My Friend the Misogynist
For the sake of this story, I will call my friend Tanvir. Tanvir and I have been friends for a very long time. Born in the same neighbourhood from similar backgrounds, we had been exposed to the same opportunities and maladies that were available to the rest of our peers in the same socio-economic cohort: an “enlightened” western education, opportunities to achieve without really having to work hard for anything, a sense of privilege knowing that we came from the supposedly highest echelons of society. We grew up with a chip on our shoulders, (un)consciously demarcating the world around us as either the best or the rest, with little doubt as to which category we belonged to and loudly clarifying to those who had any confusion. We were spiritual without being religious, materialistic without being greedy.
I needed to spell out our similar backgrounds for a reason that I hope will become patent as this article progresses. You see, my friend Tanvir is an unabashed misogynist.
Let me pause here and go back to my history and etymology notes. Simply put, a misogynist is a woman hater. Our wonderful friends from ancient Greece, who we owe democracy in its modern form, came up with the word misogunia to describe all those who feel women conform to a much inferior category. Free-thinking philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates have all professed their deep disdain for women at one time or the other; Socrates has written about the virtuous woman being one who “obeys”, while Aristotle dismisses women as being “incomplete men.” Clearly, Tanvir is following the footsteps of some very wise men indeed.
Mind you, Tanvir is not your orthodox, in-your face misogynist but practices a more subtle variety. If asked, Tanvir will profess the deepest respect for women. My mother is my role model, and I love my wife to death, he would say in defense. No, let's scratch a bit deeper shall we.
Tanvir owns a garments factory in Savar. Well, his father owns it, but he runs it pretty much on his own. It's a pretty big factory and he employs close to a thousand women. He gives them a fair wage compared to a lot of other factories, and actually has maternity leave as well. Talk about being a progressive capitalist! But his house of cards fall apart when you shake the table a bit.
His management, for example, has no women involved. Even the doctor who comes in to consult the women, including pregnant workers, is a man. Things could be far worse, of course: there could be no doctors, no maternity leave, and no full wages paid to the workers. But I am more interested as to the thought process behind the decisions than the decision itself. Why is there such a clear dichotomy in leadership in Tanvir's factory?
Women aren't smart enough to lead yet, professes Tanvir. Although Tanvir tries to emphasize on the “yet” part of his confession, I doubt whether he will ever have confidence in women managers. Like our old wise friend Socrates, women are there to follow their sterling men counterparts. A look at his personal life (and choices) belies Tanvir's progressive attitude towards women. Once a week, Tanvir sits down with his father (never his wife or mother) to discuss the progress of the family business. He doesn't think women should wear “revealing” clothes (anything else than a full shalwar kameez is revealing to Tanvir) since they “tempt” danger on themselves. And speaking of women and leadership, aren't our two women leaders living proof of what happens if we give women too much power? Socrates has taught you well!
To be fair, Tanvir's misogyny is certainly mild compared to what we see around us every day. Rapes, murders due to dowry, acid throwing etc are commonplace in Bangladesh and my article isn't about listing the various manifestations of misogyny, which would simply take too long. What I am more interested is the reasons and causes behind it.
At the beginning of the article, I had pointed out the similarities in background that I shared with Tanvir. We both came from well to do families, educated in good schools both at home and abroad, and grew up in a pretty liberal setting. Often, societal factors are offered as factors that mould our attitudes towards the other sex. Education, the silver bullet for so many of our ailments, is the cure-all for any kind of discrimination. Yet, some of the worst offenders that I often come across are well educated, seemingly liberal on the outside, and are generally tolerant of other kinds of differences around them.
Take for example the recent news about the father-in-law who began verbally and physically abusing his daughter-in-law, a surgeon by profession, for coming home late at night from work. Such was the intensity of his insults that the poor doctor tried committing suicide and nearly succeeded. The irony lies in the fact that the father -in-law himself was the managing director of a renowned bank who would come home late at night after drinking and playing cards with his bank buddies, no prizes for guessing whether there were women in his little coterie.
Clearly the wealthy, educated liberals of our country are not immune to misogyny and so I have to search for the source somewhere else. My personal interpretation is that gender discrimination lies at the imbalance of power in our society. For long, women have not wielded power but the tectonic plates of clout are slowly shifting. Women are becoming more present, whether in the media, at the local school or clinic, or even as pedestrians, and this seriously ticks off a lot of us, other women included. Whether you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, no one likes the rug being pulled off from under our feet. As for my friend Tanvir, we are still best friends. That probably says more about my tolerance for intolerance more than anything else.
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