Female Modesty and Good Character

Let’s be honest. When it comes to dressing modestly, the rules are usually applied to women. And dressing ‘modestly’ means covering up as much as possible. But who decided that covering up is modest? What is the logic behind it? We are all born naked. Every other living species on this planet is naked. Different cultures across space and time have different standards of dressing up. A lot of it also depends on the climate where all these respective cultures originate. So why is covering up equated with modesty? And why is it applied to women predominantly? Well the answer is Patriarchy, but ideas are generally hard to break down in a single word.

I believe a person has the right to dress as they please. Of course there are exceptions, which depends on workplace rules and/or safety issues. A business might have rule about a certain dress code for employees, or a lab might have one about fully covered legs and no open-toed shoes. As long as these rules are applied uniformly, there is no discrimination. But what happens when society and/or state expects or requires certain standards. And what if those standards are invariably applied to women. I think it is a woman’s right to choose what she wants to wear and how to express her individuality through her attire. But what annoys me is the idea that women covering up = modest = good/pious/virtuous women.

Why does a woman’s character depend on her attire? Why is covering up seen as representative of a ‘good woman’? When someone argues “XYZ is worn as a symbol of modesty”, then doesn’t it mean that someone not wearing it is seen as immodest? If covering up is good, what makes a woman who wants to wear a summer dress, evening gown, a two-piece, or nothing at all? How many individuals and societies in the world see it as a sign of decadence and immorality? Isn’t that where the attitude ‘she was asking for it by her dressing’ originates from?

When I criticize one side, I don’t mean to say that only that side is bad and other sides aren’t. It only means I am talking about a particular side because I might be more familiar with it, or I want to talk about that side right now. Big chunks of South Asian society (and elsewhere) is highly misogynistic. There is a lot of cat-calling, harassment, and many other forms of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of women. Showing of skin is seen as a sign of ‘loose morals’.  And doesn’t this thinking originate from the original idea that ‘covering up’ = good? As an immigrant living in the United States, one of the most disgusting ideas I have experienced since childhood is that white women are ‘easy’ because they don’t cover up or have loose morals compared to brown women. They are seen as highly sexualized objects. And it is not just an attitude among young men. Even too many old women are against having Caucasian daughter-in-laws because they are seen as having loose morals, bad characters, or not good family values. So whenever I see immigrants sexually harassing or abusing white women, for me it doesn’t just fall under any sexual harassment. I have seen it and experienced it again and again how white women are seen in sexually repressive cultures. For men who think like that, white women are easy while brown women are properties that they own. Husbands, fathers, brothers have veto power over the lives and decisions of women. Any disobedience = woman is of bad character/morals. And sexual harassment is extremely prevalent, if hidden under the carpet. The worst part is how many women publicly proclaim there is nothing wrong, and privately bemoan the harassment and abuse they themselves or women they know have faced. Shoving this under the carpet drives me crazy.

Yes, our planet is patriarchal. Abuse and harassment happens everywhere. But not every place is the same. Some places are worse than others. And it has nothing to do with genetics. It is just an attitude that is taking longer to modernize in some places compared to others. Criticizing one place more than another place isn’t racism, it is just about facing reality. It is about trying to improve our species everywhere. And we can’t move forward in fighting sexual harassment if we keep equating ‘covering up’ = modest/good etc. And if we don’t speak out against these medieval attitudes, we are not helping the women living in those societies! We cannot support individuals and still challenge collective attitudes. If we become so scared of being called racists for questioning ideas, not individuals, we are failing the women who are fighting battles in their own cultures regarding their status. We are failing the women who are fighting to break free, if we keep saying criticizing ideas and attitudes itself is racist. Sure, fight for a woman’s right to cover her head. But don’t let someone get away with saying “this is a sign of modesty”. A woman’s character depends on the same traits as a man’s character – actions, behavior, thinking.

A woman’s character is not dependent on whether she wears a sexy summer dress or is covered head to toe in summer’s heat. Because this attitude continues the subjugation of women in a man’s world. This attitude prevents women from expressing themselves fully in many cultures and countries. This attitude supports laws passed in many nations jailing women for not covering up. This attitude continues attacks on women because ‘she was asking for it’. This attitude continues to see women as objects. Making a woman cover up so she doesn’t distract men is also sexual objectification of women. A woman is not a distraction. Men must be taught to see women as their peers and as people, not sexual objects or something they have power or control over. We have to let go of the anachronistic ideas of modesty, something so disproportionately applied to women. Modesty varies by culture. Modesty is subjective. And modesty or good/virtuous character does not depend on what a woman wears or doesn’t wear. So anytime I hear someone say ‘women covering up is a sign of modesty’, I am going to speak out. Because that single attitude sees too many women negatively. That attitude has caused too many problems for women for far too long. Skin is not a reflection of ‘loose morals’ or  ‘bad character’. Skin is what we are born in. Let us celebrate our natural ‘clothing’…our skin, our individuality. Let us speak out against rules/expectations/attitudes that literally wants to hide women in clothes/curtains/four walls and sees it as good thing.

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A little empathy for our fellow human beings

Over the last 6 days I have seen two sides of human nature. I have seen people across the globe support a group they weren’t required to support. But many did. Maybe it was because they wanted to show support for their shared humanity. Maybe they found it weird that a ‘Power’ that is supposed to transcend all dimensions, multiverses, and the singularity would be so creepily obsessed with all aspects of human sexuality. Or maybe they supported because of empathy – because they have experienced and can imagine what prejudice feels like. Many took a stand knowing their families or friends would disapprove of them. Many took a stand knowing it goes against what they have been taught most of their lives. Maybe you don’t belong to the LGBT community, maybe you don’t even know anyone who is one, but you showed support that another human being should have equal dignity and rights. To those who took a stand to show support – thank you for your courage. It is because of people like you that our species has progressed from the stone age.

Then there was the other side, and I was honestly taken aback by how many homophobic people there are. Could it be because you find it unnatural – as unnatural as left-handedness, different hair, skin, or eye colors? Or could it be because it was written on a piece of paper centuries or millennia back – papers that have obviously not been subjected to ‘reinterpretations’ by every generation of humankind who over time have been taking it less and less literally? Do I even need to remind everyone about the evolution of the interpretations of slavery in the last two centuries in these papers? Is this what having a sense of entitlement that only your group possess a monopoly over Truth and Righteousness looks like – to condemn our fellow human beings for who they are? Are we really going to let a piece of a paper let us discriminate against a group of people – the same piece of paper that also says that the greatest and only unpardonable ‘sin’ is wrong beliefs? Not wrong actions, but wrong beliefs. And what is sin but a construct of different groups across varied geographic and cultural locations. What is sin for me might be steak or a hamburger for you. And that truly baffles me – how can anyone say ‘how do these people believe such ridiculous things?’ and then say ‘this is wrong because this paper says so’? Quite simply, where is empathy? We follow every sentence literally and blindly like sheep till it affects us negatively, then we choose to reinterpret it till we become comfortable with it. And we call misguided or wrong whoever doesn’t accept our interpretations. How can we be so hypocritical and lacking in empathy for another group? How are we not ashamed in condemning any group of people who have done no harm to anyone, but who just happen to be different from us – be it religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation? Isn’t it the same fanaticism of seeing the world in Black and White, and Us vs Them that has been tearing apart our species since time immemorial?

But what has really made me sad is seeing the actual people who are still homophobic. People with a bachelors/masters in ‘science’ who apparently didn’t learn critical thinking and questioning. People who call themselves doctor but never learned empathy. People who have a biology major but never learned about the human body. People who have faced or cried prejudice who ironically cannot show empathy for another group facing prejudice. Today we are going to be prejudiced against a group because of a piece of paper, but if tomorrow we scream bloody discrimination against us or our [self-identified tribal] group, everyone else is going to turn a deaf ear to our pleas and plight. It shouldn’t take geography or culture or religion to have basic humanity and empathy. Can’t we all come together because of our shared humanity? Can’t we all accept that who we are as a people should matter more than our beliefs or our background? Can’t we all learn and show a little empathy?

Gender pay gap

Gender pay gap is a serious topic. And to have an honest discussion about it, we must also present honest data. The “77 cents to a dollar” argument is like me asking why do I earn less than a neurosurgeon. If we are going to compare apples to oranges, we are starting out with a dishonest data. The real wage gap is 93 cents to the dollar. And we must do everything we can to abolish pay gap discrimination based on gender. It must be equal work = equal pay.
But I do want to know why does the 77 cents to the 93 cents gap exist. Do women choose fields that pay less, or are women nudged/forced/conditioned since childhood to choose fields that pay less? If it is the latter, we must do everything possible to encourage women to choose the career of their liking, not the career we think we should have.
Second, motherhood should not be penalized when it comes to pay. We need a society where we have parental leave and parental benefits, where both parents can take a break of a few months. Mothers should not be penalized when it comes to pay or promotion because they had a child. We need 2.1 children per couple to maintain the population level and prevent a world where a smaller younger population is supporting a larger aging population.
And to discard the gender pay-gay, we must all – and this includes women too – discard the idea of traditional gender roles. That doesn’t mean that everyone should be forced to do everything. But if a woman wants to be a soldier, she should face no cultural, social, or legal barriers. If a man wants to be a daycare teacher, he shouldn’t face any social ostracization. And this is where we also need women’s help. In survey after survey, across cultures and continents, majority of women prefer a spouse who will support them and be the primary provider. We cannot make a moral argument about equal pay if one gender is expected to be the provider and payer. It is neither false nor politically incorrect to say that in every survey, majority of men prefer appearance in women, and majority of women prefer money and power in men. And if we are going to ask men to move past their evolutionary preference for appearance, women must also move past the evolutionary preference for the provider. Because if the best chance to pass on genes lies in chasing money and power, men will keep doing that and keep the money and power for themselves. Equal pay is intrinsically related to traditional gender roles and ideas.

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.

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.

Words Matter

WORDS matter. Words matter in how we talk about the two genders. What does “man up”, “grow some balls”, “don’t be a girl” convey? And both genders use these words. Not only does it show girls as weak, it also prejudices boys who don’t behave in a stereotypical way. If we call women as “bitches”, even for fun, how are we teaching young men and women that we should be respectful towards women? When we say someone is not a good mother because she has a career, why can’t we accept that someone might not want to be a mother, might not be good at motherhood, or just plain wants a career as much as a family? Children can learn a lot from a mother who can do both. Same thing with a man being a provider. If both genders deserve to earn equal pay for equal work, just a single gender should not be stereotyped as provider. If we want women to be high-paying executives, we should also accept that some men could be low-paying artists. Work that allows a person to support themselves should be respected, not who earns more. More importance should also be given to fatherhood, so that fathers, if they want, can spend more time with their children. No one ever asks if men want time off to spend time at home with family and kids. Equality is moving past stereotypes about both genders. Equality is respecting the individual, not prejudiced views based on their reproductive organs. And both genders are equally guilty of gender stereotyping. Men have to get past the traditional idea that they have the final word, and women must get past the idea that they are entitled to be provided for. Words matter when a man calls a woman “fat”, or a woman calls a man “short”. Words matter when we cannot look into the individual, but only how the situation or the person appears. Change can only come when we look into our attitude, and the words we use to describe each gender.

Why would anyone stay in an abusive relationship?

For a very long time I used to wonder why do abused women stay in an abusive relationship (of course both genders face abuse, but we mostly read about women). I used to think – if someone would treat you bad, logically you would cut off with that person. Why would anyone ever stay in a relationship that everyone else sees as abusive?

Abuse isn’t a straight forward mistreatment of someone. It is mixing love (or appearance of love) with control. The abused person is blamed for his/her hurt feelings, as if they deserved what is happening to them. The abuser flips the script where they abuse, but they blame the abused person for hurting them. Now the abused person thinks – ‘I am a good person. I didn’t mean to hurt him/her. But it must be my fault why these bad things are happening to me. Only if I try harder to please him/her, maybe it will stop.’ Soon it devolves into, ‘I am a bad person, that is why this is happening to me. This person claims to love me and claims I hurt him/her. I have to try even harder and prove that I don’t hurt him/her.’ And so the abused person stays, trying harder, working harder, doing anything to make things better. But nothing they do ever stops the abuse, because it was never their fault. It was always the abuser’s fault to maintain control. But a good person will always try to show that they aren’t bad when they are blamed for something they didn’t do. And that’s what someone in an abusive relationship does – they keep trying and trying to show they aren’t bad. With the false, toxic sense of love, the abuser breaks down their self-esteem till the abused person believes that he/she isn’t good nor worthy, and he/she must keep trying to please this person to feel a sense of worth. Why do they lose their self-esteem? Because they are constantly blamed for whatever the abuser is feeling. In the beginning the abused person might say that they didn’t do it. But over time they start believing the blaming and the accusations, that they must be responsible for whatever the abuser is feeling. And when they do what the abuser wants, they get a little bit of love which is like a dopamine shot to their brain. For a few days or weeks, they feel a sense of worth again. And it lasts till the abuser has a new need and the cycle starts again.
 
And abuse is one of the hidden curses of society. The abuser doesn’t look like a monster. They could be a smiling parent, spouse, or significant other. They could be highly respected members of society, or appear as good, normal people. The abused person might not appear like a miserable human being. They could your friend whom you think is a perfectly happy person. But what we see in public is always an appearance. Abusers are great at wearing a mask and showing a perfect side to the world. And deep down the abused know what is happening to them, and the shame of it makes them hide it even more. Abuse, be it sexual, psychological, emotional, or physical is the greatest harm to society – because it is hidden, because it self-perpetuates where the abused becomes the abuser, and because it rots the society from within where people live in fear, not happiness.
 
I finally got it, it is not the broken people who stay in an abusive relationship. It is good people who are broken down in a relationship with a person they absolutely trusted. A person they believed cared for their best interests or loved them. And in that belief, they do whatever they can to make that person happy. And that is abuse – power and control by one person, a desire to please and be considered good and be held blameless by the other person.

Choice, control, and respect

Control is about power, not benevolence towards another person. People who do not give choices in life decisions to others do not respect the other person. Control is just another form of emotional abuse. The sad, and ironical part of control is that it perpetuates itself from the abuser to the abused – many who themselves become controlling people. Controlling attitude is prevalent across societies, cultures, and ethnicity. And it generally passes down from generation to generation. It could be nature, but it could also be nurture where if someone never had a choice in life decisions, they do not give that choice to others.

A person might resist a controlling family or spouse, but when a child has known nothing but control since birth, many just accept it as reality and give in to the controlling parents. Some might be strong enough to resist and be rebellious as kids and establish their independence as adults, but many are conditioned to believe that absolute obedience to parents is what makes one a good person. These children grow with an unhealthy outlook on life, where pleasing parents or any authority figure is the only way to receive validation. From a logical standpoint, it would appear that if someone suffered some sort of abuse, that they won’t perpetuate that abuse. Unfortunately, human psychology works in a way where abuse is perpetuated and it passes down in a never-ending cycle because for too many people the abusive life is a reality and they know of no other way of life. Experiencing kindness, compassion, and even freedom could be confusing and sometimes terrifying. When we are in an abusive environment, we learn to stop trusting people and even ourselves. We know that when our so-called well-wishers or loved ones ask something of us, they are actually looking out for their own benefits. As such, we start distrusting other healthy human beings who might show us compassion or love without having any ulterior motives.

The result of being in a controlling relationship is that the abused person tries to get control over whatever aspects of life they can, even at the expense of invading boundaries of newer relationships like friends, spouses, and even children. Besides power, the other aspect of control is a lack of respect for the other person. When we deny someone the life they want to live, we do not respect them. For children, it is an invalidation of their feelings and choices, and if that’s the reality they have known their entire childhood, they grow up to be someone with low self-esteem who needs others’ approval or permission to make any decision. If a child says he feels cold, and a parent says it isn’t cold – it invalidates the child’s feelings. If a child wants to wear something or a teenager says he wants a certain career but his parents say no – it invalidates the child’s choices. Children don’t always make the wisest of decisions, and parents must not agree to every demand. But there is a difference between teaching children how to make good decisions and making decisions for them because of the parents’ controlling and narcissistic personality. If control and a lack of choice is all that a child knows, he/she will grow up to be the same way for two reasons – 1. It is all they know and therefore it the normal to them, 2. They try to make up for the lack of control they had in their lives by trying to control anything else they can. Just like their personal boundaries was invaded by their parents, they invade the boundaries of their partners and children.

Society can be just as controlling as individuals. At the root of it is a lack of respect for individuality. When parents control their children through adulthood, when spouses control their partners, or when government or society makes rules intruding in our private lives, they all disregard the individual. Someone else makes the decision of how we dress, what we eat or drink, what we believe, or whom we can marry. Just like individuals control for power, governments too control the population to perpetuate their power. This is because a population whose thoughts and actions can be controlled isn’t a population that will question its government or leaders.

The opposite of control is choice, and choice is given through respect. When we give someone a choice, we acknowledge their individuality; we respect their thoughts and beliefs. It isn’t choice to tell someone “you must do this or face negative consequences”; it is a threat and an ultimatum. True choice is respecting an individual’s right to shape his or her own life because life is a journey of learning and growing up. What we believe in our 20s isn’t what we believe in our 40s or our 60s. We learn everyday, and we change everyday. I might be a non-vegetarian today, and some day I might become a vegetarian. These same things might become true for my partner and my children. Respecting them is giving them the choice to be what they want to be. It is about respecting their thinking, their personality, and their individuality. If my kid does not believe what I believe, it does not hurt me. But if I prevent him from believing what gives him comfort, then I neither respect his choice, his thinking, nor his happiness. And many people make the mistake that because we are a certain way, our family members must be the same way. Such expectations doesn’t allow others the freedom to grow, learn, or be independent. The only thing we can expect of those close to us is that they treat us with respect, compassion, empathy, love, and kindness. Having expectations of how they should live or believe is disrespecting their personal boundaries. And isn’t this what creates conflict in the world? When we treat our children as an extension of ourselves, not as individual human beings. When we want society to follow our beliefs because we take those beliefs as facts. When we do not respect the rights of others to be different. I might have some personal beliefs, but the difference between beliefs and facts is that beliefs are subjective. Someone else might have equally strong beliefs that completely differ from me. In a controlling or intolerant society, differing beliefs aren’t allowed to exist. Choice and tolerance does not mean giving up our beliefs. It means understanding and respecting that two brains can think and believe differently, and to acknowledge that our beliefs are subjective, and not an universal Truth. Because very few people can treat beliefs as facts and not feel that the other side is Wrong. And if we see someone as inherently Wrong, it becomes less likely to respect them or tolerate their choices. I might believe in God, but I don’t see disbelief as wrong because I cannot prove my beliefs to be a fact. My belief only affects me in a positive way, without negatively affecting others. But if I believe that homosexuality is a sin, I am having a negative belief towards something that does not affect me in any single way. With a negative belief, I am more likely to be intolerant and treat something as a fact that has no basis in objectivity. And once again, we let our subjective feelings invade others’ personal boundaries. When life is a constant journey of learning and growth, beliefs do not stay the same. Seeing them as private beliefs leads to tolerance and harmony. And when we do that, others also see that we respect their choice to think differently, we respect their choice to believe differently, and we respect their individuality. Let us hope for a world where governments, societies, and individuals are less controlling, and more respectful about individuality and personal choices.

Unwilling to Allow His Wife a Divorce, He Marries Another

Here’s my observation from a different perspective – the religious law says she needs permission from her husband to remarry. But in civil law, she is a divorcee and can remarry. So she wants to change the religious law so she can again marry under the orthodox religious law. And that makes me wonder, if you do not like the religious law, do not follow it. But wanting to dilute it or change it for personal preference is well…picking and choosing what you want to follow and what you want to change. Either the entire thing is divine, or none of it is. Treating those parts that are easy to follow as divine, and anything that is politically incorrect as “culture”/”man-made” is cheating in my opinion.

http://nyti.ms/1evX5ak