So I suppose I’m finally being the typical teenage blogger and creating a blog post about “serious gender issues”, except that it’s probably not going to be that serious because I don’t have any grave statistics or jargon to throw at you. This sudden outburst of thoughts on this topic is due to two recent life experiences, and I’ll try to make this post less about me and more about the topic, but oh well. Mah blog, mah rulz. *sorry, Suchit*
Not sticking to chronological order as such, I watched the movie Dangal this morning. It is a very woman centric movie, following the lives of two sisters, Geeta Kumari Phogat and Babita Kumari Phogat as they battled societal conventions to win multiple medals for wrestling on an international level. At almost every step they took towards their aim, there were a dozen naysayers, shaking their heads, passing unnecessarily sexist remarks and sometimes hindering the girls’ progress. From not allowing the girls to wrestle in the local arena, to almost banning them from playing at higher level tournaments, there is not much they were offered in terms of support or facilities. Even the government funding that they would’ve received in a utopic world was spent by the officials before they could claim it.
The movie left the audience with shining eyes and a fire burning within. It is indeed a proud moment to hear the national anthem play and watch an Indian girl win gold for the country. Her victory was the harbinger of hope for the girl child, so to speak, and left me feeling that maybe, after all, we are moving in the right direction, slowly but surely.
My thoughts on the same issue were in stark contrast a few weeks ago. I went trekking with a huge group of people, at Sandhan valley – the valley of shadows. It was a two day trek and in retrospect, I’d say I enjoyed myself a lot, in spite of the few scares we had there, which I shall now proceed to describe, in as neutral and level headed a manner as I can.
We were trekking downhill the first day, and were scheduled to have lunch at around 1, and reach our campsite by around 5. Initially, it was all pretty awesome, with rocks on both sides of the climb, occasional mountain rappelling and dozens of photographs in various poses, mostly of the fake candid kind. Obviously. But we soon realised how late we were running, when we did not stop for lunch. At all. Yes, we’d been trekking from 8 am and there were no signs of lunch even at 3 pm. We just munched on whatever biscuits we could find and kept walking.
The sun had started to set and we still had a long way to go. I’m not usually afraid of the dark, but trekking among dangerous rocks without light is pretty frightening. And rappelling without light… Oh well. It suffices to say that I have never been that scared in my life. When we did finally reach our campsite at around 10 pm, most of us were very shaken. There was no mobile network, which heightened the fear and anxiety that had taken over. I longed to hear my mother’s voice on the phone, because my irrational mind had convinced me that I would never get out alive and meet her again.
Why this sudden change of tone from debate to horror, you ask? Well, the Sandhan valley trek was where I experienced the same sort of gender privileges that people on the Titanic went through. “Women and children first”. The boys in our group stayed back and helped every last girl down the rocks, they made human chains so we could cross tiny streams without falling or hurting ourselves, they even carried our backpacks for long stretches. And in that moment, I did not point fingers, call it sexism or even question it in my mind. I accepted the preference my gender brought with it, happily and with a sense of gratitude.
Throughout the trek, I had it easy. Not because I couldn’t trek well; there were boys who were more injured or tired than I was – but simply because I am a girl. And that was perfectly fine with me. I got help on every step of the way, I got to sleep inside a tent while many of the boys had to sleep under the stars with nothing but hard rock beneath them, I got that extra sip of water when we were running short of supplies… The list is endless. And not once did I question it or feel like calling it blatant sexism. I’m not even sure if I would call it sexism, to be very honest.
I suppose a plausible explanation is that when we face adversity, we lose sight of some of our beliefs. Most of them, actually. In that moment, when we barely had any water left and the sun was beating down upon us and we were all on the verge of dehydration, had someone offered me alcohol then, I would’ve thrown all my teetotaller spirits out (pun unintended) and given in. I don’t know if I’m ashamed to say this, because honestly, would you rather die on a mountain at 19 just because you wanted to hold onto your morals or values or whatever? I digress.
I really don’t know how to conclude this, because I’ve said many unrelated things and after all of this, I’m not quite sure where I stand on this topic, really. On the one hand, it saddens me immensely, when I watch a movie and see an entire community discriminate against a girl trying to achieve something. But then again, when I am offered special privileges for being a girl, I lap them up, no questions asked. Sure, you may say that these are two very different things. They are, indeed. But isn’t feminism about equality? If we do away with the norms that treat women as less than men, shouldn’t the ones that treat women as more important or requiring more assistance go too? But if that were to happen, I would probably not have lived to tell you this tale, putting me in a dilemma that I have no answer to.
Sketching credits: Suchit Kar