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Editorial: Delicate balance

Survey shows that men and women should enjoy equal rights, disobedient wives and angry women excepted

The Editorial Board Published 06.03.22, 12:17 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. Shutterstock

India is a land of nuances. A study by the Pew Research Centre between late 2019 and early 2020 showed that most Indians think that it is important for women to have the same rights as men, and eight out of 10 think it is ‘very’ important. Before an observer is struck by wonder at the less-than-desirable situation of women in a country with such progressive views, a particular nuance — the less charitable may call it a twist — might give them pause. Eighty per cent of the respondents also felt that in certain circumstances men should get the better deal. The notion of rights changes in such cases: when jobs are few, men have greater right to a job than women. It is possible that this 80 per cent does not coincide with the eight out of every 10 who believe in the great importance of gender equality. But it would not be a stretch to imagine overlaps, because there are just 29,999 respondents in the study. Conducted in 17 states, the study cannot be faulted for its range. But in a population of around 1.4 billion, the number of respondents is hardly overwhelming.

Given this proportion, the nicely balanced nuance suggests that there may be quite a number of Indians to whom equal rights for men and women would seem frankly absurd. Especially since 87 per cent of the same respondents also feel, mostly or completely, that a wife must obey her husband. Marriage works its magic by depriving a wife of her equal womanhood, because a man remains a man married or unmarried. He is probably, in certain circumstances — not in all — willing to pay lip service to equal rights as far as his female colleague is concerned, but home is a different matter. These nuances dazzle the observer. Sixty-seven per cent of the men believe completely that obedience in a wife is compulsory, in which they are supported by 61 per cent of the women. The desire to obey makes them desirable — as wives.

It probably also makes life easier for them. An earlier American study showed that anger in the workplace led to women being penalized but not men; it even rewarded the latter. Why should the home be different? Angry Young Men were all the rage — pun unavoidable — in 1950s’ artistic and intellectual Britain, and looking back in anger was the only meaningful posture. Two decades later, the Angry Young Man burst on to the popular Hindi film screen — they say he has not lost his charm yet. Anger becomes the man. Neither here nor in the West have angry young women exercised such a spell — even Shakespeare’s Kate was a ‘shrew’ who had to be tamed. Obedience and anger lie on two sides of the gender divide, and no research or survey will allow them to meet and mingle. Not much nuance in it, after all.

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