fred ginger

Backwards and in High Heels

fred ginger
Frank & Ernest Cartoon by Bob Thaves 1982 © NEA Inc.

These days, when I look at working women across various walks of life (in India, particularly, but also elsewhere) and how they’re trying to achieve some of the same things that their male counterparts are able to, this quote often comes to mind.

Sure, he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did — backwards and in high heels.

For a woman, it’s not just about achieving but also about what she needs to overcome for those achievements. Inequities, prejudices, biases and discrimination — all these abound in practically every aspect of life. The deck is stacked against her from the moment that she is born.

Worse still, if she’s born in a misogynistic culture like India’s, where her worst enemy is often another woman: a mother, wife or sister who is, often, an enabler of bad behavior in the men in their lives and an instiller of modest ambitions or self-doubt in the other women in their lives. With the former, women do this by always overlooking, forgiving, condoning or giving in to the demands, outbursts, whims or rules of their men. This is, they tell themselves and others, so that they can “keep the peace” within the family/community. For, of course, it is the Indian woman’s role and privilege in life to be the family peacemaker. Then, it is also often because she has no recourse, being entirely dependent on those same men, financially and/or emotionally. And, we’re talking about well-educated, well-situated, well-traveled women here too, not just the ones in rural areas. These men then go on to treat other women badly. So, it is a vicious chain reaction that keeps perpetuating itself.

Sad that, in 2015, this is still a widely-proliferated socio-cultural norm in India. The West isn’t perfect but light years ahead. Still, I don’t see India getting ahead anytime soon. Indian women face more dire consequences if they stop being such enablers or safety nets for their men. If they choose to stand apart and call men out for their bad behavior, they are not only criticized and/or ostracized by their own but also by others around them. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Sigh.

[As a side-note, I’ve observed that there’s a relatively recent and more fashionable misperception among some women today that their enabling actions are helping in the way that Jack Nicholson said to Helen Hunt in ‘As Good As It Gets’ with “You make me want to be a better man”. It’s a very good line and, in a Hollywood movie, does wonders for moving the story along. But, please. If you are the main civilizing effect on the man in your life, you need to take a real close look at what drew you to this man in the first place.]

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