Fathers, stand up and be counted (4/52)

The media has recently published a large number of articles, on the issue of male attitudes to women. This has been provoked by the recent spate of comments from those in authority on the issue of dress code for women. Gender discrimination is rampant in every aspect of life, be it the home, college, work place. An article in today’s Hindu Sunday supplement, in fact, highlights the role of gender discrimination in the retailing of children’s toys, clothes or whatever and the ” Pinkstinks” campaign.

My daughter has blogged on this issue and highlighted another critical aspect, the need for gender sensitization in the early formative years of children. This needs to be done  both in school and the home.

While I am glad to see that most of the new schools are of mixed gender and the archaic system in which is I studied, the single sex school/convent, is now getting outdated, I wonder how well these schools do in gender sensitization. Within schools, unfortunately the teachers are predominantly women and children do not get to observe normal male-female interactions which would have a lasting influence, as teachers are always great role models. However, schools bear a huge responsibility, especially as children go into the higher classes, for inculculating respect between the sexes.

The home front is a different ball game. A large number of children, especially in larger urban spaces, are growing up in unit families and interaction even with other families in the neighborhood is limited. Their adult role models are mainly the parents and in this scenerio, I think the father has a greater role than the mother.

In her blog, my daughter refers to her gender neutral childhood, specifically in terms of her father’s attitude. This made me gaze back on my own evolution in thinking. I grew up in a traditional family, but even back then in the 50’s we were a unit family and living far away from all our relatives in Delhi. Looking back, in my formative years in the 60’s I was a ‘would like to be different’ person hiding inside a conformist exterior. The desire to be different was thanks to my father who was not a great communicator and talked little to us, but was a great liberal at heart. If he did not take any great stand on the role of women, it was because in his scheme of things there was no need for one, women were equal and needed to be given that respect. Of course, there were contradictions in him too!! He was too much a product of his times to be anything but the traditional Indian husband!!

But, his attitude did rub off on me and through my medical studies I realized that I would have to do something radical to break out of the traditional, final-exam-and-marriage-during-internship trap. So, I declared my plans to go abroad for specialization. It was still unusual for single girls to go abroad then, and I am not sure how I hoped to do it. However, without having discussed it with him, I was confident my father would be supportive. But, that year the US stopped holding the Foreign Medical Graduate exam in India. Going to the UK was the other possibility which I started to explore. But during my housemanship year I accepted a proposal for marriage from a wonderful, young doctor a few years my senior, who was as different in background from me as was possible!!. Those were early days of limited freedom in our society and we did not have a real courtship and knew each other mostly at work and at group outings. So, sometimes I have wondered whether my decision to accept his proposal, which actually came through a common friend, was partially influenced by an ‘opportunity’ to escape the boy-views-girl- she – sings- and he rejects/accepts routine which was then the norm. Unfortunately even today, things dont seem to have changed a lot in this regard for many young women.  Be that it may, it was a decision that I never regretted for a moment.

I started my post-graduation soon after I got married. At that time, I could probably have selected any specialty. It had always been my intention through internship and housemanship to do a clinical branch. But, there were so many voices, that of parents, teachers and seniors, advising against a clinical specialty and the advantages of pre-clinical branches for women. I must confess, Subhash’s voice was not one of them and he never tried to influence my choice. But, I also need to confess that it was the one decision, the decision to opt for Pathology, that I took as a traditionalist!! Although I have never regretted the decision to do Pathology, I have occasionally regretted my reasons for making the decision.

In subsequent years, Subhash was most supportive of my career choices and activities. He encouraged me to leave my young daughter with my parents for a year to do post-doctoral work in US. He looked after her alone and usually better that I did, whenever opportunities for professional travel came my way. His decision to move from Mumbai, where he was assured of great professional prospects, was greatly influenced by the fact that I was not professionally happy in Mumbai and may have a better outlook at the new Institution in Lucknow. At the time we took that decision, most friends and well wishers were surprised at how he was throwing away the opportunities of the great medical metropolis for the wilderness of Uttar Pradesh – to them my ‘future’ was fairly irrelevant, anyway!!

And as Mukta grew, went through adolescence and then went to the hostel in Delhi, I had my moments of anxiety as every mother does. Subhash not only did not show any anxiety, he could not understand mine – an attitude that often led to arguments between us. And it is this attitude, more than mine, that influenced our daughter. And with that kind of support, I also came out of the ‘closet’ to become openly liberal.

I was most fortunate to have had a father who was an unusual liberal for his time and my daughter was even more fortunate to had a father who was a true ‘women’s activist . So, whatever roles mothers and wives may place in the family, the role of the father is the most significant. How much respect and status he gives to his mother and other senior female members of the family, every action and attitude to his wife (the mother of his children), the every day remarks and most of all his attitude to his children !! It is not easy to treat a boy and a girl equally, especially in the current stage of social upheavals. But, that is the challenge the fathers have to face. It is for the men to decline dowries when they marry and refuse to give it when their daughters get married, to refuse any kind of sexual preferences for their offspring’s, to give equal share in property etc. etc…….

So, am I also not falling into the same trap and giving all the importance to the men? But, I believe that unless more and more men over the next generation play this role, the social transformation that is required to give women an equal status cannot happen. We women will need to realize this and coerce, cajole and support the men in playing this role.

So, I say to all you fathers out there, stand up and get counted. Let our daughters look forward to a future that is different form that of their mothers.


12 thoughts on “Fathers, stand up and be counted (4/52)

  1. Long before my father had two daughters, he had a younger sister. I always thought him to be on the traditional side of the gender divide argument, but when when I heard my aunt reminisce about my father, it made me reconsider. In a houseful of cousin brother, my aunt would wait for my father to come home on leave, because he was the only one who would take her out to indulge her hobbies and interests–even take her shopping!
    In his view, the traditional set-up placed women at a disadvantage and it was in his nature to protect whoever was at a disadvantage. My uncle, a man just a couple of years his junior, was as much a recipient of his protection as his younger sister.
    Growing up, I was scared of him, thinking that making friends with guys was out of the question because he would disapprove. Now I realise that his basic nature was protective and that extended to everyone, regardless of their gender. It’s just that the move from the protected Air Force campus to a civilian area made him more protective of me.
    Again, when I decided to move out to live on my own, it took me a while to convince him, again making me think it was because I was a girl. I know now that his concerns were mostly for my financial security. When I was living all alone in a three-storeyed house, he never once asked me if I was scared. It was always if I had enough money in the bank.
    All the guys I met (in photo or in person), he always assured me that if I wasn’t sure of them, ‘no’ was a better answer than maybe.
    The point I’m trying to make (besides that I miss my dad) is that the fathers of the generation before mine had it tougher because the transitions from yesterday to today are much more that would be from today to tomorrow. I think!

  2. I loved your post mum. I shed some tears in memory of daddy too 🙂 Fathers can be really influential certainly, but mothers also need to be doubly aware of their positions on gender, especially since daughters emulate mothers in many ways. The main point here is that parenting can only be by example, not by using the “no” word for everything you disagree with. I find myself thanking my luck everyday for being married to someone who is perhaps more gender sensitive then me. On another note, Aadyaa (3+) is in an “only pink” phase and how I hate it! Talking sense to a little child is tougher than I thought! Especially to a stubborn little girl!

  3. 1)Indian males are brought up to think,they are “The beta” and can do wrong according to their parents.Therein lies the great myth that after all they only will take care of you in your old age,the daughter gets married and goes away.
    2)The Indian male,this I have very much seen in the work environment is very bad at adapting to female colleague,especially if she has happens to very confident and good at her work.Personally I find them far better,more sincere in their work and this applies across all sections of working women.
    This is what is causing lots of the problems today,more women in the workplace and you cannot Boss them like at home,your sister or a bahu.
    I remember many years ago a colleague and dear friend of my father remarking that “Sons are an asset,daughters a liability.” Quite apalling.
    But this is what has been embedded into the skull of many a Indian male very unfortunately.

    • Precisely why it is the men who have to change. And, it is in their role as father that they can do the most!! Children look up to fathers and for sons he is a role model!!

  4. The binary of man and woman does not confine to the threshold of family. I completely agree with you on the point that fathers should stand up and be counted. Family is one of the social phenomena where the discrimination between the two genders occurs, but there are several other men/women social relationships, where women are marginalized as employees, as friends, as entrepreneurs. One of my friends who is a Prof of Finance in one of the universities in USA, published an article on women CEO’s, and evaluated the question, why there are very few women CEO’s in the world? Every woman knows the answers. One of the famous feminist critics, Simon de Beauvoir writes in her book, “Women are not born women, they are made women”. I agree with the statement, it’s the society which shapes the sensibility of woman. Fathers can definitely bridge the gap in a family, which can be considered as a good start, but the issue has far more deeper implications.

  5. Oh Aunty I Love the way you write…N I think I know why I was so attracted to You…Infact….You know I am as attracted to you as Medha is to Mukta…Strangely for the same reasons…Your Present inspire our future being!!

    Well well…to get back to the point ..I shed a bucket ful of tears missing my dad..:-)
    ..who was alone as a brother of 5 sisters..N whose dad left him alone early to deal with the harsh realities of Life….My Granddad as a diabetic paralytic person spend 8 years in bed of which I hear only gory tales of how the self respecting high energy man was reduced to a vegetable…He died the year I was born …I have no memories of him…But I am Proud of him ..the way he fiercely brought up my Aunts & taught them to fight the world..A world which was as much gender biased as it is today…My Grand mum still says jokingly that It’s the women who created their trap ..by stepping out to prove equality & demand fairness in return…..This from a women who made sure that her daughters were well educated..well fed..N well gaurded by the dogs from the wolves ( Pun intended)….A women who had the guts to refuse a match for her eldest daughter when she was 18 since she was studying Microbiology @ Presidency college….becoz she want to barter her beautiful sarv gun sampan 18 year old for a promise of the hand of a young promising Chemical Engineer just returned from Germany after his PHD….so she put conditions of her future studies being insured …My eldest aunt went on to become the Deputy Director of IICB, Kolkata…& together with that Man bought up 3 sisters of whom I am proud of….

    My Grand mum also hagled my mum to practice Psychology but I happened to her simultaneously …and she did what she did in the best of her capacity at that point in time..She was pestered enough by my Dad who saw in her great potential & went on to become one of my Best & Famously & Fondly remebered Teachers..In VSEC in Kanpur!!..

    So Net net I dont think the challenges of Parenting …motherhood or fatherhood are any different for us than for my Grand parents or my parents…But Net net there should more Rahul’s & Preetesh’s of the world who should stand up for their Mukta’s & Dipanwita’s & be equally equipped in handling the pressures of parenthood in challenging highly commercialised world…& sign up for the future of creating a Happy healthy & resilient Young Adults!!! All Charity begins at Home after all!!

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