Written by 3:19 pm Editor’s Notes

Can women help women?

Men can’t help but help women. Can women?

As another Women’s Day dawns on us this Tuesday – 48 years since United Nations started the annual reminder with the observance of an International Year of the Women – fancy ourselves asking why this kolaveri as in that once-viral doggerel.

The UN declared IWY in 1975 and stretched it for a decade to convince mankind about the equality of women. And here we are in 2022 with the focus on creating a gender-equal world by celebrating women’s successes and raising awareness against bias.

What’s it that refuses to change?

Let us look at a story from Bangalore at the end of last week. A young man in his late 30s, only son of socially well known parents who sent him to a top-notch school, gets arrested and remanded in jail on a harassment complaint.

The police version is, he sent a “Hi” to this film star. Because she runs a charity outfit her phone is programmed to send an auto reply: “How may I help you?” He is alleged to have responded with what was taken as propositioning.

The prerequisite for equality is that any interaction is consensual. It is when one has power over another that help is thrust upon. Otherwise it has to be discussed and mutually agreed.

What is it with men who have it programmed into them that women are in ever in need of help and therefore help, as the man deems fit, shall be given? This is why the woman’s NO is ignored.

And conversely, in this urge for compulsory help, there is an implicit demand of help in return.

Our social mores are influenced by our religious tenets. In the Biblical narration of creation, there is mention that God thought it was not good that man (Adam) was alone and decided to create a woman (Eve) to be a companion. Theologians interpret that Eve was made out of Adam’s rib to suggest that she was his companion of equal stature, not someone to serve him as misogynistic interpretations over the years made it out.

Religion after all is a male-dominated enterprise.

So isn’t this attitude of males that perpetuate gender inequality? The thought that somebody needs to be serviced stems from a sense of superiority, and doing it affirms that power. It is has been easy for males to assert such power because of the differing physical characteristics of men and women.

One can ask how much women help sustain this male dominance and why.

There are power dynamics in gender relationships and these are overtly and covertly negotiated. But then again, because men keep and maintain power, it has to seem as any semblance of gender balance or fairness is a gift or benevolent act.

This posture as the giver actually helps preserve the male power in decision-making. If administrative power is with political leaders, look at how all discussions on women’s representation in government has gone. Why?

Men cannot help themselves when it comes to concern for the plight of women. But the generosity stops when it comes to issues that empower women and threaten the authority of the giver.

It is easy enough to say that women hold up half the sky. Their power is so successfully undermined by everyone that we can expect more women’s days to come and the theme will still be about gender equality: Asking men to be generous givers!

(Art: Courtney Privett)

By John Thomas

Christ & Co’s Editorial Advisor John Thomas has nearly half a century’s experience working for media houses such as Reuters, AFP, Deccan Herald, The Statesman and Vijay Times. John was thrust into doing the “women’s beat” when UN declaring 1975 as the International Year of the Woman prompted the Indian Express in Kerala to set aside a full page every week for reports on women’s activities. The daily had no women reporters in those days. Frightened as a child by the story of Jacob wrestling the angel for a blessing, John keeps away from asking and lets himself be the means for someone’s prayer to be answered. His idol is Martha who does the house work, so Mary and Lazarus can stay at Jesus’ feet. John tries to be in real retirement, but his old journalism students prod him to be more than a media watcher. Connect with him here: https://twitter.com/JTbangalore

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