Aamir's truth is a little too one-sided, stereotypical

Given the rave reviews Aamir Khan got for his Satyamev Jayate, which started off taking up the cause of ending female foeticide, it is a little disappointing to read his viewpoints in Hindustan Times on the same issue (Read the full article here).

Titled “Daughters are precious”, the article tries to make many valid points (against foeticide, male prejudices, gender discrimination, et al) without going beyond stereotypical worshipping of girls and women that is already prevalent in our society. From Devis to Matas, we are a society that worships the female while in reality denigrating them as humans.

Without in anyway underplaying the huge injustices girls and women are subjected to in our society, and which we have to end, the point one would like to underscore is this: can we achieve this without a vision for the boy child, the male oppressor? Just celebrating the girl child and eulogising women is hardly the answer to age-old patriarchy and male chauvinism.

True emancipation is not about extolling the virtues of the victim. But this seems to constitute a large part of Aamir Khan’s article in the newspaper.

Let’s dissect what he said. He begins:

What is it about boys… or men… or males… that fascinates us so much… because of which we are, as a society, collectively moving towards eradicating the girl child in the womb?!!!

Satyamev Jayate should be about many-sided truths – not just one. AFP

I don’t think anyone, anywhere in the world is fascinated by boys or men or males. At least, not particularly. Most middle-class parents in India I know do desire a male child for cultural reasons, but they are equally worried about how they are going to bring up “difficult” boys in a difficult world. They are worried about girls for the opposite reason – how to protect them from predatory male behaviour in a violent society. No one really is “fascinated” by boys or men as such.

Aamir’s next few points make a lot of sense. Looking at the reasons for why people wants boys, he examines the traditional reasons for desiring male children - include the girl child’s future dowry cost, performance of last rites, or taking the “vansh” forward. As he rightly argues, these are invented reasons for discriminating against women and girls – and we have to abandon these outdated attitudes.

However, he goes overboard in trying to prove that it is females who take the human race forward based on the reality that pregnancy is a burden (or joy?) the woman shoulders, not the man. He says:

In fact, the vansh aage kaise chalega argument is one that is most absurd… because females are the ones who take the human race forward!!! Men can't have babies; the one who takes the family forward IS THE WOMAN! So, what on earth are we thinking? Where are these warped thoughts coming from?

Now, bringing up human children goes beyond the nine months of pregnancy. In fact, alone among various species, the homo sapiens kid takes years to achieve mental and physical competence where he or she can take care of himself or herself. So men, too, have a role in taking the vansh forward – even if they didn’t quite fulfil this role in the past (or even the present). It is one thing to point out that men have little role to play during the pregnancy period, quote another to say that it is only women who take the family forward. Even assuming men have done less in the past, but is this what the future is about?

Aamir then goes on to make some points that, to this writer at least, pander to stereotypes about girls and women.

“We need to sit back and consider, not only this illness in our head, but also the fact that girls… are so special. A girl brings fragrance and joy into our lives. She has the kind of sensitivity that a boy may not be able to bring. The home lights up with a baby girl… girls are so caring. The delicacy, grace, beauty, and radiance that my daughter, Ira, brings into our lives, my son Junaid can never bring. He has other qualities which are unique and which make him special, and we love him as much. But what a girl brings to our lives a boy can't and vice versa.”

Now, if I were to tell you that boys are special because they are good in maths or run fast, you will probably tell me I am stereotyping girls as underperforming in these areas. So when we presume that only girls can bring us “fragrance” or “joy” or “delicacy” or “grace” – what are we trying to say here? Just describing what girls are likely to be, or are we presuming that boys (or men) cannot have the same qualities if brought up better, and trained to be more sensitive and caring? If boys are less sensitive or caring, is it because they are boys or because we brought them up that way?

Aamir is probably himself worried about this stereotyiing of positive qualities normally associated with the “feminine”, and rushes to correct himself by saying “both are unique…And the differences between males and females ought to be celebrated, cherished and appreciated.” But he still believes that “Women are far more caring than men (and) are far more resilient.”

Sure, these stereotypes are there because we have seen more women who are caring than men, but what this proves is that evolution has made women that way. If we want our men to have these qualities, it depends on how we bring them up. The same women (and men) who bring up girls to become more caring don’t train their boys that way. Why is this so?

Lise Eliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, says small differences in brain chemistry become huge gender gaps because of the way we stereotype girls into becoming feminine and boys into something we consider masculine. The truth, though, is that the 1 percent difference between male and female infant brains is what gets amplified into gender stereotypes by parents and society into major differences between boys and girls.

But let’s get back to Aamir, who rightly castigates men for making women feel unloved, blamed or inferior for not giving them a male child.

When I think of the number of women all across our country who are made to feel inadequate and insignificant. Who are made to feel bad that they are lesser for some reason… for carrying a baby girl in their womb. As if they were given a job to do and didn't do it right. As if they were incompetent. When I think of all of them, it really saddens my heart.

Good for you, Aamir. He goes on.

The birth of a child, or a mother carrying a baby in her womb for nine months, is a miracle of nature. And at such a time the woman has to be made to feel special… like a queen. She is closest to God at that time… closest to nature at that time… in a place where no man can ever be! If we have any sense… then at that time we will value her as the most special being of nature, capable of giving life, which no man can do.

The above is typical male envy of women’s child-bearing capabilities masquerading as boyish wonder and praise of women. Our mythology is full of this stuff.

Instead of making her feel special, like she is, we make her feel small and judged. And ironically, for something over which she has no control! In fact, as we know, it is the sperm of the male that decides the sex of the child.

Quite true, and useful to know. However, it is presumptuous to think that even men can do anything with this knowledge, except to stop blaming women for the sex of the child. They have no way of deciding what chromosomes to deposit any more than the female. So the point that men’s sperm decide the sex is only of academic interest.

The rest of the article goes on give us an exhortation to stop trying to discover the sex of the child, and how to treat every child as nature’s gift. He also makes a good point about playing cheerleader for parents of girl children.

I propose that we as a society should show only the highest regard, respect, love and appreciation for those proud parents of girls. We should do away with archaic customs which disempower our strong little girls. Every time a baby girl is born in your family, in your neighbourhood, in your friends' circle, your love appreciation and warmth should be stronger to correct and heal this temporary illness that we are suffering from, and from which I am sure we will emerge.

Aamir is probably trying to correct a wrong here, but we have to remember that children are children. If we don’t treat them equally and with love, they will wither. While it is important to celebrate girl children, it cannot come at the cost of our boys. If a climate is created where only girl children are celebrated, it can damage boys who don’t feel celebrated. At that age, all children are sensitive to how we treat them.

The right attitude to the issue of gender discrimination is to celebrate both, but to give them different inputs for their growth – girls have to be empowered and encouraged, and boys have to be sensitised to the importance of equality and given the right values for their own emotional growth.

If men and women are to play their roles in the future without prejudice and discrimination, we need a  vision that encompasses both genders.

Satyamev Jayate should be about many-sided truths – not just one.

Updated Date: May 07, 2012 14:48 PM

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