Marriage – Love, Arranged, and Other Things

First of all, let me set some ground rules. It will help in understanding this essay. I am a classical liberal. That means I believe in individual liberty and social progress. I am less likely to blindly agree with traditional rules or authority figures. This is in contrast to a classical conservative who puts the group/society/family customs over individual rights, and is more likely to follow tradition and be wary of change. But supporting individual rights does not mean blindly supporting individualism. We are a social species. We need to be with people, and we should work with others. For nearly all of human history the individual has been subservient to the group. Supporting individual rights means that society’s rules do not intrude on an individual space’s and our inherent right to pursue happiness.

Secondly, people glorify their own side while minimizing any of its weaknesses, and do the exact opposite to the other side. And that leads me to talk about the sense of privilege of particular groups. For example, in the United States there is white privilege. It is better to be a Caucasian here than to be a racial minority. On Earth, there is male privilege. Life is much better for a man than for a woman. In urban India, or among South Asians living in the West, there is a privilege of choice that isn’t available to the vast majority that live in rural areas and small towns. Reality isn’t cherry picking and fetishizing toned-down ancient traditions and beliefs for modern times; instead reality is the daily lives experienced by the vast majority.

Finally, we are defensive by nature. No one likes to face uncomfortable truths about themselves or their self-identified groups. It forces us to think and make changes, and most everyone prefers to continue the status quo than rock the boat. Therefore, we tightly hold on to whatever our side has always been doing because the known devil is better than an unknown angel and the uncertainty of change.

In my culture, I repeatedly keep hearing “arranged marriage is better because there is no divorce, while love marriage causes divorce”. I have two problems with this. First, it is even embarrassing to use ‘correlation is not causation’ because it misses and ignores so many different points. Secondly, this attitude is universally used in a racist way towards the West, especially Caucasians, because of the existence of divorce in the West. This racist attitude goes along with the view that Americans are selfish, immoral, and have no sense of caring for each other or having family values. It is an attitude that disgusts me and it nearly always starts with the topic of ‘arranged marriage’.

Here is the reality of ‘arranged marriage’ – it was universal in the entire world. Marriage was, and still is in many places, a societal institution that involved the family and/or the tribe – the individuals never mattered in the marriage. It was a political deal, a business deal, or a family/tribal deal. For most of human history no one got a say in the choice of his or her spouse. It was decided for them. That is still the reality in the majority of India. Your elders pick your spouse for you. Till 15-20 years back, majority of Indian women married before they turned 18. Is there a choice when you are married off that young? Or is there even a choice when your spouse is picked for you when you are 18, 21, or 25? This is arranged marriage that is a reality for the majority of the population. And what are the criteria for an arranged marriage? It starts with religion, then caste, then sub-caste, then your state, then job/education/income for a man, and education and beauty/skin color for a woman. This is reality. As the nation is progressing, some parents are giving their children choices to look at the photographs before their spouses are finalized for them. But what happens when some wants to go against the criteria picked by their elders? I live in the United States and I have friends having to fight against family in the matter of someone being from a different caste or a state. This is arranged marriage for the majority. The person getting married has few, if any, real choices.

And why is divorce so low? Divorce has always been historically low or non-existent. But let us go back to the real India. What is the status of a divorced woman? Does society accept such a woman? Where will she go or how will she sustain herself? What are her chances of getting married again? Divorce does not exist because the woman’s life will be destroyed if her husband divorces her. The social stigma will follow her to her grave. 70% of women in India face domestic violence. Dowry and harassment by in-laws still exists, as does marital rape. The woman in rural India has no recourse to protect her rights. Yet she cannot ask for a divorce because it will be even worse for her. So the idea that arranged marriage doesn’t cause divorce is a bullshit theory propagated by those living in a fantasy land and without the moral courage to face the truth.

The singular advice I always got growing up, of how a marriage works, was this – “For a marriage to work, one person has to be submissive to the other. You can’t have two equals in a marriage. And by default and because of their ego, it is the man who has to be in charge.” It is my goal to see a world where that advice is no longer applicable. This is how marriages have lasted without divorce. Because the husband can treat his wife any way he wants and he knows there is nothing she can do. Because the wife knows the best way to make it work is to be obedient and submissive to the husband. Maybe it is good for many people and maybe they like it that way. It is their choice and I won’t stop them. But I will call out the intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy of the low divorce rate. A close friend of mine told me another story. This is what her mother told her in college – “if you ever leave your future husband/in-laws home and come back because of problems, I will beat you and kick you out of our home and send you back.” With a mother like that, how can this woman stand up against abuse from others? The saddest story I knew in my personal life was a guy being forced by his father to marry someone imported from his home country. He loved another woman and his father wouldn’t accept it. He never loved his new wife and never wanted to be with her. His father wouldn’t even allow him to divorce her. That girl, imported to a new strange land, suffers in misery. This is the ugly reality of arranged marriage. As far as the increasing divorce rate in urban India goes, it is because women are finally standing up. With education and financial independence, many women are refusing to be mistreated by their husband and/or in-laws. They are no longer tolerating things they might have tolerated before. Divorce has become empowering for women. As much as it is better to not have to divorce, it is not always bad. I would rather see someone be divorced and happy than be married and miserable. And yes, even in my extended family I have seen divorce bring happiness and continued marriage in the previous generations bring nothing but absolute misery.

So why do so many Indians living in the United States think it is better? Well, as I mentioned, we fetishize the past and we have diluted the reality so much that it doesn’t really affect us. Whether it is here or in urban and liberal India, the proper term for ‘arranged marriage’ should be ‘match-making’. Children have much more choices, no one is forced, and most of us have the right to say no. There is absolutely nothing wrong with parents being involved in marital decisions. It is actually better that they should be involved a little because they know us quite well and can give advice that we might have missed ourselves. But this is not real arranged marriage, this is ‘arranged marriage ultra lite’. Yet even with the choices we have, many families balk when their children go out of their community – be it religion, caste, ethnicity, or nationality. That is when all this idealism of arranged marriage comes crashing down. To those who think arranged married is the most wonderful thing in the world, I have two questions – do you say it because you are in one, or do you say it because you are pretty sure you will be in one because you know your parents won’t allow it otherwise? Because I certainly haven’t heard it from anyone who is married to someone they themselves picked! And to those who are happily in an arranged marriage ultra lite – I am happy for you. But just because your situation worked for you does not mean you can make blanket statements without understanding the reality that exists for the majority.

There are basic components to make a marriage work, and it doesn’t matter whether you picked your spouse or your parents did it for you. They are – respect, compromise, communication, understanding, trust, honesty, passion and love. To paraphrase Steve Jobs – do something or be with someone you have a passion for. Only then will you be trying your absolute best all the time.  When I saw the movie Gone Girl, I noticed how similar to real life it is in the sense that two people live a lie to each other.  Both try to be someone they aren’t, and after a while it does become exhausting. We should be allowed to be ourselves to be in a happy marriage! As a believer in the individual’s right to pursue his/her happiness, I believe every individual must have the right to have the final say in his/her life, especially in a matter as big as choosing a spouse. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If a Caucasian finds happiness with an African, so be it. If a Chilean finds happiness with a Chinese, so be it. The presence of those basic components in a marriage is what makes it work. Otherwise there is either divorce or an unhappy everlasting marriage. If race and religion mattered, there would never be divorce or an unhappy marriage when someone married within their own group. But we all know that is not true. It is about our ability to respect the other person and our differences. It is not about which side is right, but about what is best for the two of them. It is not about teaching our children my way or your way, but what is the best thing we can teach our child for the future. These are the things that can make a marriage work. When we marry, we must also expect that our spouse might change. It would be shocking if they didn’t. So marriage shouldn’t be about marrying an idea of a static person, but growing with them and accepting them as they are exploring new aspects of themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes the change can be bad or so severe that there is no other alternative but a divorce. In such a scenario, it is better to go your own ways than be miserable with each other.

There are many reasons why marriages don’t work. People get married young and realize they made a mistake. People have unrealistic expectations or do not follow the basic components that might make a marriage work. Some people get married for extraneous reasons like to have kids or that marrying will fulfill their emptiness and boredom. Some get married because of parental pressure. These reasons can result in divorce in more liberal places, or unhappy marriages in more conservative places. My request to parents would be – teach your children how to make right decisions; do not make the decisions for them. Teach them how to choose a spouse, and hopefully you aren’t racist, intolerant, or prejudiced but teaching them how to pick a good person. Teach them how to make a marriage work. Do not tell them they are immature to pick a spouse even when they are 30, while marrying them off at 18 and expecting them to handle kids and in-laws while they are still in their teens. That idea of arranged marriage is about parental control and power, not about you caring for your child. And if you make decisions for them, they will not know how to decide for themselves when they are out of your home. They will always be dependent on someone or learn it at a later age in life when things are more important with significant consequences.

And please do not push anyone to get married. It is not for everyone. Nor can everyone do it well. It is better to be alone that ruin a second person’s life because you thought getting married is a cultural requirement. Get married to the person when you are ready. In the long run that is what matters, not a clock or an idea or other people. It is about the person we are coming home to every day, it is our partner we are hopefully spending the rest of our life with. Otherwise it is no different than rushing towards a marriage or getting married at a very young age without thinking it through. Do it for the right reasons because many lives are involved and life is too long to be unhappy or ruin your and someone else’s life.

The final point I want to make is a request to family, friends, and society not to ruin a couple’s marriage. Once upon a time someone told me – “society will not accept your marriage and you two will not be happy. We will not accept your marriage.” It is true that external stress due to relatives, poor health, finances, and society can cause marital discord. It is why divorce rates or domestic violence rates are so high among the poor and minorities. They aren’t bad people. But the stresses we face because of external factors slowly comes out in front of our significant others. Instead of supporting his daughter and her happiness, I never understood how that man can openly say he won’t support her and mentioning how miserable it is going to make her life. With a parent like that, who needs an enemy? With parental love like that, who needs hate?

There are many causes for divorce. The same rules apply to a happy marriage. Both exist in all parts of the world. So can we Indians please stop with the racist attitude towards Americans? But as someone who supports the pursuit of happiness, someone who knows what love is, I want others to have the opportunity to pursue the same thing. It is beautiful to fall in love with your best friend, to have the privilege to marry such a person. And many times in arranged marriages I have seen the couple become best friends and fall in love. I want everyone to have the opportunity and the right to the life they want, and the way they want it. Let us not fetishize a heavily diluted ancient custom and take away the freedom of choice from people. If you want your parents to pick your spouse, I wish you the best of happiness. But please do not judge those who do not want it the way you do. Please do not make it harder for others. Everyone deserves to be happy on his or her own terms. No one should sacrifice their happiness to please everyone else’s feelings or sentiments. That is not the pursuit of absolute happiness. We get one chance to live, and I want everyone to have the maximum opportunity to be absolutely happy and live the best life they can possibly live. Let us give people the freedom to choose their own life.

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Evolution or Creationism?

A few weeks back a friend asked me if I believed in creationism or evolution. I did not answer because I do not think that a simple “yes or no” answer, without context, really answers something that is as complicated and controversial as this topic. There are many good and intelligent people who do not want to be anti-science, many who do not have an issue with microevolution, but are uncomfortable with macroevolution and speciation, especially human speciation, because of deeply held theological beliefs. A while back a friend told me that she saw on a Pakistani TV channel a debate between a scientist and a religious figure. According to her, the scientist told the religious man – “This is what science says. What you do with the information is up to you.” I will try to do that. Evolution is extremely complicated and there are numerous fields of science that confirm it. I will try to explain at a layman’s level so it is easier for anyone with school level biology education to understand.

Evolution:

When thinking about evolution, I think it will be easier to focus on “isolation” and “generation time” than on size of the organism. This is because many people can imagine microbes becoming different strains, but can’t imagine a large animal evolving into something else. People usually mistake ‘transformation’ or ‘metamorphosis’ with evolution. Probably that is why they wonder ‘if monkeys evolved into humans, why are monkeys still there’. This is a sad aspect of our education system. Monkeys do not turn into humans. Chimpanzees and we share a common ancestor. But how?

Mutations are always happening in our body. Some mutations are advantageous while some are not. That is where our “natural talent” for something comes from, or our individual traits like hair color or eye color. When any two groups of the same species are separated for an extremely long period of time, mutations in both groups start accumulating. Natural selection happens when a certain mutation allows that person to pass down his/her genes to his/her offspring. “Survival of the fittest” is a wrong phrase in describing evolution. The better phrase would be “survival of the one most likely to pass down his genes in this particular ecological niche”. If a small group of humans wander off to a forest where all the fruit-bearing trees are tall, eventually every individual in that group is going to be tall. Anyone who is not tall enough will be at a disadvantage for sustenance. So children who grow to be tall are more likely to survive and find mates and pass down their tall genes. It is the same way we are different races and have different features. Someone in Turkey has different features compared to someone in China. There are, and have been, many indigenous groups whose adults barely reach five feet in height. These differences in features happen because of separation of one group from the other, and inbreeding in an individual group. If Koreans only bred among themselves, they will maintain their features that will be distinctive from the Han Chinese who might breed only in their own group. These features develop over hundreds and thousands of years. Evolutionary scale for large animals like us with longer generation gap is in the millions of years. That is why our nearest common ancestor to the chimpanzees lived a few million years back. In this time, we have had other “relatives” in the hominid family. We even bred with some of them, like the Neanderthals. And that is how evolution works – slow branching out among members of a family. In our daily lives we see members of the canine families, like dogs and wolves, and we have members of the feline family like cats, lions, and tigers. Even though they are different species, we see it every day how much traits they all share. They might have evolved to be different species, but they came from a common ancestor. And therefore they share the similar genes, the way we share genes and features and traits with members of the primate family.

Let us get back to mutations. Our DNA has about 3 billion base pairs. Each base pair – A, T, C, G – is the alphabet of life. A combination of three of those bases code for an amino acid, and thousands of amino acids arrange themselves into a protein. When each cell in our body divides, the DNA gets replicated. But the enzyme that is involved in the replication – of adding the A, T, C, G base pairs to new strand of DNA, makes mistakes. Most of those mistakes are repaired by other mechanisms, but some mistakes still remain. Sometimes these mistakes can cause serious harm. But these mistakes do not pass down to our offspring. Only the mutations in the sperm and the egg pass down to our children. Each mature egg has divided about 30 times from the time it was a zygote, and it has accumulated about 9 mutations along the way. Each sperm has divided about 400 times for a total of 120 or so mutations. So every time a baby is conceived, the zygote already has about 130 mutations. These mutations can be completely neutral, they can be fatal, or they can introduce new genetic traits missing from the parents. If this person has many offspring, there is a huge probability of those traits being passed down. And the traits associated with the mutation become part of the gene pool. But if that person had a mutation for an IQ of a 200 but he/she did not have any children, that mutation goes out of our gene pool. Passing down such traits through breeding is what gives characteristics to certain groups.

This is microevolution. What how does speciation happen? Besides separation between groups over large periods of time, it would be easier to understand speciation by understanding generational time. It takes time for mutations to accumulate that might give an individual, and then a group, advantage in a certain geographical niche. And that time depends how fast that particular species replicates/reproduces. Viruses and bacteria replicate really fast – many in a matter of minutes. For such microorganisms, thousands of generations can be produced very quickly. If they have a high mutation rate, it might be hard to develop drugs for them because the virus can change a lot in a short period of time. That is one of the biggest problems in developing therapies for HIV. For human beings, each generation is about 20-25 years. For thousands of generations to pass, we would be looking at hundreds of thousands of years! That is why imagining evolution in higher animals is hard. It is much easier to see it in birds or frogs or even fruit flies. We have even done experiments in fruit flies to show macroevolution. And the best example might be the evolution of dogs from wolves. In about 10,000 years, we have domesticated wolves and bred them every way possible to create so many kinds of dogs! Evolution is the reason why native populations were decimated because of diseases from other continents. People in the new places did not evolve with the diseases; therefore they did not have the antibodies to protect them. Evolution is also the reason why we have so much good bacteria in our body. We co-evolved with them in a symbiotic relationship where they produce enzymes and vitamins, while they use our body for sustenance.

The three basic concepts of evolution are mutation, reproduction/generational time, and competition (or having the traits most likely to survive and breed). Obviously, this is a very short introduction to evolution, but this is the basic biological mechanism of evolution.

Creationism:

I asked the same friend about evolution and Genesis. As a follower of an Abrahamic faith, she said she took Adam and Eve as literal stories, and as a biologist she also agreed that evolution is true. And to give her credit she then said – “I never thought about them both at the same time. But both cannot be true. It is evolution that is true, not Adam and Eve.” Then how do so many people disagree with her? I cannot comment on a singular creationism story because over the course of human history every group has had its own creationism stories. It would be intellectually dishonest of me to debate between Darwin’s theory of evolution and Genesis, which is just one story out of hundreds. Similarly, it would be intellectually dishonest to give credence one group’s beliefs while refuting other beliefs. Let us take the story of Genesis. Officially, just about 55% of the global population follows the Abrahamic religions. And many of them do not take their Scriptures literally. And when we hear about the controversy in the West or in the Islamic world, it is either evolution or biblical story of Genesis. This ignores the fact that half the world does not believe in that story, and that there are as many creation stories as there are have been ancient cultures in this world. To those who say that children should learn “both sides of the story”, which creationism stories should we teach? Or do you only want your creation story to be taught. For some religions like the Dharmic religions of South Asia, or for animism and many others, evolution lines up even better when you consider reincarnation. For many philosophies Hinduism or Buddhism, the human body means nothing. It is the soul that is reborn in various animals and ultimately achieves a release from the cycle of rebirth. And Hinduism isn’t even a singular faith. One can find monotheism, polytheism, agnostism, and atheism within different aspects of Hinduism. Therefore, the idea that Genesis is the only other alternative to evolution seems to be hollow and intellectually dishonest. And I am not advocating other religions. My point is to show that there are countless beliefs and a lot of them have no contradiction or no opinion on creationism vs evolution. So why should we discard their views?

Finally, the idea what evolution is a “theory” so it shouldn’t be taken seriously, or that there are gaps in it are an illogical and flawed arguments. In scientific terms, “theory” is a hypothesis that has been repeatedly tested and withstood every test. Evolution is one of the strongest theories in all of science. No one ever complains about many other scientific theories that aren’t as strong as evolution. People jump into the latest fad about diet or beauty products with faux scientific principles and no one complains. Newton’s gravity breaks down as we approach the speed of light, but we still teach it in schools because for most practical purposes it works fine. Einstein’s relativity breaks down at the quantum level, but we still accept relativity because outside of the quantum level it works fine. And we have yet to fully understand quantum mechanics. From my perspective, the singular focus on evolution exists because it targets people’s faith/beliefs, not because of its scientific inadequacies. I have heard time and again support for creationism because of how “perfect” the human body is. But is it really? Besides our intelligence and our opposable thumbs, our body is hardly the best physical specimen. We are neither the strongest, nor the fastest. Our natural lifespan (before the onset of medicines and healthier diet and agriculture) is comparable or even lower compared to many other animals. And eyes aren’t the best, nor our sense of smelling or hearing. Our immune system cannot fight off emerging and zoonotic infections. Our brain hasn’t yet evolved for a long lifespan, therefore the cases of Alzheimer’s. Many of us have genetic predispositions for so many illnesses, including cancer. So how exactly is our body the “perfectly crafted specimen of a God”? We have vestigial organs like appendix which has lost its function through evolution, and which can actually cause life-threatening harm. The human body is imperfect, but it is constantly evolving and getting better.

Scientists (and me):

Scientists must also stop being arrogant when discussing creationism, evolution, or theology. People have the right to their beliefs. Many of us overstep our scientific boundaries and think religious people are stupid, or make blanket statements about beliefs that cannot be disproven by science. For example, whether there is a God or Gods/Goddesses or any supernatural being cannot be proven or disproven by science. If people want to believe in fairies and monsters, we must let them because it is their right. Science cannot quantify the supernatural; it must only stick to the natural world. Whether there is a supernatural world or not is the field of theologians and philosophers.

But on the same token, scientists must stick up for the natural world. Everything in our universe follows laws and order. Even the disorder of nature follows scientific laws. There are no miracles, but only probabilities. From everything we know about our universe, there are no supernatural phenomena in our natural universe. Scientists must stand up for the teaching of the natural world in our schools, and they must stand up against individual beliefs being taught in public schools or being passed off as science. For a scientist, evolution is the best theory of how human beings came to be. But a scientist cannot and should not answer why are we here or what is the meaning of life or what is there after life. And scientists must be humble to the fact that a new discovery tomorrow can disprove evolution. There is much to learn about evolution, just like any other topic in science. Just because we do not have the answer does not mean something is wrong. We are on the right track. If having all the answers was a requirement, then nothing could be taught in schools because science itself is evolving with new information and new understanding. But if evolution is wrong, will it prove creationism? No. Because it would bring me back to my original question – whose idea of creationism should we follow if evolution is wrong? And if evolution is wrong, we must teach in our schools whatever scientific theory replaces evolution.

Scientists must also understand that humans are a spiritual species. Our intelligence and self-awareness makes us ask questions that a study of the natural world will never be able to answer. For me personally, as a formerly religious and a currently spiritual person, this hasn’t been an easy journey. If someone truly believes in the Abrahamic religions’ story of Genesis, the question “if Adam and Eve are not real, then…” can be a very tough one. It certainly is an extremely scary thought, because it goes to the foundations of these religions. And I do not have an answer to give others for such deep and personal questions. I didn’t grow up in an Abrahamic faith, but I have faced my own share of questions in the last 10-12 years. It has been a torturous journey, from being quite religious to finally coming to terms that religion and science cannot be compatible. For the simple fact that every religion is different from another religion, and picking and choosing parts from one religion and not from another to make it compatible with evolving scientific theories is too intellectually dishonest for me. 10 years later I still do not know what is true; all I am sure of is what is not true. I am slightly less peaceful than before, but I am definitely happier than before. I might not know the answers to our existence, but at least I feel I am no longer self-righteous and stubborn about my theological beliefs. Every person has gone through or will most likely go through these questions. And scientists must respect these philosophical and spiritual journeys. When it comes to evolution, I have come across six reactions – 1. Completely reject evolution; 2. Accept microevolution but reject random macroevolution and instead believe in intelligent design; 3. Accept evolution of other species but not in humans; 4. Rather than taking Adam and Eve literally, try to find the meaning of their existence in the earliest of humans;  5. Call one self somewhat religious but not take Scripture literally and accept that it is written by men; 6. Accept science, reject religion and/or its doctrines. And I think nearly everyone falls in one of those six categories. And I am quite sure most think their category is the Right or True one.

This essay won’t change anyone’s mind. But I hope it makes some people think. And hopefully a few of that subgroup will allow their children to accept what is taught in a public school science classroom, rather than tell these kids that science is wrong. That is how change takes place. As far as the future goes, I am confident evolution will be accepted the way heliocentrism has been and many other issues. Without wanting to bring more controversy to this topic, there have been many “self-evident” beliefs and actions, practiced for centuries, that are no longer considered true. Religions have ‘re-interpreted’ many former beliefs to ‘evolve’ with changing times. I am confident evolution will reach that stage very soon. The foundation of modern biology is built on evolution. And for a society to progress, it cannot treat scientific theories as a choice. By the middle of this century I can foresee evolution being accepted in even the most conservative societies of today. In modern biology and medicine, nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution.

Benevolent Sexism

There have been enough debates and writings about patriarchy over the course of human civilization. So is there anything new that I can add to this debate? I doubt it. But I am going to try and show how patriarchy has led to benevolent sexism, and how it is as likely to prevent female empowerment as overt sexism. There is no better way than to give personal examples from the world I live in.

I will start off by making a confession – I was a benevolent sexist till my early 20s. It wasn’t until a friend finally told me “Dude, stop trying to make me feel helpless. Let me feel the self-respect of accomplishing something by myself.” Not only did I realize my mistake, but it started the process of understanding benevolent sexism. It appears to be beneficial to women, but it actually makes them feel helpless. Chivalry, although it has acquired a romantic notion, was a form of benevolent sexism. Women were considered weak and they needed to be protected by men. They needed to be saved by their knight in a shining armor. A single woman wasn’t expected to take care of herself. A woman was incapable of doing something and so should be helped. These were the notions of chivalry, notions that our patriarchal society has continued in a benevolent form of sexism.

We are being sexists when we say women should not be able to do something because they are emotional. When we put women on a “lady-like” pedestal and tell them what a “lady” should or shouldn’t do, we take away their choices. A tough woman working in the fields was never considered a “lady”. It is the woman who was taken care of by a man who was a “lady”. When we say a good woman is a good wife and a good mother, we take away their choices. And “good wife” has hardly ever meant as an equal partner, it has always meant as an obedient wife. And not every woman wants to be a mother, nor are all women good mothers. Isn’t our society littered with troubled adults because they had horrible mothers (and fathers)? Yet we have many societies that look down upon women who do not want to marry or do not want to have kids. Unlike overt and hostile sexism, many of us give in to benevolent sexism unknowingly. I certainly have been guilty of it and I still have work to do on it.

Recently I experienced something that once again opened my eyes. A young girl was carrying a few bags and I instinctively offered to carry some of her bags. She replied, “no, I got it. I am an independent girl”. I was actually impressed by her. This story can be spun in two ways. I might have made an innocent offer to help her and she turned it down rudely. But I also had to think, would I have made that instinctive offer if it were a male carrying a few bags. Or did I make it because I wanted to help a girl. It certainly wasn’t an inconvenience for her. But I thought it might be. Offering help to someone isn’t bad. In other examples, I hold the door open for everyone. But I can also see why specifically doing extra for women can make them feel as if we are treating them as helpless adults. It exists in cultures when we say that women shouldn’t have to work outside. It exists when we say they shouldn’t be doing tough jobs. In the end, benevolent sexism treats women as weak and as people who need a man to be their protector.

So why does it seem to be popular in many places? Firstly, it has been instilled in us from childhood about the nature of women, which is weak and emotional and in need of protection. Secondly, women support benevolent sexism in places where hostile sexism is highly prevalent. In places where women are made to feel inferior and have much of their rights denied, benevolent sexism where they can be protected becomes more alluring.

Sexism harms both genders because it focuses on negative gender differences. I will be the first to admit that the two genders aren’t the same. When we average the 3.5 billion men and women on the planet, we do have many differences. But everyone does not fall within those generalizations. And sexist attitudes and gender roles affects those who do not follow those norms. That is why a woman who wants to focus on a career gets ostracized. Benevolent sexism is when a man who cannot support a large family all by himself is made to feel like a failure. It tells girls that they must give up career for husband and children. It tells boys that they must not show emotions. It calls assertive women as bossy, and sensitive men as weak. When we talk about weakness, we usually equate it with feminine traits and feminine body parts. When we want to talk of strength, we talk about “being a man” or some male body parts. This inherent attitude that women are weak and men are strong is what defines benevolent sexism. It doesn’t allow individuals to be themselves, but to follow norms established by society. And if we can’t be ourselves, how are we ever going to be happy?

And sexism, like anything else in life, is practiced by both genders. Hostile sexism is highly beneficial to men. They get to keep women below them and make the rules about what men and women cannot do. But benevolent sexism is also embraced by a lot of entitled women who feel they deserve a lot of benefits from men just because they are women. They might complain about overt sexism that curtails their rights, but they have no problem with the sexism that allows for men to provide for them or support them. While hostile sexism puts stress on women to fit in to an “ideal” female role, benevolent sexism puts stress on men to fit in to an “ideal” male role. Both attitudes curtail choices, freedom, and our individuality. “Women are supposed to…” is no different than “men are supposed to…” Maybe many do want to follow the norms and it is their choice. But when we make it societal expectations, we invade the space of individuals who do not want to or cannot follow those traditional roles. We will always have hypocrites who will want only what is good for them, while not offering the same to the other side, but we cannot have a society that determines what an individual must or must not do, and we certainly can’t have a society whose idea of the woman is “weak” in need of protection, and whose idea of the man is “strong” and as the protector. We certainly do not live in the jungles where men need to protect women from wild beasts.

For both genders to move forward, we must stop imposing gender norms, either overtly or benevolently. Each gender has its strengths and weaknesses, as does an individual. Let us complement each other as different genders and as individuals. Let us focus on our strengths. We cannot treat half of humanity as if it is weak and needs protection. Let us empower women as leaders, preachers, parent, workers, soldiers, doctors, teachers, and legislators. Let us do the same for men! To move forward, let us give the individual the freedom to be who they want to be, and the best they can be. Benevolent sexism favors neither gender. So let us put an end to the notions of such gender roles.

Why Are Women Complicit in Patriarchy?

Patriarchy has been the norm in nearly all societies through all of human civilization. It has cut across cut across cultures, religions, ethnicities, and geographical boundaries. We are a male dominated society, be it through Scriptures, or customs. Could it be biological nature, or could it be because of the physical strength of males, I do not know. The answer varies across the rest of the animal kingdom. Enough have been written about it, but I am going to write about a couple of specific traits of patriarchy that frustrates me and makes me angry.

Patriarchy is about control and power. Just like sexism, many times it is overt, and many times it is benevolent. But it still treats women as a step lower than men. Husbands, fathers, and brothers still have a bigger say when it comes to a woman’s life. It is the father or the husband who decides if the woman can work, or what she can wear. It is patriarchy when a brother prevents his sister from wearing jeans. It is patriarchy when a father decides what kind of jacket his married daughter can wear. It is patriarchy when a mother cannot support her daughter without her husband’s permission. In many conservative cultures, a girl is raised to be “pure” and “obedient” so she can be the perfect ‘marriage-material’ for another patriarchal family. Such a girl isn’t allowed to go out, many aren’t allowed to make male friends, and having a relationship is out of the question. Such a girl is forced is to dressed ‘conservatively’ because either the father wants it that way, or the family is making sure that they will find a suitable husband. The hypocrisy of such attitude is when parents say – “you can do whatever you want after marriage”, which usually translates to “you can do whatever your in-laws or husband allows you to do”. The in-laws can prevent a woman from working; they might pressure her to have children right away; and they definitely have the final say in how she dresses. If the in-law family is progressive, they might have a liberal attitude towards the woman’s life. But generally speaking, even those families do not want a girl with past ‘histories’. And in real life the best example you get to see is in how the woman dresses. Her father’s family decides how she dresses before marriage, and then her husband’s family decides her future fashion-sense. If the husband is progressive, he might not care how she dresses. If he is conservative, he might force her to cover up in extreme ways. And if he is a faux conservative, he will care how she dressed before marriage, but after marriage he might like to parade her in skimpy clothes just to show-off his “hot” wife. Does all this sound like fiction? To some cultures it might. But to some cultures, there are millions of girls silently nodding to this funnily sad hypocrisy.

This brings to the second part of patriarchy that annoys me – why do women follow and enforce these rules on each other? I am having a hard time understanding that. I have seen time and again how it is women who do not support others who want to challenge patriarchy. It is mothers and sisters and female friends who do not stand up for each other. If a girl wants to take a stand, she is ridiculed and shamed by other women around her. The typical accusations are “how can you go against your family?” or “how can this girl do something like that?” The hypocrisy boils my blood because the same women who would be judgmental of a girl who fought patriarchy would happily accept the same “liberal immoral” lifestyle if their husband allowed it. The same women who would criticize a girl for not being covered from head-to-toe would gladly go out in a lovely summer dress if their husbands preferred that. So to those women I ask – who are you and what do you support? Were you hypocrites before to condemn other women, or do you have no Self and you would blindly follow what daddy or hubby asked you to do? To the mothers I ask – you silently suffered a lot your entire life, and instead of helping your daughters or daughters-in-law, you ask them to silently suffer the same fate. Whether you are a mother, sister, daughter, or a friend – you tell the one who wants to take a stand to “just accept your situation silently and with a smile”. But why? Why won’t you support her? And why do you ask her to accept her fate happily? Because it is good for the family? Because it keeps a family together? How is a family being together good when no one in such a family is truly happy? And if a woman standing up for her own rights can break up a family, then was that family really strong? Or are you just a family because having a family is the cultural expectation, and your just treat your daughters as precious ‘gifts’ to be given to another family? And what really makes me sad is when women tell me again and again “why is society not changing?” It breaks my heart. And these aren’t the women who try to rebel. These are women who have been that obedient daughter and wife their entire life and whom you wouldn’t expect to complain about their situation. So to them I ask – how will society change if you keep following the rules you do not like? How will society change when you do not stand up for your sister or your friend? How will society change when you tell her to accept her situation for the sake of her father? As Gandhi suggested, be the change you want to see in the world. Because if you won’t change, society wouldn’t change either. We men cannot end patriarchy if women keep following it. So please, for the sake of yourself, your daughters, and for the future generations, you must take a stand against patriarchy that holds you back, your rights, your personality, your sense of self, and your identity. The men who make these rules are not going to change because they know you will follow the rules if they are stubborn about it. The only way change can come is through you.