Has the ladies faith in the dogmatic teachings of feminist writers/leaders been the deliverance they had dreamt of? Has it led them to other forms of sexual inequality, or has the ideals just got corrupted along the way?
I have been invited to a wedding this week-end. Please don’t get me wrong but, like many people my age, I do not relish weddings anymore. But this one I must attend from Friday to Monday (oof!) because it’s my niece who is getting married.
At 30, many family members had packed and labelled the poor girl to be archived on the proverbial shelf. However the wedding date got miraculously fixed earlier this year to their utter surprise – and to the great relief of her parents! Soon after the date was fixed I asked her where she and her husband-to-be were going to live.
“Sunil’s mum has given him 15 perches near her house,” she replied.
“That’s good,” I exclaimed. “You can pool your resources and build your home there.”
“No way, chacha!” she said, “that’s for him to take care of. Don’t you agree?”
As it happens I did not agree, but it would have been futile arguing with her. However it did make me wonder whatever happened to sexual equality (I hate the G-word) which generations of women have fought for.
Sexual inequality goes back in history, to primitive times when man acted as the provider while the woman was the home-maker. Hunting was considered far too dangerous for the latter. But as humanity progressed to the Neolithic age, women began to help their menfolk with farming. The emphasis being on “help”, the man was still considered as the provider.
Then industrialization came along and more and more women went out to work, mostly to earn some pin money. Later some of them would choose to opt out of wedlock and earn a living for themselves. Thus from sole provider man became the main provider to the family. However patriarchal society continued to regard women as the weaker sex (with some justification) and therefore less productive. Consequently they were paid less than male employees, even when they were doing equal work to them.
Unfortunately the patriarchal ethos spawned a lot of inequalities between the sexes. Of course this affected all women, but perhaps the single woman even more. Whereas the married woman could use her husband as a “passport” to gain access to certain resources, this option was not open to the single woman; like a widow’s pension. Something had to give.
So began the struggle for sexual equality. Although the movement goes back to the 1800s-1900s with Emily Pankhurst’s suffragettes in the UK — followed by similar movements in the white Commonwealth and the USA — the major international impetus really got going with the end of World War II during which time women were called upon to man the factories and work the land while the men went to war. Almost suddenly women discovered their real worth and the march forward began.
When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the UN in 1948, it included women of course. This was followed by several other conventions in their favour. But the most important was the adoption was the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women by the UN General Assembly in 1979. This was preceded by a robust feminist movement and manifestations particularly in the West, which shows the value of civilian pressure groups.
Sexual equality refers to a state where there is equal access to opportunities and resources no matter the sex. There are several other definitions, but perhaps one of the best comes from the ILO which states that sexual equality “entails the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices.”
Example. In the UK the first Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975 which not only opened up the way for women to equal pay for equal work, but also to a host of resources hitherto unavailable to them. For example, prior to the Act, only male employees of banks were entitled to loans, crucially the subsidized housing loan. Their female colleagues had to resort to Building Society loans at higher interest rates. Post-1975, every employee became entitled to contract loans on equal terms.
The bra burners
Women’s socio-economic and political progress has been phenomenal these past 60-70 years. Around the world today, we have women MPs, Presidents (even in little Mauritius!), Company Chairs, doctors, lawyers, scientists, but also in ordinary jobs and occupations which were closed to them before. It is safe to say that the glass ceiling has been broken. More and more, employers are looking at the ability rather than the gender of their employees.
The process had been gathering momentum nicely because, save a few Male Chauvinistic Pigs, even the men could see the ladies had a just cause and extended a helping hand. But the bra-burning sisterhood forgot that change is a natural process, and some processes cannot be hustled along. Their impatience has resulted in some horrific social behaviour.
Example. It would probably have come to pass sometime anyway, and perhaps those growing up with it would have found it quite normal — just as we accept girls in tight denim jeans today, which would have caused an outrage 50 years ago! But girls guzzling beer straight from the bottle, belching, tottering and throwing up on the pavement, swearing and generally behaving as badly as the boys are not yet the sort of antisocial behaviour that is the acceptable norm today. In a century or so, maybe! But for now, men and most women prefer ladylike behaviour and feminine charm. Sexual equality is not always the best option!
Also the movement seems to have digressed in many ways, like battling to promote the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. What has sexual equality got to do with male sodomy, one may ask? Others including the Mauritius crowd seem to be driven by class, colour and creed sometimes — this would have been anathema to the founding sisters-in-arms. For example one sole white woman (I concur one too many) gets raped and we have miles of print and protest marches across the whole island. Almost weekly some black woman gets abused physically, and not a single peep out of the gin and tonic-sipping sisterhood! Ad infinitum…
Anyway back to Sunday’s wedding.
Laxmi had met the boy while studying in India. After graduation they returned to Mauritius, hoping to get hitched sometime soon. But alas, they had reckoned without the abomination called the Hindu caste system. Still they held resolute and, seeing no other way out of the impasse, the parents finally acquiesced… seven years later!
Next Sunday as I watch the couple take their saat phere, I’ll be thinking about that conversation about the house and wondering if the ladies have really quite freed themselves from the shackles of sexual inequality in their own mind. Has their faith in the dogmatic teachings of feminist writers/leaders been the deliverance they had dreamt of? Has it led them to other forms of sexual inequality, or has the ideals just got corrupted along the way? That is the “Good, the Bad and the Ugly” imponderables?
* Published in print edition on 11 May 2018