“I am reassured by what I have heard here today”, said the old gentleman. He had retired as a CFO, his daughter in law was a dynamic police officer on the previous panel. “I am reassured, that there is still room for us men, and that women will not be here” – and he pointed to the top of his head. It may have been an attempt at jest, but to many in the room it was not funny. It was a real fear.
Misogyny, we fight.
Misogyny translates to hatred of women. Hatred, with origins in fear is not unheard of. This gentleman was one of the few to acknowledge this fear in public. I am glad that he was honest. “We have to keep women down”. “Women must be shown their place”. “A woman’s role is in the house, her place is in the kitchen”. I honestly did not every understand this need to hold a woman down, especially since she could make your life easier at work too, not just in the home. Delegate according to abilities, why bother with gender, was my naive, if privileged take.
It was only very recently, in India, when I came across two separate conversations about gender parity when I realised that people fear equality. One, the conversation on maternity leave being extended to six months. And the second, a more recent one on menstrual leave. In both situations, biology places a tax on women’s time at the workplace, and men seem to think that the burden is on the gender, not the species. With great felicity, the issue is cast as a gender issue – after all, women are the ones who suffer. And if women suffer, why should it cost men anything? Fair?
Let us take the case of maternity leave first. Is this a gendered issue? Let us as the traditionalists first, the patriarchs. A simple question: Is a child born to a woman, or to a family and society? Is the birth to the benefit of the mother, or is this a future earner, taxpayer and mobster? Whichever way you gain, does the coming of the child only remain the labour of women, or should all those who gain from the perpetuation of the species contribute to the labour, and costs? A father, perhaps, if there is one? Or a carer, in any other role? Can they, please, be allowed to participate in this joyous task? And be allowed to share maternity leave – may it, perchance, be more accurately be called family leave? Care leave?
Care leave, as a concept, makes the issue of menstrual leave so much easier, doesn’t it? Care is a requirement across genders. Everyone of us needs time, either for our mental health, or physical health. Some, due to menstruation, others for different reasons. Of course periods require rest, time off because they are painful, stressful and horribly agonising times for us women. But not every woman requires every period off. I refuse to give up on the call for menstrual leave, just as I refuse to give up the call for equity across all genders. I refuse to give up on the need for care, equally.
When we are in a place where we can, equally choose access to care, we will be in a better place.
Having come this far, let’s take the next step too. Do you think this equal access to care will actually be part of the wider dialogue soon? Do you think we, men or women, actually want the equality we say we seek? Or do many of us fear equality?
We do. We fear the feminism that seeks equality.
Why do we all fear equality? Because then, we all lose all our excuses. We have nowhere to hide, nothing to blame. If we cannot externalise and blame the systemic evils, then we will only be left with ourselves to blame for our very human failures and mis steps.
Which is why true feminists are the real brave people out there today. We know we can lose, we know we step up to scrutiny and truth, and yet we step up. We know we will fail as much, sometimes more than others, and yet we step up and try. This is beyond fear, beyond hate.
This is power.