Choice, is it?

Chandrawali Goswami,
Assistant Professor,
 Department of Political Science,
Lumding College, Assam

  It goes without saying that we are living in a man’s world. Be it our households or the public sphere where we step into, it essentially is a world dictated by men. Of course the above statement will only invite criticism along the lines of  “Oh but she is a radical male hating feminazi.” Honestly, I could not care less. This writing is more like a rant, a venting out session if you want to call it. Anybody who does not identify as a man is going to relate to this piece in some sense, that I promise.

Let us start with the body itself. What I do with the hair on my head and/or the body is so much another person’s business. For instance I had shaved off my head two years back because I just wanted to know what it would feel like. I am not exaggerating when I say this: it feels amazing! Moreover it is very economical. I mean less of everything: oil, shampoo, etc. Now, once I was done with the ordeals of fighting the decision out with my extended family members, it was time to explain the ‘situation’ to my neighbours and almost every acquaintance I encountered while visiting the market or going out for a jog. One of the uncles was genuinely concerned about my well being. I do understand that a shaven head, irrespective of genderscan raise questions. But I do wonder if the questions would have revolved around the person’s sanity if they were a He. A few relatives stopped talking to me because apparently I brought them shame by letting go of my hair which by the way  started growing back the very next day of shaving. Funny. No?

Highly educated family members of mine dismissed the whole issue of the Hijab controversy in Karnataka by remarking that it should not be an issue at all since women are supposed to be progressive nowadays and ditch any kind of purdah. When the anti-Hijab protests intensified in Iran, I asked these same people for their opinion. They dismissed it again by saying that it is just another nuisance created by noisy women. One was of the opinion that these women should have respected the laws of their country. So there you go! It is never about the women’s choice. It has always been about controlling women’s body through laws and conventions which disproportionately affect them in an already unfair masculine world.

Menstruating persons go through inconvenient timesthroughout their menstruating lives. For a lot of us, it is either mildly/terribly painful. Again, a lot of us suffer from pre-menstrual syndrome from a week before we start our periods. After the periods are over, there are some of us who suffer from post-menstrual syndrome. Now this whole cycle starting from pre to post, the body goes through several physical and psychological symptoms starting from mood swings, anxiety, headache, bloating, trouble in sleeping to even depression in some cases. And they often go undiagnosed due to multiple reasons.I personally know women who go through severepre and post menstrual syndromes which technically leave them with just one week in the whole month to be ‘normal’ without any menstruation related issues. And yet period leaves are unimaginable to even talk about.

I do not even want to deal with how bad the rates of crimes against women are. The data points of domestic violence, dowry deaths, molestation, rapes, assaults, acid attacks, online bullying are horrific when it comes to women. Hence I am told to “Stay safe” by the same men who claim“Not all men.”Irony, right?

I think of period poverty in our country and how climate change disproportionately affect women. I think of how little girls are told to cover up in their own houses when male grownups visit. I think of how constantly we are told to protect our honour as young women because the honour of the family rests on our shoulders. I think of how often I have seen my male friends casually mention how they know of some guy who has molested a woman in his workplace orcollege and got away with it. I question if they ever stood up to him or confronted him about it. They of course never felt the need to. Instead they asked their girlfriends/wives/sisters/daughters to “stay safe” when it comes to men. Casual banters can cause harms but haven’t we allowed “men will be men” ?

Women who point such things out are noisy, an inconvenience in fact for the family or organisation. Women who choose to remain silent are meek, compliant. We can be agents of change or mute spectators. Either way we are blamed. Sometimes it is the length of our skirt, sometimes the hair. If nothing, we’ll be blamed merely for existing. We really don’t have a lot of choice, do we?

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