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Words to live and love by

Words to live and love by
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First Published: Thu, Feb 14 2008. 10 59 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Feb 14 2008. 10 59 PM IST
Dear husbands,
If you came here looking for a repeat of last year’s Valentine’s Day letter that gushed over the liberated man’s role in helping women succeed, Wider Angle is sorry to disappoint. But the results of a recent Hindustan Times survey of 500 middle-class men between the ages of 20 and 45 from six large cities have not left us feeling quite so loving — or even loved. Around 60% of those surveyed say they prefer stay-at-home wives. Only 24% of respondents said that their ideal woman should be “independent, yet a good homemaker”.
No, no, you say, that’s not me. And as proof, you might count yourself among the Indians who spent a record Rs3,000 crore on gifts yesterday. Perhaps in a moment of desperation, you even typed the phrase “what women want” into a search engine.
Here’s a thought — it’s not luxury watches or chocolates, not a fancy dinner, or even countless roses. In fact, maybe you should have been doing the letter-writing this year… Something like:
Dear wives,
Well, you know we’ve never been quite as good with emotions as you but, every now and then, we suppose we should at least try.
Valentine’s Day is filled with this four-letter word: love. And we certainly do love you. But we also wanted to take this opportunity to tell you that we cherish you, appreciate you, respect and honour you.
Whether you work, or stay home, or manage some super combo of both, we are amazed at how you manage to squeeze so many hours, chores and meetings into one day. That really puts us to shame.
There’s a lot more that makes us ashamed. That same Hindustan Times survey found that four out of five of us have made lewd comments to women. (The Hindustan Times is published by HT Media Ltd, also the publisher of Mint.) Nearly half of us surveyed felt women at a pub are “asking for trouble”.
We recognize that we have played a role in perpetuating the double standard that is making India’s streets unsafe for women. Troubling, dangerous cases of sexual harassment are euphemistically called “eve-teasing”. Somehow, we get away with many more “passes” than we should.
We are sorry. We are sorry for the results of these actions making life more difficult for you, whether it’s at a nightclub, or on your commute to work. Even as we judge and mistreat members of the opposite sex, we realize they are someone else’s wives, mothers and sisters.
Not as an excuse, but by way of explanation, many of us grew up in households where we were the centre of attention. Our mothers waited till our fathers ate, then us, before imbibing the remaining morsels. They made sure our needs were put before theirs, and so we grew up with this tendency to dismiss what women do, say, want.
Despite such an upbringing, you women somehow manage to look the other way and take us in. In many cases, you have softened us, wakened us, bettered us. For that, we — and society — should be grateful.
In recognition, we are trying very hard to change. Admittedly, we’re not there as much as we should be, as involved in the rhythms of the household, from the mundane tasks such as remembering to order another gas cylinder to the more important child rearing. We understand that our lapses to you represent not mere forgetfulness, but a return to that regressive behaviour that doesn’t have a place in the new India we all are working so hard to create.
Sometimes, we wonder if you have given up on us. We ask you to hang on and hang in. Valentine’s Day seems such a frivolous continuation of typical gender roles: woman longs, man provides. The reality is that you Indian women have played a role of providing and sacrificing for centuries, modifying self as required by shifting mores and changing times.
We concede it is we men who have not been able to keep pace.
“India is not that advanced when it comes to the way many men treat women. Men here are not used to listening to women. That’s beginning to change, but it’s going to take a lot of time,” Barkha Singh, chief of the Delhi Commission for Women, which is under the social welfare ministry, was quoted as saying in a recent story by Cox News Service on the sorry treatment of women in India.
So the flowers, the chocolates, the gifts are mere things, we recognize. Actions are really what matter, you have shown us.
We are trying to change. But because we recognize some of our errors are deep-seated and institutional, perhaps it would be more meaningful if we pledged today to raise our sons and daughters as truly equal beings.
Blurred, liberalized gender roles in the next generation of Indians? Now that would be a real gift.
Your comments are welcome at widerangle@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Feb 14 2008. 10 59 PM IST