It’s hard to miss the pressing talks on social media and amongst most younger individuals almost always revolve around women and how they are treated in society, or all talks ultimately lead there. Years of conditioning has left us in a pretty confused state of mind. Add the quick rise and the cultural shifts happening in society and the influences of diverse thoughts and opinions easily and widely spread due to technology and we have a potpourri on our hands.
There is a huge demographic that are still trying to understand that being born a woman is just being, and not of any quirk of nature leave alone their fault, and we have another demographic asserting their independence away from any and all sorts of patriarchy.
We stand at the dangerous cusp of having to uplight a large number of women to a point where they can actually think for themselves and at the same time, perhaps allow the other set of women to blaze a trail and occasionally look back to empower the ones who are still lagging behind.
The question posed was this:
“Do women want to be treated specially or equally? Do men know the difference?”
Stumbled upon this two days ago, and I actually was pretty confused with the question, on two different levels.
- The presumption was that women are either SPECIAL or EQUAL.
- We obviously care a lot about what MEN think about it and are questioning their intelligence.
Honestly though, I read and re-read the line and then without thinking too much, I read it aloud. It was around 5, and my daughter sat across me doing her homework while I sipped my very sweet chai (long story, another day).
“What? What did you say?”
“hmm.. oh nothing, I was just reading aloud from this site.”
“Show me!” she demanded. She always demands. 11 years olds think they are teenagers, ones with a knowitall flair. She peeked over and read it loud. Then she read it again, slowly. Then she looked at me wrinkled her nose, had the quintessential wide eyed confused look, and declared:
“So, they are asking if girls want to be special? Of course I want to be special!”
“Okay, so you pick special?”
“Yeah, am cool. I want to be special!”
“Okay, so special it is. Not equal?”
“Wait. Equal? Equal to whom?”
“To boys of course”
“Of course am equal! What kind of a silly question is that! I actually beat this new kid next to me in spelling, and probably can arm wrestle too. He’s kinda skinny.” She giggled.
After chiding her and pretending to be the good mom and tell her not to call other kids’ names, which she righteously denied, we moved on to the question again.
“Okay. Can you read this question again then? It says Special OR Equal.”
“Hmm.. so I have to pick one? I want to be both! Why can’t I be both?”
“Well, that’s the thing. Apparently you can’t. If we say that we are qual, then why should a boy treat you special?”
“That’s coz he is special too! We are all special, doesn’t mean one of us is less or not equal to the other?!”
“Like see mom” her tone went indulgent, like she was explaining division to a very thick headed number phobic mom, “Being special is by person. Being equal is like all girls are equal to all boys. Boys are just silly, they think they know it all, but most times, girls beat them, if we want to that is. They aren’t like stupid or anything. They are good at some things. Not all, but most. But girls are good at whatever we want to do. Some things are just boring, so we girls don’t care, but equal is not the opposite of special. Special is being kind. Being nice and making the other person feel good. Like see, Jeremy is my friend right? He picked up an extra homework sheet for me coz I was still rushing to finish my Worldy Wise, and Ms.M was leaving the room. That is special right?”
I stared back at her. Amused. Amazed.
So this was all there was to it, when you are 11 years old and in 6th grade.
As simplistic as that was, there was more than a shred of truth to it. Being special was personal, but being equal was more communal, a group, a belonging.
With that in mind, and while making dinner, I pondered. Different scenes and in different conversations popped into my head and I started looking at them from the viewpoint I was handed by my bright, unassuming daughter.
The buses. Public transportation. Do we reserve seats for the women still, like how I remember form back when? So should they not be any reservations because we women want to be treated equally, so whoever gets an empty seat sits? Would that make both genders just and happy? What if someone looks like they could use a seat? Regardless of who it is, would any one get up and offer their seat? Is that what “special” is?
I vaguely remember, as a young student, getting up to offer my seat to various folks. Older men/women, pregnant ladies and such. So being treated special was mainly a case by case basis, based on the situation, need and maybe even relationship?
I thought of work-life balance, of breaks in careers, of maternity leaves, or house husbands, of daddy daycares, of army enlistments, of difference in salaries, of learning basic survival skills and my head reeled.
..and then I wondered. Do we, women itself know the difference enough? Enough to not get enraged when a gentleman offers his seat or opens the door for us, or offers to pick up the tab for coffee? Do most of us allow such only because it suits us to be feel special? Or maybe it’s the tone and the undercurrents that decide if we accept such a gesture as a sign of being made to feel special or that we are a kind of wards and that they are “looking out for us”.
I like my dad looking out for me. I like my husband/son picking up the heavy suitcases off the baggage carousel. Doesn’t make me less of a person/woman. They sit back while I get the taxi guy going.
Reminds me of this incident recently. A friend and I were biking (cycling) and she was wearing a skirt (skort) and I was in leggings. An elderly gentleman was crossing at the pedestrian while we waited at the stop sign. He smiled and waved to us, as just as he crossed us, he looked at my friend and said “Biking in a dress, impressive!”. We just smiled back and she rolled her eyes at me and we were off.
At the next stop, she asked me this “So what did you think of that comment on my dress?”
“I donno, seemed genuine. He seemed impressed that you bike in a skirt/dress”
“Wasn’t that sexist in a way?”
“Normally I’d have said yes, but I am not sure, he just said it casually, appreciatively. It IS hard biking like we do in a skirt, I mean, I never do, and I think the ones who do are cool. So, maybe he was just complimenting you rather than talking down to you as a girl? No?”
“Maybe you are right. It’s just gotten so hard to distinguish these days. It’s easy to take offense and bristle I suppose, and there’s always that odd time when we do let it go and it turns into a nightmare that yanks at your eyeballs all night!”
“Haha, don’t overthink it. We’ve got enough on our plate on a daily anyway.”
..and off we went.
Maybe this is all too simplistic. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe each incident is different and has to be weighed based on our understanding and emotional intelligence. Maybe we are all standing at different intersections of understanding in different societies and culture. Maybe this ought be a lot bigger movement than we foresee to see visible changes in society, maybe even in the next generations to come. Maybe we have to start them young. Maybe we make small changes in how we speak, our tones, our choices in whom we offer what.
Maybe we all need to be educated, and not just the men.
Coz if we women don’t see the differences in how we are treated, and we like to be treated special AND equal, just like we would treat a man the same way. To raise a person up, we don’t need to pull someone down, unless of course they are on a pedestal, then yeah, pedestal goes.
Did I answer the question though?
I don’t know. I don’t know who can answer this and correctly and justly. But hey, we can try, coz when we try, we focus, which makes us pay attention, which only makes us think, which is how we can get anything done.
By thinking and then following it up with our actions.