Monday, December 31, 2012

An appeal to everyone, but especially men

I have every kind of privileged imaginable. A wonderful upbringing, a great liberal education, a good home, comfort and enough money to meet whatever needs I may have. Along with this, I'm male. I belong to a social strata and caste that has not faced discrimination post independence. I've had excellent role models in my parents and close friends around me.

I am also not alone. The ranks of those who can claim to have all of the above are swelling. I do not wish to be alone, either. I wish this wonderful state of affairs to be possible for everyone. Unfortunately, what is quite clear is that if you're a woman in India, this dream of privilege and non-discrimination and  remains largely out-of-bounds, regardless of your education, your upbringing, your social strata, or your income. That's half our population. Rather, it would be half if a fair amount of women hadn't been killed at, or before, birth. 

Speaking out, protesting, being heard is important, but life goes on. Aside from dedicated organisations that will continue their wonderful work (some of whom I hope to support both with time as well as money), the majority of us who are comfortable, settled, beneficiaries of privilege face none of these issues. We will go back to thinking about our lives and forget the outrage that has been generated easily. Again, this is not an admonishment, but a simple fact of life. What then for those of us who do not have to face the reality of gender violence and discrimination on a daily basis? What can we do to keep up the good fight once the news vans and students unions and street protests and twitter celebs shift their focus elsewhere?

Protests come of many kinds. Too often I find like-minded people, people who would never discriminate, or abuse or harass, forgive and forget that which happens around them as someone else's problem. I'm asking all of you to make it your problem. 

All of you have a friend, an uncle or aunt or sundry relative, perhaps even a parent all too willing to pass a loose comment about women. Or justify rape as a woman's responsibility. Or call for curfews to "protect" women. Or ridicule gay people. Or decide that patriarchal religious ceremonies are acceptable because tradition is more important than the individual. Or question or joke about how a woman got a position of responsibility at work.  Too often we let these things go. We justify this away to ourselves. They're from another generation. They can't change. Just let them think what they want. Lets not make an issue out of it. Lets not upset our elders. Lets not disrupt a family gathering. Maybe we want to spare some relative's feelings. Maybe we want to be socially appropriate. Maybe we want not to piss off our boss at work. Maybe the professor won't write the best letter of recommendation if I don't offer him platitudes. Its okay. I can always bitch about it on Twitter or Facebook later, into that echo chamber of people just like me. 

These are terrible excuses. 

Stop. Speak out. A bruised ego lasts a few days at most. A culture where its acceptable to trample the rights of half the population simply because they were born with the wrong chromosome is permanent, unless we change it from the ground up. The ground up needs work every single day. The ground up is your wedding, your nephew or niece's birthday, its Bhai Dooj and Eid, its watching TV together and seeing some ridiculous soap opera where no women work. How can they, after all? Their entire time is spent worrying about what their relatives will think of every tiny move and mistake they make. 

Don't just tune it out. Explain to whoever is around you, whatever their age is, whatever their education and background is, why what they're saying, watching, agreeing with is a stupid idea. Why what they've said is wrong. Explain why its not okay to question what time women were out at night, and why they should be responsible and come back on time like good girls. Explain why its not okay to question how they are dressed, and whether that's appropriate for the kind of people they're meeting. You don't have to be abrasive. If you're not me, you'll probably be able to do it with charm and class. Even if you are like me, getting something across the wrong is better than not getting it across at all.

 If you can't, it doesn't matter. Saying something badly is better than keeping shut about it. Else you're as guilty as the politicians and Bollywood and Sundry Punjabi Pop Singers you want to skewer today. Maybe your arguments will change someone's mind. Maybe the shame of being corrected will at least make them think twice. Maybe they won't change at all. But maybe they will. I've seen plenty of sexist, misogynist teenagers change once their vapid arguments were ripped apart (quite often at a college debate). 

We know the power of memes. We know the power of words. Lets start using them, please? All the time. Everywhere. No one in society can take Sati seriously any longer. No one can dare be a slavery apologist. Yet it's entirely acceptable to be anti-woman. Its tradition. Its culture. Its not rocking the boat.

Rock the fucking boat.