<%-- Page Title--%> Perceptions <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 134 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 19, 2003

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Gender Relations The Debate Goes On


Munasir Kamal

A female classmate, influenced by Taslima Nasreen, tried to convince me that if we want to prove ourselves equal to men, we must pee in the streets! Apparently the ability to relieve oneself in public is considered a sign of male dominance. Things like this make me feel sick, because I would never stoop to such a level to assert my equality.

Recently many debates arose in the first year Honours class of the English Department of Dhaka University regarding the poem Living in Sin by American feminist poet Adrienne Rich. The poem portrays a woman stuck in an unhappy relationship in which her partner is indifferent to her feelings. Our poetry teacher interpreted the poem in two different ways. Firstly, as the woman being a victim in a patriarchal society; and secondly, as the woman being partially to blame for her misery because she expected too much from the relationship. Surprisingly, many of the men in the class accepted the first explanation that the woman was a helpless puppet in the hands of patriarchy, while women accepted the second explanation. A male classmate lamented that his mother was forced to stay at home despite a degree in economics because of his overbearing father. The girls in the class did not support the man in the poem, but we considered the woman too submissive, and that an educated woman in modern times shouldn't sit at home depressed. She should go out and get a job if she is displeased with her domestic confines.

The men were shocked that we women did not sympathise with the woman in Rich's poem as much as they did and said, “Meye-rai meyeder sharbonash anney”
(girls bring destruction on their own kind). What they do not understand is that we do not want 'special treatment' as the so-called weaker sex. If the woman in Living in Sin and other women in similar situations are not satisfied with their life, they should do something about it, it's no use just complaining.

When university first began, my newly formed male friends were taken aback when I refused to let them pay every time we had a snack at the DUCSU or IBA canteen. They had some silly backward notion that the man should always pay. I do accept treats from male friends sometimes, provided that I am allowed to return the treat.

Another thing that stunned my male classmates was that I never let them call a rickshaw for me. One of my friends said that it is a dangerous world for women and by calling a rickshaw, he feels that he has got me out of one of the many dangers! Doing something for me that I am easily able to do is a cheap attempt at chivalry.

I won't say that I never take help from male friends. I get the creeps about having to cross busy streets. I recently asked a male friend to help me cross the road in front of New Market, and he cheerfully exclaimed, “See, girls can't do everything!” I got angry and started to cross the road myself. I am not ashamed to admit that I was relieved when he caught up with me and helped me to cross. But if I have a problem with heavy traffic, it is my weakness as an individual, not as a woman. I know a lot of women who have no problems crossing roads, and also some men who are afraid of the same but will never own up to it because it hurts their ego.

Recently another English professor, while explaining a chapter in Pride and Prejudice, asked the girls and boys separately what we look for in a potential life-partner. His aim was to establish that money is not as important in choosing a partner as it was in Jane Austen's time. However, many other interesting aspects were revealed. The student whose mother has an unused economics degree said that his future wife should be good at housework! It was amusing to see him adopt double standards for two different women.

It is also interesting to observe how male and female teachers interpret the same piece of writing differently. A male teacher in the general English class stressed on how desperate Charlotte Lucas was to get married while a female teacher in the tutorial class focused on how desperate Collins was to get married that he fancied three women within a very short span. In his poem The Sun Rising, John Donne thrilled at the beauty of his wife, compares her to all the states of the world and himself to the princes of these states. When I pointed that Donne, seems to be governing his wife in this poem, our teacher replied that the poet gives his beloved a more lasting form by comparing her to states that are more stable than rulers. However, our female teacher had mentioned that Donne had a chauvinistic streak in him even before I had told her of my idea.

Recently I attended an aunt's wedding. Everyone in the family loved her and it was painful to watch my khala go away to her shashur bari knowing that her sweet face would no longer be there when I visit my nanabari. I realised that it had never hurt to accept a mami or chachi into the family, but letting go of a khala or phupi is always awful. I realised that parents bring up a female child only to sacrifice her to her husband's family. I see no reason why the husband cannot live with his wife's family. But in Bangladesh there is a pointless prejudice against the concept of ghar jamai.

During the Eid vacation, I wanted to cover up for the lost sleep when university was going on in full swing. But my father kept calling me to wake up. So I got up, made my bed and went to talk to him. He asked me why I got up so late, and I retorted why he had not tidied his own bed having got up so early. Both my parents are jobholders, and it doesn't seem fair that the housework should be left to my mother alone. My father listened to my arguments and has now started to tidy his bed in the mornings and wash his own plate after meals. I'm waiting for the day when he'll come back early from his office and cook for guests like mum frequently has to do.




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