Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Teach girls martial arts!

Despite all the drama about equality, Indian girls still get a very rough deal. While a family will allow a boy to venture out in shorts, the girl should dress up appropriately. If it is lewd for a girl to show her legs, then it should be lewd for a boy to show his. And in most of India, shorts are way more comfortable than something longer. People frown upon girls wearing comfortably short clothing. And in rural areas, even pants are the preserve of the men. The reason cited is very lopsided -- it is not appropriate, or that it is wrong for women to advertise themselves.

This logic reeks of something from the Taliban regime. When you force women to cover themselves completely, then their red socks will begin to excite men. Biologically, most men will be attracted to women, and trying to stop this is pointless.

A friend of mine was telling me about Gorakhpur, where she was brought up. Many years ago, when she was in school, she would bicycle to school, wearing pants. This was completely acceptable, and nobody expressed disgust. Today, it is unheard of for a girl in that area to bicycle to school, wearing pants. All in the space of about 20 years. What are we so afraid of?

The girl child is usually brought up in a very different state of mind: she is taught that she needs to be protected. Girls are advised not to walk alone at night, despite most Indian cities being absolutely harmless at night. Girls are not required to support themselves financially, since their husbands will provide for the family. Girls aren't expected to be fighting fit. Instead, they should have the two or three qualities that set them apart in matrimonial classifieds: 'fair, convent educated, and with family values'.

This gentle psychological warfare wreaks havoc on the minds of girls. When you are brought up with the notion that you are defenseless, you end up being defenseless. When you are taught all your life that all important decisions will be taken for you, you lose the capability to make the important decisions by yourself.

This is damaging for both girls and guys. Children spend much more time with their mother, and their maternal grandparents. Children learn more from their mother as well, since they see her much more than the father. For the first few years, the development of a child is influenced more by the capabilities of the mother than the father. Uneducated or undereducated women can teach their children (both boy and girl) lesser than if they'd been educated.

Also, there is a great freedom in both parents being capable of earning. They might not both work, but if required, the woman could be the wage earner instead of the man. This eases situations considerably in case of an accident, or a layoff. In America and Britain, the Second World War forced all physically able men to fight for their country. The war machinery was then run by women. Factories making amunitions, aircrafts, and tanks, were run by women laboring on the factory floor. Reading their accounts gives a sense of their wonderful sense of freedom and accomplishment. One woman was so delighted that she could "write her own cheques" instead of relying on her husband to write them for her. Without this massive manpower (womanpower, actually), the huge production required to sustain the war would have been impossible.

Independent, strong women are the key to India's success. They're half our working force, lying dormant. We need them to start companies, to work in factories, to work in the fields on their own terms, and to help open our minds to new ideas. Teach them martial arts, and get them started early with the idea that they are neither defenceless, nor helpless. We'd all be much better for it.