This is a December few of us will forget. Delhi-ites, Indians and people across the world waited with anxiety and prayer for two whole weeks to see her live. For two whole weeks we felt tragedy upon us, personally, like never before. The outburst of spontaneous, center-less protests continuing to this day amply demonstrate that
“..there is a secret unity between our self and the self of others and therefore between our own lives and the lives of others”.
Perhaps it is in times like these that society makes a genuine effort to seek for lasting solutions, for during ‘peacetime’, there are the incessant demands of life, of family and everything else. One author opined that fathers, parents and teachers ought to concentrate more on how they bring up their boys rather than teach their daughters how they ought to dress, or what is ‘approved behavior’, and what is not.
This is a step in the right direction, surely – but I think we are ensnared by other ideas and conceptions which hold us back from something fuller. The idea for instance that our bodies define but a form, that we are tied by habit and instinct to see our opposite sex as ‘the other‘, separate and distinct from ourselves.
In fact, there is an evocative line from a commentary on the Isha Upanishad :
“The sense that this is I and that is you…so long as the difference between I and you exists, hatred cannot cease..war cannot cease..” [2. The actual line from the Isha goes thus : “The Self in all existences, and all existences in the Self.”
So the question for us boils down to something very basic – for our part, the part directly in our hands, if we truly wish to change anything – are we willing to do any inner work? If this sense of separateness between man and woman and man continues to be supported and amplified, should the consequences of this folly be surprising to us?
Bodily strength in Women
Consider a commonly held yet perverse belief regarding bodily strength in women. Both men and women jointly exclaim ‘eww !’, ‘gross !’ or find it unbecoming when women have any noticeable muscles. Why? Societies the world over look down upon women who exhibit even a hint of muscular strength. Almost by definition, this is considered un-feminine, because real strength is of course reserved for men. This is nothing if not a perversion of ideals.
Highlighting our inherent biases on the feminine form
Maybe you can try this with your friends – ask them why they believe so strongly in their fixed idea of form for a woman’s body. When we speak of equality, we don’t stop to ask ourselves if men and women should even aspire to achieve the same level of strength, so conditioned are we to expect that women must be physically weaker. By and large, women have come to accept the past as a permanent pointer to the future. The biases perpetuate, and parents inevitably pass on their beliefs to their children.
In the competitive realm of athletics, differences owing to gender are shrinking, a fact I’d alluded to earlier. While such athletes only represent a miniscule fraction of society, they serve to remind us of an intrinsic or fundamental equality – even in the body, which we tend to collectively ignore.
This isn’t a call for women to go build muscle to save themselves from the currently more physically powerful sex, but just an observation which demonstrates how women accept to not develop physical strengthpartly because it may show.
This is something I feel women ought to reflect on. Why have you accepted this? Our new age body culture admits yoga, jogging, hiking as ‘good’ for women, but still shuns push-ups and chin-ups, because there is a ‘risk’ of muscular formation. At least now, can we not ask – why? Are these exercises reserved only for men?
As men, we should ask ourselves if this media and pop-culture based idea of the female form is something consistent with our internal righteous notions of equality. What is it within us that ‘okays’ and perhaps even encourages women to exercise, so long as there is no hint of what is considered ‘masculine’?
On Intrinsic Equality and the end of separateness
On a much deeper note, and related to this theme of intrinsic equality, I’d like to share this powerful essay titled ‘The Problem of Woman’. I think is worth reading because it is as much about the Problem of Man; The two problems are inseparable. It is not a list of solutions or advice or anything temporal – it is Wisdom, imho. And the more I read it, the more conscious I become or am nudged to become of my own road-blocks.
What happened in Delhi in 2012 will not be ‘solved’ by external methods, though they are a must, and at this point, a dire necessity. The problem is with the present state of humanity, and until the crux of the psychological condition is not understood, and not worked upon, until a real, and lasting basis not found to the disharmony between the sexes, we will be marching valiantly – in the dark.