“You don’t respect Amma as much as you ought to, Appa” my 20-year-old daughter told me several years ago. Thinking about how I treated my wife set me to some weighty introspection. Having been brought up in a totally patriarchal setting amidst my six elder brothers, I lacked feminine sensibilities and sensitivities.
I am changing—but I still have miles to go.
Today is my wife’s birthday, and yesterday was the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. Talk about a divine conspiracy. February 6th is a United Nations-sponsored annual awareness day for women’s rights over their own bodies and the protection of their physical health.
The deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and discrimination against women and girls started thousands of years ago. Greek Mythology viewed women as unworthy and as sexual objects. In Hindu Mythology, women were appreciated based on fidelity, chastity, servitude towards her husband and his family, obedience, honesty, and beauty.
The Bible has this to say about women and their roles:
“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” (Titus 2:3-5)
Even the Bhagavat Gita says in Chapter 9, verse 32:
“māṁ hi pārtha vyapāśhritya ye ’pi syuḥ pāpa-yonayaḥ striyo vaiśhyās tathā śhūdrās te ’pi yānti parāṁ gatim”
“Whoever takes shelter in him though they are of lower birth or women or vysyas or sudras can attain moksh.”
All the major world religions’ holy books were conceived by men, written by men and targeted at men. The patriarchal approach and the absence of feminine perspective are glaring, leaving one wondering about the preposterous misogyny prevalent during those times…and how much of it remains.
Thousands of firms’ names end with “…& Sons” but none with “…& daughters” or even “…& Family”. In family businesses, succession is still very much biased by gender; daughters are almost always excluded as candidates for leadership.
Business houses pay homage to the male founder and completely ignore the founder’s wife, without whom the descendants paying homage could not even have been born. Women face adversity with resilience, disarm problems with smiles and bury their tribulations with sighs.
I was blessed to have so many women care for me during my growing-up years in the absence of my mother. Now, with only women copyeditors and consultants for my upcoming book, InnerTrek, about my journey in the Himalayas, I am more than ever aware of the humongous gender-suppressive stereotyping that was conditioned into me.
I owe an apology to all those women that I might have subdued, suppressed or marginalized.
One particular woman has been my biggest blessing and inspiration: my wife. She helped me get rid of my impatience, cultivated my appreciation of small but essential things like stopping to smell the flowers, and most of all, kept me grounded whenever I tended to be high-horsed.
Happy Birthday, Mamatha