Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Skewed Perceptions about women

Image from Zubaan
Written by Ramya Padmanabhan for the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women

Does information define perception or does perception define information. Sound like the chicken – egg paradox? In a way it is.

The one topic that has been in your face the last couple of years is Women. Women- who are they, what do they want, what are their rights, who is a feminist, who isn’t, what do you do with rapists, who are the real men, who are the real women, what does society want from women , what do women want from society, is it war, is it love. God!!! Enough to drive one nuts don’t you think!

Result- over thinking over analysis over paralysis and excessive hype information, marketing, you name it. Yet, somewhere in the middle of all this din, a small measure of truth is emerging, something we have all known always, something that doesn’t take rocket science to figure out, women are humans too! Yes the gender card is always being played, but for every stereotype, there is also the dawn of some refreshing thinking, a sort of static dynamism or perhaps a dynamic statism?

The one key issue that has brought all this thinking to the forefront is the issue of women’s safety. Why is it that we live in a society where women seldom feel safe to venture out on their own, where they are constantly judged on the basis of how they talk, dress, write think, even breathe? Where everyone has an opinion on women's rights and societies wrongs?

This recent video drives home this point in a very subtle manner. The tagline at the end of the video says, can we give her the world that she believes exists? Isn’t it a wonderful thought? A world where innocence can flourish and trust lives like fresh dew drops on the morning flowers. A refreshing world where one breathes in rarefied air without the toxic smells of judgement, power-plays and emotional violence. Aah! Wonderful! While I do appreciate the romanticism, I’m definitely not a proponent of the thought that ignorance delivers perpetual bliss, simply because it is false.

The video takes all the scary stereotypes that women encounter on a regular basis and throws it all into the garbage with the classic twist in the tale, but only through the eyes of the viewer and not the protagonist. I would loathe thinking that most viewers did not see that ending coming.

While it is true that it would be so wonderful if such a world did exist, the truth is that reality is different, because at the end of the day the video is also a stereotype. The world we inhabit is a meeting point for the black and the white and we all play a role in creating the grey.

The society, the ubiquitous monolith does feed in stereotypes on who a woman is, what she must do, how she must behave, but it’s the same society that creates stereotypes on who men are as well. At the end of the day, man or woman, no one is viewed as an individual in their own right, but then when you think about it, it isn’t society that’s to blame, for society is nothing but what we make of it. Perhaps it is the overt preoccupation with what others think about oneself and what is expected that has created these perceptions in the first place, because perceptions by themselves are static, it is what we do with them that give them life and make them a force to contend with.

So perhaps, it all boils down to personal responsibility and awareness. This is extremely difficult on a consistent basis and in circumstances where there is absolutely no room for individuality in the first place. How often do we hear of girls being sold off at a young age, being prevented from completing their education, kidnapped and forced into prostitution, being killed at birth for just being a girl, of dowry deaths. Yet, we also hear of wonderful stories of men who treat women with respect and concern, of women who break barriers not because they have to but because they want to, of citizen groups that save many from domestic violence. Isn’t it also true though that for every women who’s rights and individuality is cruelly stripped, there are women themselves who treat not only other women shabbily but also other men?

So the society we inhabit is a cesspool of dynamism which seems to be on the cusp of change, where the really bad co exists with the extremely good and where everyone is under extreme pressure to consistently prove themselves.

Instead of trying to find a way break perceptions, it is probably the time to make fresh beginnings and listen to the voice of reason that exists within us all, that tells us that none of us is pure evil or pure good, this isn’t a war of us versus them, rather we all inhabit the smoky grey space in-between which is undefined and uncertain and instead of trying to control it, we must focus on trying to bring out the best in ourselves. Perhaps then, the age of innocence will finally dawn and perhaps it won’t be all that we thought it would be.