Chetan Bhagat, of Indian literature fame, has recently written a blogpost entitled, "Five Things Women Need to Change About Themselves". (Incidentally I found out from one of the comments below that the Times of India also picked up this blog and printed it on the 10th of March, 2013). I really shouldn't care, and a part of me agrees with some of my friends who have said that we, of the more discerning taste, really shouldn't pay him any attention. But, he gets attention. He is just exceptional at PR. He found a void in the world of English literature in India and worked on filling it, got himself a voice and is now using that voice to its greatest potential. He has some hold over the Indian youth, who voraciously read every single one of his books and claim to be a part of the following that he has garnered. That's the problem. The most devastating thing to me though is that by all accounts women make up a significant part of this group.
So, even though I don't have a voice, I as a member of "women kind" will air my grievances about Bhagat's post.
In Bhagat's defense he did start off by writing a cursory paragraph telling men how to treat women, except at one point he says, "... we as Indian men, have a long way to go before our women can be proud of us." Our? Okay, I may be nitpicking here, and so I'll let this one go and not try to explain to him how misogynistic his perception that Indian men have some sort of proprietary right over Indian women is. Anyway, I digress. I now submit the following responses to each of Bhagat's 5 recommendations to women.
1. According to you, Mr. Bhagat, the first behaviour that needs to end, is that of women judging other women. Do you really think that only women are judging other women on the basis of superficial characteristics? How many times have we seen in Bollywood movies that the actress who weighs 5 pounds heavier and/or has dark skin and/or has short hair is playing the role of the lovable nitwit best friend? How many times have we, Indian women, been ridiculed for being too skinny, too fat, too dark, too round-faced, too flat-nosed by our family members, in many cases our own mothers? Well educated men in every part of India will turn down marriages/proposals simply on the basis that the girl is too dark. So, let's not kid ourselves by pretending that women are victimizing other women, EVERYONE is victimizing women on the basis of appearance. To be fair this is not just endemic to India (although the problem is more severe and in-your-face in India) but women are judged by everyone else (including other women) for their outward appearance everywhere in the world.
2. Apparently women are too "fake" - Mr. Bhagat, in this day and age we all are. Everyone needs to be fake, lie through their teeth, and pretend to laugh at funny jokes their boss makes in order to get ahead in the world. If you aren't fake, you won't get ahead. It's as simple as that. If everyone would say exactly what they were thinking, at exactly that time, then we all would be abrasive jerks. And we all hate abrasive jerks, so we can't be that. I'll forgive you for this one though, because you've been a famous author for so long now, that you may have forgotten how the real world works.
3. Women need to stand up for their property rights - I agree with you on this. However, you fail to understand that most Indian women inherently place family and community at a higher level than wealth and property. If she is to choose between not losing the relationship with her father or brother, and gaining equal rights to paternal property she would much rather give up the latter. Its not about selflessness, its about value. And in India where property squabbles take years and decades of family feuding and wasting away in the courts system - a woman has much better and far more important things to take care of. I would think that it is preferable to change the system from the other side, where a father would never question the equal right his daughter has to his property, and where a brother would never even place his right to land higher than his sister's. Why not start with changing the male chauvinism when it comes to property rights? It's been a long time since 1828 when Raja Rammohan Roy demanded equal property rights for women. Why is it taking SO LONG?
4. Women need to have ambition and a fire in their belly? - Really now? I mean, I can quite proudly say that I am one of those who have overcome a lot of adversity to get where I am today, but never for a moment will I ever dare to be so sanctimonious as to suggest that women who can't, don't have ambition. What is Malala supposed to do? Learn from the internet or walk to the border? And, you Mr. Bhagat who have spent absolutely no time as a woman, let alone an Indian woman, are going to come out and teach women about ambition? What do you know about what it takes to claw your way out of systemic misogyny and paternalism? Secondly, your suggestion that, only when Indian women will achieve a certain level of success will they be able to command the respect of men, is so far out there that I don't even know where to start. How about teaching men how to respect women irrespective of a random definition of success? I really do wish that you would have better outlined what your definition of success is, because then, I would have demanded an answer to the question, "why can't a woman's success be defined by raising brilliant, respectful, and well rounded children?"
5. Last but not the least you bring up some convoluted argument about self worth and relationships. You begin by saying, "Being a good mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and lover are extremely important." Umm why? When was the last time you heard a man being defined by the relationship he has with other women? When is a man defined as a "father, husband, son and brother"? And then you go on to speak about sacrifice and how a woman must be selfish. Has it been so long that you have worked in the real world Mr. Bhagat? You must be too busy writing your books to notice that women in India are still today being victimized for being selfish. Women get their shit beaten out of them (pardon my french) for wanting to have a career and be a loving wife and mother. Have you ever seen how women are labelled if they are single and career oriented? They are then too strong willed to find a husband. A strong-willed woman at work is labelled a "Bitch" because she knows how to assert herself. If she's not a "bitch" and wants to go home to be a mother and cook dinner for her kids, then she is too complacent to "really want it". Don't you get the feeling that a woman can never do anything right?
Mr. Bhagat the overarching problems of misogyny that I have tried to condense into a rant and outline above are not specific to India at all. Us, women deal with these problems everyday everywhere (definitely more in India though - cloaked in that ugly facade of tradition). The real answer to the problem is here: we need to work towards making society more open and welcoming to women and more conducive to a woman's idea of a balanced life. You see, women would rather not give up the traits that make us who we are. We would rather have both - a career and a family. We would like to be assertive without being labelled a "bitch". We would like to be able to choose whether or not to have children depending on who we are as individual persons. We would like to be able to be comfortable in our skin. We would like to be able to have the option of not sacrificing our relationships with our brothers to stand up for our equal right to property. We would like to be able to exercise our simple right to choose.
So the next time you try to change women, Mr. Bhagat, look in the mirror at your own "kind". Try to understand why it is that men are the ones who are always standing in the way - why it is that the brothers don't understand their sisters, why the fathers don't value their daughters, and why the husbands don't support their wives. Because, when we fix the problem in one generation, when a son watches his father respect his mother, he will learn to respect his sister, wife and daughter too.
I end by acknowledging my awesome brother, and my amazing husband. Life would be a load of crap without their respect, support and love. Oh, and to all the women: all the phenomenal, wonderful, and strong women, Respect.