Uncomfortable Questions

Background: The post below was originally made in IITK Alumni Association group on Facebook.  I am reproducing it as it is except for making language corrections. The context was that IITK Alumni Association president created a IITK-women only Facebook group. And the reactions to those were hilarious until they got ridiculous and finally infuriating. People had too many in-principle and in-practice opposition. Why this discrimination? How would everyone react if men-only group was created? How does being a man or woman make difference to an IITian? What could they possibly need to discuss? Do you mean women should only help women? Do you mean women need more help than men? These women need to understand that they can not become equal with this “ghetto” mentality. Blah, blah, blah. Whether or not a group can be of help is a different thing. What made me uncomfortable was how clueless many of these people were about the concerns of women and yet how confident of knowing-it-all (Read this other post about this phenomenon.). So, I decided to throw some uncomfortable questions at them too. Reproduced below because shelf life of posts on Facebook is short. The postscript is a part of the original post itself.

Original Facebook Post

“Hey guys, I am going through a dilemma and I hope I could use the experience of others here. Me and my wife want to have a baby. But we do not want our kids to be raised by others. The only solution seems to be for my wife to compromise on her career. I don’t like that either. How have you all managed? Any tips? Solutions?”

Hang on! What are you talking about Jaya Jha? Where did you read a question like that?

I didn’t. I made that one up. Give how many women do sacrifice their careers for raising kids, does it not sound surprising to you that men hardly seem to need advice or hand-holding about such dilemmas. So, what do you think? Women are just hardwired to give everything up for the babies? They do it willingly, so it doesn’t matter? Ever wondered where does that “will” come from? Is there something abnormal about the women who may not want to give up on their careers for kids?

I am not asking you to answer these questions here. I am not giving any answers either. But if you were to witness the concerns shared in a women-only group, you would realize how real this dilemma is. But it just doesn’t seem to figure in issues that IITians (mostly men on this group) would like to discuss or solve. If the reason is that you do not have a men-only group to discuss this, I would say rush to make one. Although how an insignificant percentage of women (who didn’t even come to speak on a topic of women-only group here) makes it difficult for you to do it here is not something I understand.

The other explanation is more likely. The problem just isn’t as real to you as it is to most career-women. Add to that the ambitions a system like IIT has imparted the IIT-women with and you might just be able to see the conflict.

This is just one of the gazillion issues which women would like to discuss. Another one I remember being discussed was dealing with mother-in-laws who think their sons not getting hot-off-tawaphulkas from their wives is the reason behind all of the world’s disasters. Did I see a grin on your face? How stupid, did you wonder, without even realizing that you did? Wake up! The problem is very real to a lot of career-women. It affects their self-esteem on a day-to-day basis. Imagine being told every day that you are a bad son or a bad husband or a bad father.

There is an experience I had at IITK I don’t like to talk about. I won’t go into the details here either, but the gist was that despite being the strongest candidate I wasn’t allowed to be the coordinator of Megabucks. And the reasons given by the S&T secy and the previous coordinator were by no means subtle or round-about. It was ‘obvious’ that being a girl I couldn’t be expected to have or trusted with the responsibility. When they realized that I wasn’t as satisfied as them with this ‘obvious’ reason, things turned dirty. Questions started being asked about everything from my team-building ability to god-knows-what-else. All the work I had done came to a naught. All the strong credentials did not matter. My reputation did not matter. I figured I didn’t want to fight pigs in the mud and withdrew, even from a concession post I was being given (As an aside none of the people who were involved are entrepreneurs today. I am! I have been a speaker at Megabucks and other entrepreneurship related events in the campus since then). It was extremely disheartening then. It makes me bitter even now (the reason I don’t want to recall it!). I sometimes need to discuss these things. I sometimes need someone to tell me that Yes! What happened to you was wrong. But don’t be disheartened. Life doesn’t end with some morons. People who shrug their shoulders and tell me that ‘they were you know right in their place’ don’t help me. Where do I go and talk about this? In this group, where the majority is made up of the same kind of people who had made me feel miserable then? Again to be told that I am so naïve I don’t see the ‘obvious’.

Yes. I would like to fight all of this. I would like all women to fight this. But tell me something. Are all IIT-men some sort of superman? No, right? So, why are all the IIT-women expected to be superwoman? Why are they supposed to be able to manage it all and not seek support, advice or even just a shoulder to cry on, especially when there are systematic problem that they face being women?

I don’t have a problem with men. In fact, I am lucky to have such men in my life who know and understand exactly what I am talking about. And who ensure that I am not solving such dilemmas in my life alone. It is because of these men in my life that I am able to voice out some of these things so openly. Because I know I am not going to start a war with people close to me. And those men do not get offended by women-only groups on Facebook or elsewhere.

But I also know that percentage of such men in negligible. As negligible as the number of women at IITK. Most women are left to solve their problems on their own. I would like to tell them to get their asses out of a marriage if their husbands do not share the responsibility of housework and children equally. But that would break far too many marriages (are any of your fidgeting in your seats at the idea?). Plus not everyone wants to keep fighting all their lives. They want simple pleasures from life. So, most of them want to find a solution less radical than breaking all their relations and going alone. And they need help of others. Unfortunately not many men qualify to help. Not only do they not qualify, they create an environment filled with ridicule that doesn’t let women discuss these things freely.

Why aren’t more women writing about it here?

  1. Look at the percentage of IITK-men who participate in the discussions here. Look at the percentage, who are vocal and articulate enough to speak on topics like these? Apply those percentages to total number of women and see what the number looks like. You don’t need exact numbers. You know the answer. In a cinema hall filled with IITK students, when some character on the screen mouthed a dialog like “tumhare yahan ladkiyan nahin hoti hain kya?”, the students had shouted in chorus “IITK mein nahin hoti hain”.
  2. The kind of things I have said are very close to a lot of women. It is personal. They are not comfortable announcing them here.

Why didn’t I reply seriously in the original thread about IITK Women-only group? It was already too muddy, filled up with pointless ramblings from self-appointed experts on the issues ranging from women-empowerment to world-hunger (man-made boundaries??). I have an aversion to fighting in the mud.

And by the way, if you care about equality and women-empowerment, you are really wasting your time wondering about women-only Facebook groups. It’s a free feature on a damn platform created for college-goers. Not some privilege granted to anyone by the government, IITK or Alumni Association. If it matters so much, go create an IITK-men group and if someone creates a raucous, throw your reasoning at them. Point is – it doesn’t fucking matter.

If you do wonder about women empowerment, start with this simple question – do you share the housework with your working-wife equally? (Not just as a weekend romantic favor!) If you have maids and cooks and servants to do that work, count dealing with them also in the housework. Do you share that? What about children? If not, step back and think for a moment. Can you empower your wife more than she currently is? It will mean some uncomfortable things to do in your day-to-day life. I can tell you from personal experience. If you are unmarried and plan to go for arranged marriage, it will start with telling your parents that you don’t want dowry! If you are married, if might mean telling your Mom that you are fine with sabzi that comes out of fridge and roti that has been cooked in the afternoon by the cook. And that it’s perfectly all right for her son to go into the kitchen and make the bed. It would mean telling your guests that I am the host and it is okay for me to be in the kitchen. The female guests are not obliged to join my wife for that. It would mean telling your daughter to not feel obliged to do everything and go after the dreams she has. And it would sometime even mean dealing with the women you are trying to empower, because they have been brought up with some stereotypes that are ingrained in them, and they act according to that even if their mind tells them otherwise. It would mean assuring them that they are not expected to be superwoman, telling them that you know they would also be tired after a hard day’s work and you would cook the dinner and do the dishes together.

Sounds doable? It is, if you ask me. If it does to you, stop bothering about Facebook groups and start acting on these. If not, spare the rest of us your intellectual masturbation. Stop pretending that there is no problem. Women have lots of problem to solve in which you are not being helpful.

Thank you.

P. S. I know there is no guarantee that this post will also not trigger another muddy intellectual battle of nothings. So, I may not come back to defend whatever I have said. Especially not to repeat the disclaimer that it is not a post against men. Of course, I would be happier if it triggers some introspection, rather than debate.

This entry was posted in Feminism, Thoughts by Jaya. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jaya

Jaya Jha is an entrepreneur, a techie, a writer and a poet. She was born and brought up in various towns of Bihar and Jharkhand. A graduate of IIT Kanpur and IIM Lucknow, she realized early on that the corporate world was not her cup of tea. In 2008, she started Pothi.com, one of the first print-on-demand publishing platform in India. She currently lives in Bangalore and divides her time between writing and working on her company's latest product InstaScribe (http://instascribe.com) with a vision to make it the best e-book creation tool. Blog: https://jayajha.wordpress.com Twitter: @jayajha Facebook: http://facebook.com/MovingOnTheBook

One thought on “Uncomfortable Questions

  1. Pingback: Cluelessness + Overconfidence | Miles to go…

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