My dear friends R and J inspired me to write this post in order to bust a myth. A myth that I believed to be true in the years I lived in India in my parents’ home overlooking the slums. Everyday we could see the drama unfold right before our eyes. Drunken husbands beating up their wives. Girls pulled out of school and sent off to do housework. Polygamous husbands that can barely support themselves and their impoverished families. I always thought it had something to do with being poor and uneducated. I was pretty sure that educated well-to-do families had no such issues. That was my limited and rosy picture of the world given my sheltered upbringing. But slowly the veil was lifted. The first shock came when I went on a trip with my friend. I found out that our host was beaten by her ex-husband for several years. She did not fit the demographics of abuse. She was educated and rich. How could this have happened to her?
But I still thought that this sort of thing happened only in India – the land of Sati, where people preferred sons to daughters, where girls were considered a burden to the family and boys were deified. In the past widows were shunned, rape was something you covered up to save the honor of the family and husbands were allowed to beat their wives and have affairs. Some of this still goes on in very remote parts of the country.
When I came to the U.S. the women appeared free and totally in control of their destiny and lives. Stay-at-home dads and husbands that cooked and did housework threw me off. I did believe that women had finally become equals in this land of liberty and equality. How wrong I was! I’ve read and seen enough to know that abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction have destroyed many a family. Even a powerful woman like Oprah has confessed to being abused by a relative when she was a child. But the real eye-opener was this video that was aired on the Oprah show. It was a husband who was abusing his wife and had asked his teenage son to tape the whole thing. The wife was educated, they appeared to be well-off and yet she stood there as this man berated her, called her names and even struck her. All because she asked what sandwich he’d like for lunch!
I can’t shake off the look of utter helplessness she had on her face. She didn’t fight. Ultimately, she got the help she needed to leave her abusive husband but I can’t help wondering how many such women still need to be saved. Women still don’t get equal pay in any country. It took Billie Jean King to get the U.S. tennis association to pay equal prize money to women. It took Venus Williams to get women equal prize money at the Wimbledon in 2007! Women are objectified by the media. They are perceived as eye candy, sex objects or toys for men to play with. You just have to go shopping for Halloween costumes to see how women are perceived. It’s doctor, astronaut and super hero costumes for boys and airy fairy princess costumes for girls. And for women sluttier versions of the kids costumes are available.
The treatment of women in some Middle Eastern countries is something the whole world has a problem with. Women aren’t allowed to drive or do certain kinds of jobs. There are restrictions regarding what they should wear and how they should behave. I won’t be wrong in saying that it was the case out here in the U.S. several years ago. It was not ‘genteel’ for women to work or sweat and do hard labor. Women couldn’t drive, work or vote. But like the U.S. these countries are slowly letting go of their outdated beliefs. The 2012 Olympics saw women from Saudi Arabia competing for the first time.
In India too as women become more independent (combination of education and career) they no longer need to put up with abusive husbands. The divorce rates are going up and that is a concern for the older generation. But I see it as breaking away from beliefs like – women should be submissive, they should be tolerant of their husbands and their families etc. I thought this was only happening with women from a higher socio-economic strata. Again I was wrong!
We stopped cable a few months ago and while browsing channels I stumbled upon a PBS World Channel and they were airing a show on women in Tamil Nadu! The very same state in India that I grew up in! It was about the fate of Muslim women in villages in India. The men of the village come together as a group to discuss any problems in the community and then make decisions that affected everyone involved. The women were not represented and their side of the story was never heard. One woman decided that it was not fair and started her own group or “Jamaat” only for women. She would meet with some of the local women and talk about their problems. Soon the women realized that they were being manipulated by the men. Many spoke of abuse and violence. The Jamaat stepped in on their behalf and supported them as they slowly left their abusive husbands. Something they never had the power to even contemplate!
Yes, we have miles to go before every women and girl in every corner of the world is safe and treated with respect and as an equal. But I do see the world going in that direction. I see each woman stepping up to her true power instead of giving it away to a man. We have planted the seeds of change, now we must wait patiently as they grow.