At a recent dinner party, where senior bureaucrats and academicians were present, one of the guests asked the host to stop serving and join everyone for dinner, not because they volunteered to do it themselves, but the hosts had “two daughters…and what is their use if you have to still do all the work”. Point to be noted here was, there was a brother present too. At first shocked, since it came from a lady, I got thinking when prompted by a friend.
This lady was married to the concerned bureaucrat at seventeen. She has a doctor father and a housewife mother. She also has two younger brothers who were, in fact, married at twenty nine and thirty one, after properly establishing themselves at a doctor and a management executive respectively.
She enjoys her life and has never given a thought, rationally and retrospectively, to her life. Again, to make my point, she is socialized to accept her life as ‘couldn’t-be-better-than-a-senior-bureaucrat’s-wife’. Probably it is too late to offer her any intervention or the resulting instability. But her attitude may harm future generations with cascading effect, just as indirectly, as I feel it harmed her.
As a girl in this society enters her twenties, a unique, dichotomous attitude is seen of her parents towards her. Just as she is about to graduate, groom-hunting starts.
Sometimes, even before that. It was not uncommon to see newly married girls, all decked up, around my college.
Along with this, she is ‘not stopped’ from pursuing any higher studies or a vocation. After all, we are middle class people, and we do not discriminate. But how far is this from her brother who has received that extra input and that extra push, all his life? How far is this from her brother who not only not pressured towards marriage, but is also given full support and encouragement for his career?
An ambitious girl, who decided to work hard for a prestigious competitive examination, was ‘allowed’ to do so with a “no harm in letting her do it…it does not matter whether she gets through or not” attitude.
Another girl, really smart, felt the discouragement, when her ‘pampering’ parents told her that she had about two years (after she graduated) to do ‘whatever she wants to do, or relax and not do anything’, till she got married. There was no scope of flexibility. All this was while her brother, five years her senior, is abroad at a prestigious college still pursuing higher studies, after working for a year. And, for the record, he gets to decide when he wants to marry.
I am not blind to the fact the discrimination suffered by girls in other classes is by any means worse and more blatant, but the only reason my focus in this article was the educated, middle class in the country’s capital because it is assumed that there isn’t a problem here.
But for me, the girls face a dilemma because the discrimination is so subtle. What do the educated girls complain against? Their parents have never denied them anything, technically speaking. On the other hand educated about the worse condition about the lesser privileged girls or extreme situations like foeticide and infanticide, just serves to make them feel ‘lucky’ and not ask for more.
No other reason explains the widespread fear of success among the women. Another highly skilled friend is a testimony to this. She is married, but to a man who has just done BBA and joined the family business. She confesses, that as much as she longs to do MBA, she fears offending her husband and in-laws, in case she gets a good percentile in the CAT exam, and subsequently and an admission into a prestigious B-school, of which she understands her husband will never be capable.
The discrimination practiced by this class is probably not conscious and deep seated in their unconscious, about the role that a woman is expected to play.
Maybe if these parents stop stereotyping the girl’s cradle and pink and stop deciding that she will play with just dolls and tea sets, or learn just ballet and bharatnatyam, or maybe, if they try to let their children be… maybe just think back for a second, and see how they would have responded to their son in such a situation, and then respond to their daughters, it really, might reduce the unconscious discrimination their daughters silently face and pass on to their granddaughters; the discrimination, which significantly impacts their psyche, reducing to a great extent their self esteem and self efficacy, their need for achievement, and increasing their dependency motivation, which leads to later social problems like rationalizing domestic violence.
Tell your daughters that their strength comes NOT from tolerance, but from resisting discrimination and standing up for their rights. You will do a great favour to your great granddaughters.


  1. by the sole virtue of being born female, an Indian girl is guaranteed lifelong economic and social support , and its the headache and responsibility of men to arrange that lifelong economic and social support for them .

    Over and above that ' guranteed lifelong economic and social support ' , an Indian female also has the option to do well in her studies , career and job .


    Indian men , on the other hand , have nothing guaranteed to them. If they are not intelligent , healthy or unable to handle stress, then they even might end up on the road one day . And there is no dearth of health problems which can destroy a career ( especially in India , with its poor vegetarian diet )

    So stop whining and accept the fact that in India, women lead far more easier, stress free lives.

    1. I really appreciate you sharing your opinions here.

      1. As a matter of *fact*- by the sole virtue of being born female, an Indian girl is guaranteed lifelong economic and social DEPENDENCY. And excusing oneself behind this excuse of this forced dependency, the people in the society always give that extra dose of nutrition and motivation to the males- whether they want to take up the "headache and responsibility" or not!

      2. As a matter of *fact*- Majority of the Indian females do NOT have the option of doing well in her studies [because of high (forced) drop out rates, household chores, unwillingness of the parents to spend on the girl's education when they will have to spend so much on her wedding and dowry (another aspect of feminism's fight], career- because she always needs to get married *on time* and give priority to her household and babies and in-laws than her career, etc. []

      3. What more do 'I' want? I am a very lucky girl, I have had extremely supportive, feminists- who fought the patriarchal setup- as my parents and husband. I couldn't want anything more- for myself. I know now, that i will raise my son free from any pressures of forced responsibilities, and my daughter free from any pressures of forced dependencies. And the world will be a much happier place when men (like you) will not have to bear 'headaches' and women also get freedom from their headaches. This is all feminism's fight against patriarchy wants.

  2. parents treat sons and daughters differently for a very simple reason : men and women still have very different roles in adult life.

    Though i am in full support of more flexible gender roles , the fact remains that in today's world , men have obligations and responsiblities, whereas women have options.

    If a boy is unable to make a career for any reason , then its a big disaster for the individual and the family ( and society ) . But there is no real problem if a girl cannot make her career .

    this is the very simple reason why parents give more attention to boys' careers.

    Remember, for boys , its not a option to be succesful . Its a necessity . That often requires preparing for tough entrance exams, stretching yourself beyond your limits , studying subjects you have no real interest in , and living away from home in another city ( no, not everyone lives in Delhi or another large city ) . And all these requirements mean boys face a lot more mental stress and pressure , sometimes which can have dire consequences.

    Be happy that as a female , you don't have to face that pressure, stress .