Unequal Equality

For men may come and men may go but I go on forever…”  
Alfred Lord Tennyson

The title of my piece might seem vague and sound irrelevant. Why should we even bother to indulge in such abstract tasks when the concerned topic of discussion is the problems women face  in India? We seem to be more interested in finding solutions to the problem of the safety of women – we feel obligated to take active measures rather than indulge in pointless arguments.  I believe the problems faced by women are not grounded in wrong actions but a wrong belief system that presupposes those actions.

Unlike any other piece I’ve written before, this is one particularly close to me.  It is no secret that India has a long way to go as far as the “equal” treatment of women is concerned.

In my opinion, there are two kinds of biases that take place against women in India – one is an overt bias and the second is a covert or subtle one. At times the silent bias may be more dangerous than the obvious one – for many it might not even be seen as a bias. This kind of bias’ nature needs clarification.

Women mostly face biases of different kinds daily. The most prominent ones are in the form of norms laid down for establishing the ways a woman is supposed to conduct herself – “Act like a lady!”

All my life my parents conditioned me to think that men and women were equals. That everything a man could do, a woman could do too. And so I found myself constantly struggling to adopt features which were peculiar to men. I wanted to talk like them, dress like them and be everything a man could be. My family felt very proud of me and I often met with statements like “you’re not our daughter, but you’re our son”.

This would make me very happy for I felt like I had proved my worth to my family and made them so proud. It never occurred to me that this was in fact a subdued form of gender bias, where my worth was being judged on the basis of how close I came to what it is to be a “man”.

Equality in this case means that men and women have the same characteristics and if there are differences then one simply has to give these up and adopt characteristics peculiar to men in order to show that women are at par with man. This is where the problem lies- equality as a term has been employed in the wrong way in matters of gender equality.

What equality, in fact, should mean is that men and women should be considered morally equal irrespective of the factual differences between them. For example, it is absurd to argue that men and women can’t be considered equal because one has the ability to bear children and the other does not. Instead, equality should imply an equality in treatment towards men and women, and not focus how men are different from women.

This  would not mean equality in nature and abilities but being treated equally in spite of those differences.

For some reason, people in India fail to recognise this conceptual intricacy and tend to discriminate against women on grounds of being physically different from men. This is where the real problem lies and once there is clarity in the understanding of what exactly ‘equality should mean’ there will be a better understanding of how the case for women equality can be made.

Author: Shivani Sharma
Feature Photo: AnnaER

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