As a kid, I remember those musical ads on DD National Channel advocating the importance of educating girls and promoting the fact that girls and boys are equal. It was funny to me why are they stating the obvious. I mean all I could gather at that tender age was that girls are equal to boys, even better. All the rank holders in my class were girls. Be it sports or art or dance, girls excelled everywhere. The only thing boys were good at was fighting.
Fast forward by 7-8 years and it all changed. My female friends were being taught cooking and other home management skills. At the age of 13-14, they were already talking about getting a suitable boy for marriage. They had a checklist of skills they need to pick up in order to get the best groom. Instead of taking care of their own grades, the eager ones were already in the lookout for boys who were likely to end up in IITs and IIMs. Their own grades were falling and so was their attendance. By the time my parents were preparing me to leave home for higher studies, few of my friends were already active in the marriage market. Some had their fate written the day they were born, and others were being punished for being too ‘modern’ for their age and culture.
However, for boys growing up seemed to be a complete game changer. They were allowed to play and roam around because they needed to learn about the world. They were allowed to live their life to the fullest because one day they had to shoulder responsibilities. Those who I never even saw in the classroom were spending lakhs of money in coaching institute to get good seats in engineering and medical colleges. And for the first time in my life I was jealous or wait, it was the second time. The first time I was jealous was when I had severe period cramps and had to miss school.
This jealousy grew bigger and bigger till it was replaced by anger towards the society and the system. My parents raised me and my sister as future adults who had to fend for themselves and not as girls to be married or boys to become the man of the house. No expense was ever spared in the way of our development. Yet, I always had a complaint that I am a girl.
- That I cannot take up certain jobs because it would involve me staying out for long hours. Who would guarantee my safety?
- That I cannot plan my career without being worried about who would marry me and where would he be located, if he would want me to stay at home, etc
- That I cannot visit my friends and family without my husband’s family’s permission
- That my hobbies and passion would always be placed at last
- That I must work harder than others to show that I am worthy of that promotion and it’s not happening because of my beauty or sex appeal.
And honestly, these things are trivial in front of brutalities women face. If I compare myself to my contemporaries, I should be called a privileged one. However, I still feel anguish when I hear people (women included) say
- You girls have it easy. If it works for you, take a job else, get married and chill at home.
- She doesn’t work at all. We all know how she got the promotion.
- There are only 27% of women in India who work coz women don’t want to work.
- Why do you have leave early from the office party? You are not a team player.
- The issues faced by women are so exaggerated. I have female friends who don’t face any of these issues.
Now, remember what I wrote in the initial paragraphs? How were girls raised as compared to boys? What are the values they learned in childhood? What conditions have they seen their mother in? What type of independence they experienced while growing up? What type of things were discussed with them?
The truth is people are not built by advertisements and policies and incentives. People are built by ideologies and beliefs. If the societal norms and behavior would not showcase the fact that people are born equal, no amount of education or policy can bring a real change. Orthodox beliefs and oppressive customs would continue creeping in through the so-called modern life we are leading. The real change would take place when we, instead of saying “Aisa hi hai samaj” (this is how society is) start embracing the change at an individual and family level. Until that day, I would continue to be jealous and angry.
PS: I have always looked up to video ads to bring across meaningful messages in less than 2-3 minutes. Here is one beautiful ad reflecting my thoughts: