Yesterday, I was the chief guest at a girls’ college – where an inter college sports meet was being organised. The participants were holding their banners, in their college uniforms, and were raring to go! I watched the first kho-kho match, where girls (they were from simple, rural backgrounds) were running, shouting, glowing with focus and the thrill of winning!
Then, I was taken to another competition site- where bridal makeup was being judged. A couple of judges from the glamour industry were there and I watched almost 20 young women – all looking nervous and heavily weighed down- sitting pretty-with heavy brocaded dresses and jewelry and loads of makeup on their faces.
For a moment, being a woman, being the mother of two daughters, I wondered on the contrasting messages we often give to our girls! The girls on the sports field were shorn of makeup, any jewellery or heavy heels- they were running in the sunlight. The girls on the mandap-being judged for their looks- looked literally caged.”We should not underestimate the power of shringar”, intoned a compere. Oh, Lord!
The newspapers obviously highlighted the brides taking selfies- the young sports girls were relegated to a corner with a small photograph- though the event was a sports meet!
The New York Times reports that Princeton University has apparently banned its prestigious mens’ teams of swimming and diving from participating in the season’s competitions with Harvard and Yale et al- because…! Because, they discovered very lurid, despicable, contemptible comments in their internal written communication about women counterparts of the University’s swimming and diving teams.
Again one is forced to contemplate- if the best and brightest of the world, excelling in the world’s top most Universities, consider women, their own brilliant colleagues studying and participating in sports- as despicable objects for simply “using”, what hope is there for the rest of the world? Can we expect them to respect other women, other men, any differently abled, any marginalised, any “other” with eyes of decency and a vision of equal dignity?
I pause at certain paragraphs of Margaret Atwood’s striking dystopian novel – The Handmaid’s Tale. Published in 1985, it eerily recreates a new world where the women are merely “reproductive breeding objects”, stopped from existence as normal human beings by religious sanction and the powerful system! I am awed at Margaret Atwood’s perspicacity.
How different is the existence of the Yazidi women and girls bartered by IS , and the girls kidnapped by Boko Harem in recent times?
How different is the world view of many sophisticated, grinning , accomplished faces studying in the world’s premier universities?
Should we teach our daughters to sit heavily bedecked and scared to take a breath, getting judged for their “seductive quotient” or ask them to go out and shine in the sunlight of society?
Pray, what if, even when they are playing sports, all we judge them for is their attractiveness quotient?
Are we breeding handmaids for the powerful and paternalistic society or are we bringing up confident young women, who can stand tall in every field?
To have men who respect women, damn the Ivy League tag or not, irrespective of whatever creed or religion or category we are discussing, we need mothers who respect themselves and who will teach their sons to respect other women.
And as for me, I am going to check the ‘side events’ before accepting any future invitations for interacting with young women!