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Different Domains: Not Such a Bad Thing!

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Different DomainsIt is the Navaratri season and I have just returned from Pune, where ‘Dandiya-Raas’ evenings were in full swing, to Chennai, where invitations to ‘Kolu’ decorations in my friends’ homes are taking up my time everyday around sunset. While I enjoyed the spectacle of men and women dressing up in their traditional best and dancing together to the beat of ‘Dhol Baje’ in one place, I am being treated to imaginative creations of tableaux presenting different gods and goddesses featuring dolls, costumes, temple artifacts in the other.

Both these experiences cannot help but make me think about the different domains inhabited by men and women, and whether these differences really reinforce gender inequality, or are not such a bad thing, after all. It is natural for us to wonder about this today in the twenty-first century. In some ways, we have come very far from those days in which men and women did strictly different things, which were stereotyped as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’. In other ways, we have also gone beyond the ‘everybody-can-do-everything’ credo that changed social mores in many parts of the world following the Women’s Liberation movements of the 1960s and seventies.

These are the days when both men and women ‘dress up’ and become models or actors, when both men and women undertake perilous ‘night shift’ jobs, and both take equal responsibility for children, in-laws and parents in most places. It seems absurd now to be fighting for women’s rights to do something exclusively, or for men to have single claim on one particular vocation. And yet, deep down, if we really examine ourselves, would we really like to change any of the following examples of the different domains that men and women inhabit?

  • A large family get-together is taking place. While the women sit indoors, knitting and crocheting, trying out recipes, combing each other’s hair and modeling wardrobes, they are also exchanging secrets, comforting and consoling those in crisis, sorting out serious life-issues…
  • Outside, the men read newspapers and discuss world affairs as if they have a personal stake in them. They also keep a watchful eye on the toddlers who need supervision. A few of the more enterprising teenager boys are trying to incite the older children to explore, rebel, break a few rules…
  • A gynaecologist and her husband, an opthalmologist, share office space in the same clinic. While his staff is responsible for their awesome database, with up to date details and records of each and every patient, her staff serves tea and helps baby-sit small children who come as patients, or accompanying their parents…
  • The woman CEO of a large multi-national has just negotiated a multi-million dollar merger that demonstrated her awesome people skills. When questioned by reporters about the financial implications of the deal, she just waves her hand and says, ‘Oh, Mr. S——- (her right- hand man) will have all the details!’
  • The man leading a state going in for elections makes some important policy decisions that are perceived to surely propel him to victory. After winning the elections he gives all credit for the turning-point choices to – his wife. ‘She helps me see the ground reality that should be the guiding force for my actions,’ he says.

Its clear that the world needs not only women doing womanly things really well, but men doing manly things really well, too. When this happens, the different domains hardly matter, and life seems good. Things turn sour, and relationships flounder only if we value the different domains in a skewed manner, considering one superior or more important than the other. If both are given equal attention, then why should humankind be any poorer?

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