Monday, June 15, 2009

How Feminism Unveils Romance

Anyone who's even an infrequent reader of this blog knows that sexism and misogyny make my blood boil. You may also know that I grew up in Assam.

Now while I won't say that the Assamese are the most liberal or just community, there is one form of misogyny that they don't practice - dowry. People do gift furniture and jewellery to their daughters when they get married, but there are very rarely any demands or even expectations, and no exchange of money. So I learned of dowry first through movies, and as so much else in Bollywood films, I thought the phenomenon was largely exaggerated and must definitely not be practised by educated people any longer.

Cut to my bschool. I'm talking to a male "friend". For some reason we speak of dowry, and he (let's call him Deepak) says he expects to get some. I am shocked and probably need some time to find words to chastise him. He defends himself, explaining that his parents had spent so much money on his education, so they should get some repayment for it. I am flabbergasted, and I argue with him for some time, to no avail. I fume for days afterwards.

We had a subject called 'Social Marketing'. We are discussing spreading awareness of social issues in class, and I speak up. I mention that a friend is intent on taking dowry: how do I convince him to change his mind? (Deepak is not in the same class.)

The class has a discussion, though I don't get much concrete help. I don't mention Deepak's name in class, but I do mention it to at least one friend outside class.

Now my friend "Sneha" and another friend meet Deepak one evening a day or two later. Sneha's friend confronts Deepak on his dowry aspirations. A heated debate ensues. Deepak presents the same 'return on investment' argument he had made to me earlier, and the other young man responds somewhere on the lines of, "So your parents produced you so they could earn off you? How many more such investments have they made?"

At this point Sneha steps in as peacemaker and after Deepak leaves, criticises her friend for getting too personal. Soon after, she tells me about it.

I am extremely pleased that I am not the only one who fights lost causes. And I am glad that this other guy who spoke up against Deepak is someone I admire and respect.

I remembered this incident a couple of days ago. And I was struck at the fact that of all the 150 people in our class, there were just two people who confronted Deepak. Two people who were friends, but who hadn't spoken on this matter to each other. It seemed oddly fatalistic.

You see, the other person who confronted Deepak was the Guy.

22 comments:

ramblingsbybones said...

This return on investment line makes my blood boil...As if parents of girls don't 'invest' in their daughters' education etc. ...And why should parents expect a return? Children don't ask to be born and so it is the duty of the parents to provide for their progeny to the best of their ability without expecting anything in return...

The return on investment line is given to hide greed...

insanityincorporated said...

This is a nice post!!
B-school did you say?? wtf??!! If educated people talk like this, what do we expect from uneducated people!
Return on Investment??!! What a stupid thing to come out of an educated person's mouth!! Its because of MCPs like him that there are still so many (un)educated people who demand dowry and bask in the glory of their 'return on investment'!!

NuttyNits said...

In Andhara Pradesh grooms openly talk about their rates and kgs of gold they expect (howmuch ever educated they are). I heard one of the wierdest conversation in this regard, here it goes:

Guy1: I saw a girl, nice dowry but she is not good looking.
Guy2: Can you please refer me, I am intersted.

As if its some job offer!!

Unmana said...

Ramblingsbybones: I totally agree with the Guy on this. I wonder why those parents don't put their money into stocks or gold or some other material instead of procreating children - would be a much more productive thing to do.

Insanityincorporated: I was shocked too, at seeing a bschool classmate holding such views. But there are people like this, which is why not just dowry but harassment of women in India is so rampant.

NuttyNits: I am not surprised! I frankly wouldn't care about such wierdos, if only all women would have the courage and the ability to reject such 'offers' and lead their own lives.

Sumedha said...

Some newspaper I read once had a section where people wrote in to answer a question. I don't remember the question, but I do remember that a guy wrote in, saying that he really appreciates a girl who dances properly in a club, not caring about what others around her are thinking, and whether or not she's looking good.

I never met that guy, I don't even know his name, but I would really like to meet him. I've met too many guys who'll encourage you to dance saying no one cares, but crack jokes about your dancing to others behind your back. :)

And to the dowry thing: I've so many, many times found myself in a situation where I really want to fight with a friend and show them why their belief about something concerning women is so utterly wrong, but in such situations, I often stand tongue-tied, unable to think of anything that I can say to convince the person. Many times it's because I just don't see how a person could say what he does, and now see it's outrageous-ness as clearly as I do.

The return on investment thing is a new argument I've heard though.

Rohini said...

Haha.. i know about this.. my husband has a friend who during some discussions during their Masters said that if he doesn't take dowry, he will not get a girl coz the bride's parents will think that something is wrong with the guy(!!!!)
And the return on investment thing, I wish I could kick someone's ass right now.. anyone will be fine..

Unmana said...

Sumedha: I hope you find friends who think the same way as that guy does.

I used to be unable to speak up too. But now it's a simple rule for me - if I'm too uncomfortable to speak up, then I realise that person can't be my friend in any case. Though even if I do speak up I might decide not to remain friends if the person keeps proving him/herself to be chauvinist and sexist.

As you can see from the first comment above, the 'return on investment' isn't an uncommon argument, though I don't think they'd put it that way!

Rohini: Well, someone should tell him that we DO think there's something wrong with him.

Iya said...

Unmana, i too have come across people who have justified dowry with excuses like ROI, daughters right on fathers money and property and blah blah.
this is ia issue very close to my heart, and i have come very close to beating up a collegue..u know what i mean.
thank god for some sane men around. and the optimist in me hopes that the world will chage..

Unmana said...

Iya: You know, I still regret that I didn't let go of my calm arguments and just bash 'Deepak' up!

The world is changing, but much too slowly for my taste!

Aneela Z said...

oh this was sooo heartwarming...my heart went hmmmmm for a while...now this is the stuff true romance is made of. You have a keeper, a man who believes in positive masculinity!!!

GettingThereNow said...

I think education just provides these guys with new ways to cloak their greed by giving them more words and ideas to put forth flimsy excuses. ROI my foot!

I think girls also play a passive part in promoting dowry. Why don't more of us stand up and say no? I know it is easier said than done, and there are many more factors but still....

Unmana said...

Aneela: Don't I? :-)

Cee Kay: Totally agree with you. I think I'll do a follow-up post on this.

dipali said...

You and the guy- kindred spirits:)
Yes, the entire funda of dowry is totally warped. And in this day and age it loses any possible traditional justification that may have existed. As it is I have major issues with the entire business of the girl's side subjugating themselves to the wishes of the boy's side on most matters. It really sucks:(

Unmana said...

Dipali: Well, that's why we got together, you know.

I totally agree with you about the bride's family subjugating to the wishes of the groom's. Hopefully with fewer arranged marriages and more educated independent women, this will change.

Just a grail said...

Clapping, Clapping, Clapping for the Guy.


I dream of living in a world where this kind of stuff does not happen. It makes me sad.

Unmana said...

Grail: Ah, that dream. The vision that keeps hope alive. Yet we all know it's not gonna happen...

anumita said...

i am so glad you married him and no other!!

Unmana said...

Anumita: So am I! :-)

wordsndreamz said...

That is so nice! Fancy you and the Guy having identical views!

As for the justification of dowry based on the ROI argument - I have had so many arguments with people like this. The sad thing is that they just will not listen - they are so set in their thought. It makes it much worse that so many young people think this way :(

Unmana said...

wordzndreamz: Well, it's the reason why we got married, you know. Not this incident in particular, but the fact that we think alike.

Do many young people think this way? I've met just one who said so, fortunately.

hamactor said...

You and the guy are among few of the lucky people around. Why put blame squarely on men? how many girls are ready to marry a guy shorter than her? how many girls are ready to marry a guy earning less than her? how many girls are OK with the guy not knowing driving and taking him on a ride? i see 90% of indian women obsessed with loads of Saree and gold. i wish you don't mistake me of woman bashing! If our marriage system is not based on love these things will continue to exist.

Unmana said...

hamactor: I have never said men are solely to blame, or that all men are to blame. But in this situation, it's women who are routinely oppressed against, and who have my sympathy.