13 reasons why we are still minding
Wage gaps live on in the Sahyadris and the Hollywood Hills. The IS issues guidelines for rape. Despite a year of advances, we have a long way to go
I’m writing this on New Year’s Day, when the urge to look back, take stock, look ahead, make lists, and cherish the illusion of choice is irresistible. I just signed a contract to write this column for another year. It seems a fitting moment, as the first sunshine of 2016 tinsels up the river outside my window, to ponder the fact that if all were right with the world, I would have to change my column title. But I don’t, because despite many wonderful recent changes (gay marriage in the US, Malaysia’s first female national laureate, women voting in Saudi Arabia, The Danish Girl film being slightly boring because transgender issues are no longer exotic), there’s still a gap and we still need to mind it. Here, in the grand tradition of New Year’s lists, are 13 random reasons why:
1. After a recent brunch at a trendy Harlem restaurant, I got up to wash my hands and reached the bathroom door just as another woman was coming out.
“Sorry!” she said, and went on her way.
Why was she sorry? Do men apologize when they open the bathroom door and find someone waiting? Was she sorry to warm the seat, sorry to have a bladder, sorry that I had to wait, sorry to exist? Why are we so quick to be sorry? Somewhere between servility and belligerence, surely there’s a happy medium. As long as you haven’t peed on the toilet seat, sisters, there’s no need to apologize. But maybe this is part of a deeper undercurrent of feeling that we should be embarrassed about taking up space and time, and having bodily needs. It seems like a small thing, but it isn’t. In the US, we have a rather cringeworthy presidential campaign under way. When Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton took longer than the others to come back to a debate (the women’s bathroom was much farther away than the men’s, so she had more distance to cover), her Republican rival Donald Trump—I’m mentioning him in two columns in a row and I promise it ends here—called her visit to the loo “disgusting”. Mind the gap, Mr Trump.
2. Speaking of disgusting, this nice river view of mine has become tainted recently. A few weeks ago, a young woman was out jogging by the river in the early evening. A man approached her, yanked her hair, pulled her off the path, raped her, and took her phone and credit card. Then he strolled into a neighbourhood deli and used her credit card for a little shopping. Oh, rape, so reliably horrifying. As long as men are dragging us around by the hair and assaulting us, we need to mind the gap.
3. In 2015, we got some nice candid photos of Pluto. What an amazing universe. A quarter of the brilliant scientists who made the mission possible were women. Given the dominance of men in science, this is heartening. But 25% is hardly equality. So let’s not blather about post-feminism; mind the gap.
4. In Japan, married couples are required by law to share a surname. Of course this means that about 96% of couples use the husband’s surname. Mind the gap.
5. In our village in Maharashtra, men make Rs.300 a day for pulling grass. Women, usually better at this task, make Rs.200. Meanwhile, Hollywood’s highest paid female actor, Jennifer Lawrence, spoke out angrily when she found out she was paid less than her male co-stars in the hit film American Hustle. The wage gap, such an old story, lives on in the Sahyadris and the Hollywood Hills. From Raigad district to Rodeo Drive, mind the gap.
6. Grown women now play more video games than teenage boys, but men still dominate the gaming industry, and the vast majority of protagonists in the games are men. If my daughter is going to sit in her room and destroy her thumbs rampaging around in fictional worlds, I want the fantasy to include some girl power.
7. Haitian president Michel Martelly responded to a woman who complained about the government’s failure to provide electricity by telling her to “go get a man and go into the bushes”.
8. Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for standing up to terrorism “despite being a woman”.
9. My male cousin has two wives. I’m not allowed even one in India.
10. Ads for maxi-pads still use blue liquid to demonstrate their usefulness. What’s up with that? Are they only meant for blue-blooded aristocrats or is the reality of how the species propagates itself just too distasteful?
11. And, continuing in the realm of how-do-I-begin-to-parse-the-craziness, the Islamic State network issued detailed guidelines on when it’s okay to have sex with captured women. For instance, fathers and sons can’t have sex with the same slave. And if an owner has sex with a woman, he isn’t allowed to rape her mother. Must preserve the decencies!
12. The UN has never had a female secretary general.
13. More than half the abortion clinics in Texas have closed in the past two years, as a result of a law restricting abortion. In that time, at least a hundred thousand women there have been desperate enough to take the dangerous step of trying to give themselves abortions, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project report.
There’s a whole lot to celebrate in this mad world. But the gap remains. The gap between high and low incomes, this colour skin and that colour skin, this side of the river and that side of the river, and always, always, this gender and that. There’s much to learn there, much to marvel at and much to weep over. I look forward to another year of minding it with you.
Sohaila Abdulali is a New York-based writer. She writes a fortnightly column on women in the 21st century.
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