“Bra-burning harridans” and women’s pages

Have you noticed how, sometimes, even the most vociferous, soapbox-loving, liberal male, will tiptoe around women’s rights? Apart from the cursory nod in our direction (“of course, I believe women are equal”), he will engage very little with feminist concerns and lend none of his (often formidable) intellect to it. I’m not making a generalization here, just talking about something I have noticed.

Anyway, there are two (!) substantial articles related to women’s rights in the Deccan Herald today. One is an interview with Dr Rehana Ghadiyally who has edited an anthology called Urban Women in Contemporary India, which “explores the impact of globalization on Indian women and the struggle for gender equality”.

Secondly, there’s Polly Toynbee’s column ‘Only a half made revolution’, borrowed from the Guardian, in which she says:

It is still an unfinished revolution, where women’s attitudes changed fast, but men’s only slightly, and society has done too little to accommodate this great eruption.

I believe that a huge part of the problem is this lack of willingness to engage on the part of men. In an Utopian frame of mind, I tend to wonder why men would not care about something that is about the safety and happiness of their mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters etc (even if we assume that they don’t care about all women). I am even more baffled when even men who otherwise display a reasonable degree of social responsibility, choose to maintain their distance–or silence. But it’s all rather simple, of course.

Unlike other issues which often don’t have an immediate impact on men’s lives, feminism shakes the foundations of family life. When a woman starts wanting changes, it doesn’t just upset the apple cart; it sends it toppling right over the cliff. Most of all, for men who pontificate outside but need someone else to fold their pyjamas at home, it simply makes life very uncomfortable. Which is why even decent guys–the kind who vote, don’t drive after drinking and have lots of opinions about civic duty–will get a glazed expression in their eyes when women’s rights come up. Or worse, say that women shouldn’t wear revealing clothes lest they get raped on city streets.

Coming back to Toynbee’s column, she also brings up the oft-asked question:

But the perennial question was asked then as now — why do you need a women’s page? Isn’t it a harem that confines and diminishes women, as if the rest of the paper was not really women’s domain?

And answers it later…

I might be on the women’s page still if I hadn’t unexpectedly been offered a job as social affairs editor at the BBC. Would I ever have made the jump from Guardian women’s page to Guardian comment page without leaving first? The fact that I even ask this question shows that the word “women” still signifies what it always did — “other”, “second class”, “not serious”, “not one of the boys”. That — paradoxically — is exactly why we still need a women’s page. The revolution is only half made, and sometimes it seems to go backwards. Who else will keep banging the drum?

So keep banging the drum, those of you who do.

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5 Comments

Filed under Gender, Media

5 responses to ““Bra-burning harridans” and women’s pages

  1. Space Bar

    This used to be asked of those of us who went to women’s colleges: why do you need a college for women? what happened to your equality?

    Hard to answer except to point to those women who benefitted so immensely from that space.

  2. the mad momma

    you are tagged! take it up if you feel up to it!

  3. OrangeJammies

    your comment about women upsetting the apple cart is bang-on. just yesterday, a colleague, my mother and i were discussing this issue and i said “an empowered woman is viewed as a dangerous woman. her power is threatening because she can use it to change her situation.” and that’s what it’s all about ultimately, isn’t it? the tussle for power.

  4. What I don’t get is why men who are fine with upsetting apple-carts for their personal causes and crusades often get so uncomfortable when women ask for support for ‘our’ causes (of course so-called “women’s issues” are really “human issues”, as far as I’m concerned.)

    I think it’s that age old stigma of men being seen as feminine. If they support so-called “women’s issues”, they feel like their masculinity is lessened, which is, of course, ridiculous.

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