Men and women: different but equal

Men and women are neither inferior nor superior to each other because of their genetic make-up. They are both different parts of the life force that together make a whole

Gender equality concept

"It’s a girl," says the nurse to the nervous father with a weak smile, looking almost apologetic. The new-born girl’s father enquires about the health of mother and child. “I’m perfectly okay with a son or a daughter. After all, girls are no less than boys nowadays. I will raise her as a son,” he says, thinking that he has made a mature statement. Little does he realise that in the very statement, ‘I will raise her as a son’, he has already rejected the person that the baby is.

A girl is born…

The new father then informs his mother about the baby girl, immediately following it up with, “What matters is that mother and child are both okay.” “Of course,” replies his mother in a consoling manner. She then says to the daughter-in-law’s mother who is squirming uncomfortably, “Goddess Laxmi has arrived in our family”. In saying these words, she emits an air of large-heartedness, and waits for an acknowledgement of the same. The daughter-in-law’s mother immediately obliges by saying, “That’s so kind of you, my daughter is lucky to be married in your family.”

She feels humiliated that she has to receive the grace of the son-in-law’s family. The new father, in a perplexed state, goes to share the news and distribute some sweets among his relatives and friends, putting up a brave front. As he is doing this he is thinking of the dowry of the girl child, and imagining that he is receiving pitiful looks from those who are congratulating him.

While all this is going on, the new-born baby is oblivious to the happenings around her, but gradually starts catching on with the vibes in the family.

it's a girl, says the nurse to the nervous father with a weak smile, looking almost apologetic

Class, caste and creed no bar

This attitude towards the girl child is prevalent in the rich and the poor alike, sometimes blatant and at other times, subtle. Of course there are exceptions, but they are very, very few. And the worst part is that this biased attitude and inequality comes from the parents, whose flesh and blood she is and to whom she looks for unconditional love and acceptance. The mother is upset that she cannot have the pride of having provided the family heir to her husband. It is a son that she craves, to feel empowered in the family.

XX and XY

Just one chromosome, and the baby’s entire destiny is changed forever. So, who is this person with a set of ‘X’ and ‘X’ chromosomes? She is as much a person, as the person with a set of ‘X’ and ‘Y’ chromosomes. But, for those around her, that is not so.

Jyotsna, a 44-year-old married woman, was deeply depressed when she was brought to me, and said that she just did not want to live anymore. She said that as far back as she could remember, she had always felt that she was unwanted and not accepted for the person that she was. She said the following words in an anguished voice :

“For the mother, the daughter brings tension while the son brings pride. For the father, the daughter is a burden while the son is a support. For the brother, the sister is someone who undeservedly partakes of the family wealth. For the husband, the wife is someone with whom he can do as he pleases. For the son, the mother is the provider of all his needs. Who am I? I seem to have lost myself, and life just doesn’t feel worth living”.

"Let me be me"

Harsha, called Harsh by her father, was always told, "You are my son". Her father had set an agenda for Harsha’s life, and held her ransom to it. Unless she conformed to his agenda of being a son, she wouldn't receive his love.

Harsha’s heart craved to be a Montessori teacher, but her father would not hear of it. She was his son, and would be a chartered accountant, and that was that.

So badly did she want his love and approval that she went against her calling to become a chartered accountant and get a high-powered job, all the time checking back to see whether she was receiving parental love and approval. So desperate was she for this acceptance that she suppressed almost all female instincts in herself, gaining more and more power in her position at work—until one day, she fell in love.

After marriage she faced major problems. In her husband’s family men ate first, and only when they had finished did the womenfolk eat. She wasn’t even allowed to read the newspaper in the mornings, as that was "for the men". Harsha found this contrasting lifestyle humiliating. The conflict in her increased progressively. She felt trapped between being the "son" her parents could be proud of, and being the "submissive daughter-in-law" her in-laws wanted her to be. She had suffered a nervous breakdown when brought to me, and had to embark on a painful journey to rediscover, accept and love the person inside her.

During family therapy, her parents claimed complete ignorance of their contribution to the problem, saying, “But we are so proud of her, we keep telling her she is our son.” It took a long, frustrating session to help them realise that their daughter had never been acknowledged and unconditionally accepted as the person she was. Instead, she had been given a job description right from the moment of her birth, which was to be who they wanted her to be—their son.

Double standards

Minakshi’s mother brought her to me complaining of sibling rivalry between Minakshi and her brother, “She is so jealous of her brother, I don’t know why she behaves in this way,” said her mother. According to her, Minakshi was not mature enough to understand that "after all, she is a girl, and he is a boy".

On asking Minakshi what the matter was in private, a huge dam burst with a never-ending flood of tears. She spoke about how special foods were made for her brother, which she wasn’t allowed to touch, even if they rotted. If she spoke of justice and fairness, she was labelled "greedy and jealous". Her brother could have whatever he laid his fingers on, while Minakshi had to choose from cheap sales, and accept her mother’s hand-me downs. For birthdays, her brother was bought the most expensive product in the market, whereas Minakshi was either given some money to buy herself a gift, or given a much-hyped, much exaggerated cheap gift.

Minakshi had recently been engaged. When selecting jewellery for her wedding from the family jewels, her mother first kept the most valuable pieces aside for her brother saying, “This is for your brother; however, you can select whatever you want from the rest, we do not want to differentiate between both of you”. This obvious contradiction in word and deed was the last straw. Minakshi completely lost control and became hysterical. She broke off the engagement and stopped eating at home. When she tried committing suicide, she was accused of "bringing shame to the family with her actions".

Rights and wrongs

Woman discussing with her friends
If both boys and girls are loved for the people they are, they will grow up into sensible men and women with a healthy respect for each other

According to Hindu law, sons and daughters are equal heirs to the parental estate. Most parents, however, assign most of the wealth to their sons in their will. And just to save themselves from guilt, leave something to their daughter, even if the daughter becomes who they want—their obedient, wish-fulfilling "son".

Of course, this rule does not apply to biological sons. Even if the sons turn out to be demanding, pampered and spoilt brats, their chromosomes are enough for them to "rightfully deserve" all that the parents have to give—affection and wealth. The daughter does not have the rights of a biological child, but must perform the duties, whereas the son has the rights of the biological child, whether he performs the duties or not.

Dr Sonam, a highly qualified paediatric dentist, cringed when after marrying a famous gynaecologist, her mother-in-law said, “You are lucky to have in-laws like us who allow you to practice.” The word "allow" makes her blood boil till today. She claims that since she has worked as hard as her husband to be where she is, she does not need anyone to allow or disallow her to practice.

A girl is different from a boy biologically and psychologically in many aspects, and we need to respectfully acknowledge that

"Bearing" a girl child

Female infanticide and foeticide continue. There are couples like Mohan and Lata even today, who continue to have children till they have a son. Mohan and Lata continued giving birth to daughters in the hope of having a son. They stopped after four daughters, after Lata had to have a hysterectomy due to multiple fibroids in her uterus. Mohan defensively says today, "I’m a proud father of four girls," but his bitter expression gives everything away.

Often, if the couple has decided on two children, and the second one is a daughter after the first daughter, the second one experiences a deep-seated feeling of rejection. This feeling stems from the parents’ disappointment that she is not a son.

Sagar and Shilpa came to me to talk about Neha, the younger of their two daughters, who would throw temper tantrums, cry uncontrollably, pick fights at school, and speak of wanting to die. It was discovered that both parents were deeply disappointed that she was not a son, but had never ever spoken about it openly. Neha had picked up the vibes, though, and this feeling of being rejected for who she was, became the undercurrent in her life.

Different but equal

I’d like to make it amply clear that while discussing the prejudice against the XX chromosome, I am in no way proclaiming that women are superior to men. Also, this isn’t a typical bra-burning women’s liberation endeavour, which unrealistically claims that women can or should do absolutely everything that a man can do. The opposite is equally untrue; men are not superior to women and neither can men claim to or should do everything a woman can do. Therefore, both need to respectfully and gracefully accept that they are both equal but different.

Love without reservations

A girl is different from a boy biologically and psychologically in many aspects, and we need to respectfully acknowledge that. There are, of course, certain areas like dressing and nights out in which unfortunately, some restrictions have to be placed on girls, given the present social environment in which we live. But these so-called restrictions are not manifestations of inequality in love or acceptance of the child. On the contrary, they are manifestations of care for the safety of the girl-child. However, such matters need to be lovingly explained and will be understood in the same spirit, if the basic inequality in the attitudes of the parents towards sons and daughters cease to exist.

If the boy-child and the girl-child are both equally and unconditionally loved, accepted and respected for who they are, we will have healthier relationships between men and women.

Certain pockets of society are slowly changing, with more and more girl-child adoptions taking place. Excellence is the antidote to all discrimination, and women are proving their worth in society by excelling in varied fields. The sad part, however, is that they have to prove their worth.

Male and female, are equal, opposite, complementary and inseparable, and life cannot exist without both

Together they make a whole

The relationship between the two genders can be compared to a magnet. A magnet has two poles—north and south. Both these poles have three qualities: they are opposite, they are of equal intensity, and they are inseparable.

Opposite doesn't mean opposition. While the two poles are completely opposite, they are not in opposition to each other i.e. they are not against each other. In fact, they are greatly attracted to each other with neither having a greater or lesser magnetic pull but being of equal magnetic strength and intensity, they are inseparable. A magnet cannot exist only with one pole. In fact, if you cut a magnet, it automatically develops the opposite pole for it to exist. As such, both poles are complementary to each other with neither being superior or inferior.

This example can also be extended to electricity. We know that for electricity to flow, there must be a negative charge and a positive charge with the electrons flowing from one to another. There can be no electricity without these two opposite charges. Similarly, the two genders are equal, opposite, complementary and inseparable, and life cannot exist without both.

Yin and Yang or Shiva and Shakti are inseparable and equally form the Divine life force —Chi in Chinese and Prana in Sanskrit—and the wholeness of existence.

I dream of a day when the chromosomes will cease to matter, one way or the other; when the person inside the body will be all-important; and when human love will unconditionally flow towards another human—that is the day when men and women will both be truly liberated.

Teaching children gender equality

As part of gender sensitisation, adolescents and young adults need to be helped to understand the inevitable intimate relationship between the sexes in a way that they evolve into mature adults who respect each other physically and psychologically.

For this, value-based, gender-sensitive sex education programmes are recommended for children who have touched puberty. When a sex educator teaches the student about human sexuality, what he or she mainly needs to impart in the course of the education is values related to sexuality. These values can, of course, only be transmitted to the student if the educators themselves live by those values and if they are an intrinsic part of their own personality. The emphasis is on creating a generation of young adults, who have a healthy attitude towards sex, based on a scientific understanding of this natural instinct for the continuity of life.

They need to be explained:

  • Men and women are not opposite but complementary sexes. Plus and minus sound like opposites mathematically, however without positive and negative polarities, we cannot have electricity or magnetism. Therefore, it goes without saying that life on earth cannot exist without male and female.
  • Sexual relationships should never be compelling, exploitative, or lead to physical or psychological harm. They should be consensual or non-coercive—with neither one exploiting, nor feeling exploited by the other. A sexual relationship should only take place between two responsible and committed adults. It shouldn’t be premature and casual, as it can leave the exploited as well as the exploiter, emotionally disturbed and/or psychologically destabilised.
  • Sexual relationships should be based on mutual trust, respect, honesty and commitment. Both partners need to assume responsibility of nurturing life if sex results in pregnancy. Moreover, a committed relationship ensures that both feel good about the union in sex, as they are together because they want to share their life together.

A version of this was first published in the March 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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