A lot of Indian millennials have grown up with books and TV shows that seldom portrayed women playing any prominent roles. This has borne out negatively for young girls in this country and has also led to some faulty interpretations and misconceptions in and amongst young boys.
The current generation of young men have unfortunately been exposed to Indian women playing very ‘conventional’ and cliched roles. All around us, we have seen them as mothers, grandmothers, teachers and such, but more often than not, this is where it ends. Such a limited worldview of the possibilities of what Indian women can do can cause the most broad-minded and well-rounded adults to assume a male dominance in spirit and/or actions, resulting in a blatant lack of respect. For a boy growing up in this country, it is difficult to cultivate a different mindset.
Growing up, the people who we have looked up to have been predominantly male. Boys were teased in elementary school for idolizing female performers like Britney Spears or Kylie Minogue. Meanwhile, no one made fun of you if you listened to boy bands or adored GI Joe. This sort of reinforcement of everyday gender inequality has skewed our understanding in disturbing ways and made many believe that men are superior to women. Once such attitudes seep in and get established, it becomes extremely hard to change them. After all, we are creatures of habit. So, how can we help an entire generation of men to grow up to give women the respect that is due to them? The answer is simple: We must see and learn more about strong and independent Indian women who have broken societal stereotypes to achieve great things.
A lot of us have gone through that moment in our lives when our parents have asked us to seek out some sort of career guidance. This process often involves speaking to a person within the family network who has accomplished and achieved something worthwhile in their professional lives. For me, that person always inevitably ended up being a man. To further drive home the point, most faculty members during my college days were also men. How is an 18-year-old supposed to escape the consequently narrow understanding that “achievement” is awarded exclusively to boys?
It is not uncommon in India to see large groups of boys hanging out together, having few or no female friends. Before they even realize this, they unintentionally become part of an exclusive boys-only club. While nurturing strong bonds amongst boys is important, excluding women risks perpetuating a psychological framework where girls are seen as subordinates or not worthy of real and meaningful bonding beyond the prescriptions of marital and familial affiliations.
Many boys in India wake up to this stark reality very late in their lives. They struggle to form meaningful relationships with women. They struggle largely because respect is a key ingredient of human connection. It is therefore incredibly important for us to start changing this narrative. Sincere and concerted efforts are required to change our own thinking, and we need to get going in order to fix this for the subsequent generations.
I am not a father yet, but I am trying to do my part by putting together a book on Indian women achievers. With this book, I hope to be ready for my children when my turn comes. I strongly believe that possessing the right tools of education are essential to set the tone of the future straight, and this is what we are now striving to do with She Can You Can.
Written by Rajat Mittal, co-author of She Can You Can
For information on the book, please write to Aman Arora at email@example.com