Mar 12, 2009
Why should boys have all the fun?
A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) study has placed India at a proud 113 amongst 130 countries in terms of gender equality. In fact, India ranks behind countries like Bangladesh and several Middle East countries which are notorious for the harassment of women. A shocking revelation, no doubt. But is it really that astounding?
Today, I shall not talk of rural districts or femicide or even domestic violence or rape. I will rather discuss the role of popular media in unwittingly or otherwise inflicting a sense of disparity amongst us boys and girls.
By the time a girl reaches the age of 16, she is forced to look decently good to be accepted by the common standards of society. If boys wear spectacles, they look handsome and studious and clever and mature. Says who? The fashion police, of course! But what if a girl sports glasses? Oh no, who in the wide world would marry her? Yeah, right! Remember what Aamir Khan told Salman on 'Dus ka Dum'? When Kiran Rao offered to do away with her glasses, Aamir said he married her with glasses and curly hair et al, and therefore saw no reason for any change now.
It is perfectly fine for a man to be fat, and not at all obnoxious. In fact, it signifies 'happy' things as a loving family or a wealthy life and so on. But if a girl does not possess that coveted Miss-India-esque curvature, she is frowned upon. She is gawked and stared at and snide remarks reach her, all while overly-anxious aunties and didis fear for her future! Driven to the gym to break sweat, whether she likes it or not, she is taught to look desirable for the society at large. She starts to fear coming out into the stern public eye.
Open a newspaper or a magazine, or even switch on a random TV channel. Predictably, a starving model in a size-zero figure taunts at us. We resign to the fact that life is for living, and that we care a damn for our weight. But it doesn’t help that half the pages in half the magazines rave and rant on 'weight'y matters. So much that the Obamas and Osamas and Chandrayaans of the world are content with a second place to this most critical of human issues.
Men are tall, dark and handsome. But girls must be fair and lovely to even live a life of dignity and respect. Reason - they appear gorgeous that way only. Once they reach the blessed twenties, they must be listed as 'fair' and 'slim' and 'v. beautiful' on shaadi.com, bharatmatrimonial.com, jeevamsathi.com and even Times of India or Hindustan Times by concerned parents. Every television show broadcasts a fairness product advertisement at least thrice. Oh, sure we have a 'Fair and Handsome' product too, but in the world of TV as well as the actual social scenario it is twice as less in demand than its feminine counterpart. Never mind that Bipasha Basu is dark yet so stunningly sexy!
I haven’t even reached the part about acne and skin blemishes. How well do we know those mornings when we wake up wishing death for every pimple out there. Societal pressures, you say? Bingo, girl! You're right on it. So when I watched in utter horror Dr. Kiran Bedi of all women endorsing 'NoMarks' anti-blemish products, I felt we'd achieved what our fashion-crazed nation has always wanted - that beauty obsession runs deeper than nation-wide unrest! That advertisement actually prompted me to write this post.
Our men have donned 'western' apparel ever since we remember. I mean, we hardly see a young uppity boy dressed in a lungi or a dhoti or a langot, do we? But our 'desi girls' are expected, and even allowed, to sport only sari and salwar-kameez for the society to see them as existing. Maybe we have girls on city streets dressed in denims and skirts, whose styles change every so often. Nothing wrong with that, you say? How many of us would be dying to wear our 'decent' and 'homely' salwar-kameez but cannot do so due to pre-determined societal rules? None, since only 'western' attire is restricted and frowned upon, therefore making it that much more desirable.
Let us move on to more serious issues. If a man has a fling or a one-night-stand or an extra-marital affair, it is accepted by the large-hearted society as being a man's 'needs'. But when a woman engages herself in any relationship not mentioned in the society's rulebook, she is termed as 'loose', 'unchaste', 'characterless', 'available' and what not. She brings shame upon her family and society, so she pays for it with her life (which was dispensable anyway). So what happened to women's needs? And if unacceptable by society, why are female bar dancers and prostitutes more common than their male counterparts?
Nature decided to make male birds more attractive than female birds and female humans more striking than male humans. But for once, just once, accept us for what we are. We are beautiful inside even if it does not reflect on the outside. Physical attractiveness in a woman is good, even desirable, but can never be essential. We have achieved our right to work, to exercise financial control, to speak our mind. None of this happened because we wore a sari or had a flawless fair complexion or a 36-24-36 figure. It happened because we had a brain and a tongue that we used effectively. Now we wait to be liberated from unreasonable and derogatory societal demands. Like Priyanka Chopra’s popular ad goes, "Why should boys have all the fun?"