Today Women’s Day celebrates every stereotype women have fought to shatter. I hate it
Society thinks ‘celebrating’ women is to tell them they are a great supporting cast to men, and hence deserve to look pretty for the male gaze — at a discounted price.
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I have so far received 37 “Happy Women’s Day” messages on the various WhatsApp groups I am part of. Most of them laud my role as the great caregiver, the creator of life, the secret to men's success, and tell me how I “deserve to be respected” for bringing beauty and radiance into the world as a daughter, sister, wife, and in a nod to the progressive times we live in, friend and colleague.
As I stare in despair at the pretty pink messages that miss the whole point of women being recognised as individuals independent of and equal to men, to cheer me up are the many promotions and discounts capitalism has to offer – spa coupons, sale on dresses, beauty products at half the price, what have you.
One of the movements that led to the adoption of a 'Women’s Day' was the long struggle of the suffragettes – women had to fight to convince men, and other women, that they were as capable of making informed decisions as men, and hence deserved the right to vote. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
It has been more than a century since the first “Women’s Day” was celebrated in Europe, in 1911. Does the society still think “celebrating” women is to tell them they are the supporting cast in a movie on men’s lives, and as a gift, deserve to look pretty for the male gaze — at a discounted price?
Or is it more sinister – will women be bombarded with so many messages reinforcing their traditional roles so that they accept that to be the truth?
While what women have been striving for – agency over their own lives and bodies, pay parity, freedom from the all-pervasive threat of sexual violence – remain firmly out of reach, Women’s Day is becoming another occasion to celebrate the very stereotypes women are fighting to shatter.
When we compliment women’s ability to multitask, we normalise the fact that they have been forced to do so – caring for the household is still primarily her responsibility, and if she wants a career, she better learn to multitask.
When we laud motherhood as a noble role, we make it incumbent upon women to prioritise it over everything else in their lives.
When a woman is gifted skincare products on Women’s Day, the assumption is that her primary job is to look beautiful, and worse, she would enjoy nothing more than some more help in looking beautiful.
Women’s Day is not an occasion to “indulge” women. One of the movements that led to the adoption of “Women’s Day” was the long struggle of the suffragettes – women had to fight to convince men, and other women, that they were as capable of making informed decisions as men, and hence deserved the right to vote.
The way a day is marked can take it from significant to frivolous. When Women’s Day is reduced to flowers and cheesy messages, centuries of women’s struggles, and their big and small victories, are trivialised.
The last year was significant for women in many ways. Internationally, the #metoo and the #timeisup movements helped lift the veil of silence that has nurtured sexual predators for so long. India, however, is yet to catch up.
To put spa discounts and sale on jewellery into perspective, let us look at some things Indian women do need:
Women in India earn 20 per cent less than men, according to the latest Monster Salary Index (MSI) released on March 7. These, of course, are women privileged enough to have a job in the first place.
In 2017, India fell 21 places on the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap index in a year to take the 108th position, behind countries such as China and Bangladesh. The rankings were calculated on the basis of four parameters: health and survival, access to education, economic participation and political representation.
According to the latest NCRB figures, crime against women reported an increase of 2.9 per cent in 2016 over 2015. Majority of these cases were “cruelty by husband or his relatives” (32.6 per cent) followed by “assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty" (25.0 per cent), “kidnaping and abduction of women” (19.0 per cent) and “rape” (11.5 per cent).
The 2018 Economic Survey told us India has 21 million “unwanted girls” – daughters born because their parents were trying for a son. The country also has 63 million “missing women”, daughters who were never born or did not make it to adulthood because of poor access to nutrition, healthcare etc.
Every day, India’s women are interrupted as they go about their lives – killed, raped, stalked, plucked out of jobs and education, body-shamed, beauty-shamed, shamed for going to work, shamed for staying at home, shamed for looking attractive, shamed for not looking attractive – because patriarchy thinks it gets to decide how a woman should live, and has the right to punish her for "transgressions".
All of this cannot be compensated for by flowers and sweet messages, no matter how well-intentioned.
Of course, on the other side are the not very sweet messages – why a Women’s Day, women get unfair advantages, why no gift hampers for men on International Men’s Day, and other whinings of privilege.
The answer to this is very simple: if you have ever warned a woman you care about that she ought not stay out late, tut-tutted about children being neglected as both parents work, struggled to arrange for dowry, you know where the problem lies.
However, this is not to say that Men’s Day does not deserve WhatsApp forwards. Take your sales and discounts, give us equality.