“Sign the cause! Join me!”
My Facebook wall is littered with Causes petitions and requests with over 20 people asking me to sign the petition to stop gendercide (among others). While this is well and good – and I’m certainly happy to see people taking the initiative to sign the petition and recruit people to do so as well (in fact, I’ve done those myself), perhaps the time has arrived for some deeper reflection. And a few confessions.
Until a few months ago, women’s rights and outrage against sex selective abortions were distant concepts for me – difficult to fully grasp. I knew foetuses were aborted simply because they had vaginas. I knew females were murdered simply because they were females. I knew the reason was son-preference – a honking red light signalling the existence of patriarchy. I knew women still had a ways to go with regards to their rights. I knew of feminism. They were theoretical concepts – ones you had to learn for exams or a word (feminism) you looked up in the dictionary because you didn’t know what it meant. And promptly forgetting it a couple of days later. I couldn’t relate to them. I didn’t think that many aspects of my everyday life were sexist. I thought it was normal. And, much to my shame, I was sexist as well.
I think most people who grow up in a patriarchy without explicit teachings against the sexism so prevalent in such a culture are sexist. Unknowingly so, or perhaps they know of the differences in the ways women and men are differently treated and socialised but they think “this is the way things are supposed to be”. This is not an excuse, but perhaps a reason. I did not think that the unstated assumptions with which I worked were wrong. That most girls like pink. That pre-marital sex is a sign of being a “bad” girl – that all boys are sex-maniacs, so why should they be subject to the same rules for categorising girls into a “bad” folder? After all, it is the girl’s responsibility, isn’t it? Because all men just want sex and women families? To pass whispers about that girl in a short dress – “Oh, look at what she is wearing!” After all, these were the messages I got from the society, the media, my peers, my teachers as well.
I had homophobic and transphobic tendencies as well – “haha are you gay?”, “omg is she a lesbo?”; “hahaha look at that he-she!”, “run awayyy it is coming!!”. These were how I was taught to respond – how everybody around me responded. There was no talk of rights. I felt it was natural and OK. Suffice it to say, I was pretty bigoted.
Anyway, I was aware of sex selective abortions. I felt it was wrong, of course. But, I couldn’t relate to it. I didn’t feel outraged over it. I see cries of “Why aren’t people outraged??” “Why does the educated middle class not care about this??”. That is why I am typing my own story. Why I wasn’t outraged.
To put it simply, I was (and am) pretty privileged. I had class privilege, caste privilege, cisgender privilege, heterosexual privilege, the privilege of being born in a family where nobody would go to the extent of aborting a female foetus or killing a female infant/girl child. The reality of people actually doing that was a distant concept for me. It was statistics I had to learn for class. Numbers. I thought of it as just another thing I have to learn and write in a test.
Nobody talked of it any more than that – not in schools, not in family discussions. Perhaps the only time I talked about it with anybody was when another gruesome incident of females being killed on account of their sex was televised. It was forgotten within a couple of days – until the next incident was talked of.
And, moreover, the reasons behind it were not talked of. Talking of the whys of son-preference might actually force us (the educated, middle class who like to believe our society is equal now) to accept the cause (patriarchy), yeah? And, horror of horrors, it might actually make us think the many other ways in which patriarchy affects us all! It might even give some the idea that we should actually work towards equality. A break-down of the Indian Family, damn it! And we can’t pretend that our families are somehow excluded from the bigotry prevailing in the society? Thinking of it makes us shudder, I’m sure.
Anyway, back to the point – it was nothing more than a numbers issue for me (and I’m sure many others). Perhaps, if it was talked of as a human rights issue, I would’ve actually thought about it? If it was talked of as a severe violation of human rights (which it is)? If there was more importance on rights rather than numbers when talked about?
I would’ve certainly thought about it more. Yes, numbers and stats are important – but so is the human rights perspective and talking of the broader social reasons.
I’ve confessed much of my previous bigotry here – if you want to judge me, or hold something against me, go ahead. I can understand. The point was that most people growing up in a bigoted society are bigoted when they don’t have anything negating those influences and making them aware of the sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, casteist, classist, ageist, ableist messages which are rampant. And that if people are willing to change, they can. And, most importantly, we need messages which make us question things we hold as “normal” in “mainstream” culture – not simply restricted to fringe groups with social awareness. And we need to work toward it – all of us.