It’s time to get rid of the outdated gender roles than no longer serve today’s world
The world is going through a gradual but massive transition and, by that, I am referring to the relationship between women and men, particularly belonging to the educated, middle, and upper income groups.
The question of gender equality has managed to put the concerns of women in the limelight, but it has also led to misunderstandings and perplexities between the opposite sexes.
More often than not, the modern, educated women you come across would proclaim or happily agree that they believe in women empowerment. But what exactly do we mean by women empowerment? “Who is an empowered woman?”
That is a question that I have been frequently asked by male peers, colleagues, and friends whenever the subject of feminism and women empowerment has been discussed.
Some of these men have strong reasons and genuine sentiments to back their concerns.
On one hand, women talk about equal rights and opportunities, being independent, pursuing their desired careers, having freedom over their schedules, not having to explain for returning late from work and not be expected to solely take care of household chores or children.
But when it comes to relationships, the expectation by several of these same women is for their respective male partners to behave like “a thorough gentleman.” This is not limited to simple politeness or courtesy. What it means is a whole range of expectations for men to adhere to, like opening doors for women, or taking care of the bill when going out to dinner.
Those men who are physically able and can afford to are usually ready to take care of these expectations either happily or begrudgingly, the latter manifesting at the appearance of exorbitant demands. But everything comes with a price. Those who are expected to take care of everything naturally feel they are the ones in charge with certain entitlements. In such scenarios, men are caught off-guard when their wives or female partners lash out towards any behaviour that displays the slightest hints of male domination.
Some men, to an extent, find modern women to be playing double standards; on one hand, they want to be treated as equal and independent, but on the other hand, they express desires for their partners to act as gentlemen who take care of everything but, in return, have zero expectations from them in fulfilling any traditional duty of women.
Therefore, it is no surprise that some men call out women for their inconsistencies in ideology and tendencies to conveniently switch between being part-time feminists and absolutely mollycoddled ladies.
If the attribute is hypocrisy, it very well exists in modern men too. For relationships, most so-called educated, modern men do not shy away from stating that they do not seek or appreciate “the housewife material.” They respect the strong, independent, powerful women -- ones who work or own a business, boast a career, maintain hobbies and passions -- who “have a life of her own.”
Unfortunately, many of these men dwell in a fantasy world where they love the idea of being with women who are CEOs at the companies they run, but in contrast, they are obedient and submissive at home. As men, they expect to have the last word and put women in their place, if necessary.
What they don’t clearly articulate is that they love the idea of an economically independent woman but equally resent the presence of a bold, independent-minded woman who doesn’t hesitate to express her opinions sharply, makes space and time for her own needs without guilt, and won’t put up with being called selfish, stubborn, inconsiderate, etc.
In a South Asian context, plug the mother-in-law into the equation, the woman will most likely be shamed a few times in her lifetime for being disrespectful and having a bad upbringing if she disagrees or dares to debate with her husband’s mother.
Needless to mention, this does not mean that independent women have earned an unfair privilege to disrespect their mother-in-law or any individual for the matter. However, having a difference of opinion or respectfully debating with another individual, including one’s mother-in-law, is neither disrespectful nor disgraceful.
Come to think rationally, it is unrealistic and contradictory to expect women who are CEOs, barristers, lecturers, engineers, auditors, or editors to come home and naturally step into the shoes of a docile, obedient creature. She is entitled to her own beliefs, and the freedom to express them. The question that arises is why such men desire to be with strong, independent women.
Money cannot be the primary motivation for reasonably established men. First, it makes them appear and feel evolved, even if they might not be in the true sense. Second, they like the idea of being in ultimate charge, by having control over another strong, powerful individual, in this case, a woman who bows to none but to him.
There are men who have realistic expectations of women and consciously embrace not only the financially independent part, but also the emotionally independent, strongly opinionated component that comes within the realm of powerful women. And there are also women who have internalized independence and desire equality genuinely by shouldering responsibilities with their male counterparts, without the need for sugarcoated customary practices.
But the percentage of these honest, upfront, sensible, and realistic men and women is still relatively low and needs to grow exponentially to bring in gender parity.
In today’s world, the roles of women and men are blurring. The domestic space is no longer just the women’s domain and workplaces no longer exclusively belong to men. Men are stepping up to be eager partners in sharing household duties and child-caring responsibilities.
Women are not only becoming increasingly economically involved and financially independent, but they are also fulfilling leadership roles in organizations that were traditionally reserved for men.
The transformation of gender relations is essential and inevitable for the growth of civilization, but both women and men must resolve how to charter this path.
In the process of any evolution, there will be turmoil and disruption. What is important is to get rid of age-old traditions and expectations that no longer serve today’s societies. Men and women have equal obligations in removing the deepest, darkest roots of patriarchy from within themselves and societies, as well as defining feminism and giving meaning to women empowerment with more clarity, consistency, rationality, gravity, and sincerity.
Nisha Ali is a graduate of Political Science and Gender Studies from the University of Melbourne, Australia. After taking a break to travel the world, she has resumed her postgraduate studies at Harvard University while simultaneously pursuing a second Bachelor’s degree.