You are a gender-sensitive Indian male who believes in equality for women and treats women with dignity and respect. You are progressive. You assert vehemently (and mean it) that you do not view women as chattel, that you would never beat your wife, that you participate in childcare and household chores, that you are supportive of the girl child, of a woman's right to voice her opinions freely. And you walk the talk. You are better than your father, because unlike men of his generation, you treat women as your equals.
All of the above is true. You are the face of change when it comes to male attitudes towards women in India.
And yet you say that if a man you know is beating his wife, it is disgusting and unacceptable, but it is their personal business nevertheless. A matter between husband and wife. What would you have me do, you ask reasonably - intervene in every case of domestic violence there is? You, alone, can't change the world. Please take my word for it - the only way that domestic violence in this country (or indeed anywhere at all) will subside is if, in addition to women, men overtly and actively make it unacceptable for other men to engage in it. Men who abuse women don't care what other women think of them; they only care what other men think. And say. And do.
And yet you believe, deep down, that a mangalsutra is an effective deterrent to rape. Wear one, you say, because other Indian men (the ones who are not like you) are less likely to harass a married woman since she is marked as belonging to another male. You yourself don't think that way, you don't care whether or not your wife wears one, but you do think it contributes at least marginally to a woman's safety. Please take my word for it - a prominently visible mangalsutra, a demure salwar kameez, a wedding ring, a pallu-covered head - none of these make a difference. A man rapes because he believes that he is entitled to sexual gratification from a woman. Or even a child. Rape does not happen because of what she wears, what she does, how she walks or talks - it happens because of how he thinks.
And yet you feel that marital sex is your conjugal right. That unless your wife regularly supplies you with sex, there is nothing binding you together - not your kids, or your shared experiences, or the fact that she has stood by your side in difficult times. As a progressive Indian male, you certainly do not want her to view sex as her "duty" - you truly want her to enjoy it. To that end, you are willing to place her sexual needs, satisfaction, and pleasure over your own - sometimes. If she can't engage in sex as often or as enthusiastically as you would like, you are willing to do whatever it takes to help her overcome her problem and her guilt - including (albeit reluctantly) turning to sex workers or other women to have your sexual needs met while paying for your wife to see a therapist. Please take my word for it - very often, an Indian man's sense of entitlement to sex, his lack of sensitivity to a woman's emotional needs, and his indifference to personal hygiene are a big turn off.
And yet you are open to the possibility that a man who passes a lewd remark about the breasts of a mother who is taking a stroll with her child outside her home may - just MAY - be making a crude, misguided attempt at being friendly rather than engaging in intentional sexual harassment. You are disappointed and frustrated by the fact that most women won't even admit that this is at least a possibility, however slim. Please take my word for it, it is not possible at all that he is trying to be friendly.
And yet you believe that when it comes to the workplace, the glass ceiling in India has been shattered. Even though the United Nations reports that only 29% of Indian women above the age of 15 in 2011 were a part of the country’s labor force, compared to 80.7% men, and that only 26.6% women above 25 years received a secondary education in 2010, compared to 50.4% of men. Please take my word for it, every time a woman in this country manages (against all odds) to break through the glass ceiling, it magically seals up beneath her - stronger and denser than ever before.
And yet you believe that feminists alienate their biggest male supporters (you, the progressive Indian male) because they become overly emotional and refuse to address issues like eve-teasing with a little humor. Please take my word for it- it isn't funny. At all. To be sexually harassed at the age of 6 or 7 or 10. And every day thereafter. To feel intensely aware of and wary of every man, of every age, when you are walking on a busy street in broad daylight.
And yet you say that since you did not actively contribute to creating India's horribly regressive patriarchal system, that you have no responsibility to actively contribute towards breaking it down. That given your upbringing and your age, the best you can do is to not practice or enforce that system in your own home. And if the women in your life do not appreciate how far you have come, how much you are doing; if they feel disappointed in your efforts - well, that is merely their opinion, and they are, of course, entitled to it. Even if that opinion threatens your sense of who you are or who you aspire to be. Even if you feel that their expectations are unreasonable and idealistic. Please take my word for it, we know you are trying, but we also believe that you can do better. Much better.
And yet when a woman tries to explain and express her outrage and pain at what she goes through and at how helpless and hopeless she feels, you ask why she is making it so personal. You tell her to be objective, to stay calm. You ask her to recognize how she has managed to make you - a man previously sympathetic to the cause of gender equality - hostile and unsympathetic by insinuating that you are not doing enough to help her in her struggle to change things (even just a little bit) for Indian women. Please take my word for it - if you have even one opportunity to act or speak out instead of remaining silent and passive, and if you choose not to grasp that opportunity - you are not doing enough.
You, the progressive, enlightened, urban Indian man, will never know what it is like to be a woman in this country. That is a fact. And yet, you dispute my experience of it. You argue, you debate, and you opine about how women in this country are treated. I implore you to please at least take my word for it instead.
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