We’re brought up to believe patriarchy eulogizes men and downgrades women. It considers men superior to women! I’d grown up thinking our society is unfair to women alone. We are expected to be ideal wives and mothers, daughters-in law and doormats that don’t let out a whimper despite the demands made on us. Women aren’t given equal opportunity, nor pay parity. Ironically it is women who are not only the perpetrators of the myth of male superiority even as they are the biggest victims. But are men really meted out any preferential status? Even though they are raised with a sense of entitlement and are labeled as the preferred gender, they too are slotted in fixed moulds early on in life and are expected to toe the line.
Men really are in no better position in our country. They are pulled in diametrically opposite directions when they have to choose between giving up their dreams to meet societal and familial expectations. A patriarchal mind-set enslaves men just as it chains women to zany ideals and exacting standards of how they ought to behave and act. With time and experiences I am willing to believe that the masculine ideal is as exacting of men as it is denigrating of women. If women have to conform to ideals of beauty, men too are forced to fit into the ambiguous macho image. If society expects women to be soft, feminine and mild it encourages its men to fit into stereotypes of being the strong, resilient and silent ones sans emotions. If women are expected to put their career on the back-burner and meet familial responsibilities men are thought of as nothing but primary providers and are balked at if they ever display an instinct to nurture and care. Things are changing but most people still remain wedded to the ideas of traditional gender roles. The only legit emotional expression in a man is often anger and in a woman silent acceptance of her circumstances and calm even in the face of the biggest storms.
These gender stereotypes are thrust into our faces early in life. Gradually they seep through the layers of our skin and embed themselves in our impressionable minds and malleable little souls. We become clones of people in the generations before us. They start early on in life, when we dress our boys in blue and girls daintily in pink. When we give our daughters a Barbie to hold and tell her fairy tales that endorse the fact she needs to be pretty and her life’s sole purpose is to wait for her Prince Charming ( Who is more often than not a prince harming in the Indian context!) Or it stealthily creeps into our psyche when we give our sons cars and guns and overlook their rowdyism and aggression with the done to death and rather blanket ‘boys will be boys ‘expression. Or when an eyebrow is raised when our daughters and sisters are boisterous and all hell breaks loose at home if our sons are sensitive enough to express emotions or shed tears. They get crystallized when we praise our daughters for their beauty and our sons for their achievements.
Stereotypes perhaps came into being for us to slot people easily based on gender or race, because we can’t comprehend and are intimidated by anyone or anything that we can’t label or put in a box. But they are at their very root judgemental and burdensome. They dilute our individuality and compel us to subscribe to a set of pre-conceived notions and societal expectations.They are tied intricately with our complex social fabric’s need to maintain status quo.
Of course we have the odd rebels and the far and few thinking intellectuals who often break barriers and defy societal stereotypes. But such people are far and few. When we’ll stop judging and alpha female or a woman who is a go-getter at work and stop praising men for pitching in at home or participating in parenting is when we’ll truly overcome these traditional societal typecasts.
For people who mock feminism, it’s time to see it in a new light. Feminism isn’t the opposite of patriarchy, rather it is based on a balanced and healthy world view. It puts individual before gender, people before labels and demands equal opportunities immaterial of gender. Women’s liberation not only empowers women it also liberates men from bearing the cross of traditional gender roles. Unlike patriarchy feminism works with the assumption both men and women have equal rights and that they are humans before being ‘Men’ and ‘Women’.