There’s hope for those of us who look into the mirror and think: My butt looks h-u-g-e. Even Salma Hayek says she doesn’t like her curvaceous body and is surprised when people think she looks sexy, according to a news item I read in The Times of India. “If you know how to dress, there’s some tricks you can pull,” says Hayek. I think all women are born with that knowledge (aside: The only news items I read in the Times are the ones that are published with pictures of half-naked women).
Et tu? Salma has body issues. Robert Benson / Getty Images / AFP
Of course women are not caricaturized only in The Times of India. Last week, the Delhi edition of Hindustan Times carried a full-page advertisement with a large picture of a supposedly Maharashtrian cleaning lady on her knees, swabbing the floor alongside a young brat, ball in one hand, broom in the other, with the tag line: “Is Kantabai becoming your child’s guru?”
“While your child is learning your maid’s language, someone else’s child is learning a foreign language,” another line in the ad for the Genesis Global School said. Aside from the offensive nature of the ad, I couldn’t understand why a school would make fun of the household help when so many of us “global citizens” can’t do without these ladies. Every evening the park in my posh neighbourhood is full of children who visit only with their nannies. As if it were not bad enough that our men are predators around the women who work for us, we insist on demeaning them in new ways every year.
At the end of the day, the woman is really ranked lowest in the modern-day Indian power hierarchy. In Delhi you can’t even visit your sister without worrying that the freak neighbour will decide he wants to have sex with you. And if you refuse, he will calmly murder you and then burn you, as one IITian did earlier this week in this gloriously women-unfriendly city. And then the deputy commissioner of police who is investigating the case will dress up in a suit and tie for prime-time television and say that after examining the walls in the murderer’s home and his computer, he is convinced that the creep was “obsessive-compulsive”, a “pervert” and “manic”.
If the neighbour doesn’t get you, your family could. Earlier this month, family members hunted down one of their own and gangraped her because they disapproved of the man she married.
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It’s hardly surprising that India ranks an abysmal 114 in a just-out World Economic Forum study of gender gaps in 135 countries.
Was it always this way for Indian women? In Gurcharan Das’ The Difficulty of Being Good, the author says that women in the Mahabharat usually had their say. Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, asserted her sexual freedom when she found out her husband couldn’t have sex. Draupadi, says Das, wanted to know whom Yudhishthir lost first in Indian history’s most famous game of dice—himself or her. She demanded to know whether it was right or fair that a woman, let alone a queen, become a slave because her husband had staked her in a gambling game? And when Dushasan began to undress her, Das says, Draupadi turned her legal challenge into a moral one by asking: What is left of the dharma of the king? Das says the Mahabharat reflects the autonomy women had in the Mauryan and post-Maurayan times. “Women archers were bodyguards of the king; women were spies in the intelligence services; women ascetics were a common sight; royal and upper-class women generously donated to Buddhist monasteries,” he says.
I always knew I was born in the wrong era.
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