The pound is worth Rs. 70 now, but I have just been hit by the realization that the development of the United Kingdom is a big fat lie.
So I’m sitting sipping gin and tonic with Laura and I casually ask her, “What are u doing your Ph.D. on?” Tipping her glass into her mouth she replied she was researching why so many more men take up the sciences and math in the British education system than women. “The ratio of men to women studying the sciences at graduation level is 15:1.” I nearly choked on my gin. Why did she sound like she was talking about India?
“Why? The girls can’t…” my voice trailed away as I noticed two middle-aged men giving us condemning looks across the room, and one of them shook their head and frowned as Laura lit a cigarette and replied.
“Oh no! Of course they can legally. But a girl just isn’t comfortable walking into a class of 30 boys. She feels intimidated. Not because she would be molested or eve-teased, but… I don’t know, you’re from a different culture. You wouldn’t understand.”
I understood. And I think every Indian girl would understand what it feels like to be in the men’s compartment of a local train, or the only woman on the dance floor of a club. Even if you’re not felt-up or whistled at, you’re waiting with clenched teeth and fists to get out as fast as you can. Yes, I was from a very different culture, but I understood perfectly.
Laura continued, “So many girls are pregnant and have babies before they reach college. And even middle class parents would rather invest in their son’s college education than their daughters because their daughter will get pregnant during college and drop out before she finishes.” Saying that much, Laura swiped down her last drink, kissed me good-bye and rushed to cook a beef casserole for dinner.
I stayed back and ordered another gin and tonic to celebrate my disillusionment. All these years that I had lived out my life in India, getting onto buses with safety pins, angered that my mother had to cook and clean for the house and hold her job when my father only had to do the latter, gulping down protests against being escorted to a village where I work by a man who doesn’t know anything about it, the western world has been my golden ray of hope.
The UK, the US where women were truly emancipated. Where they didn’t have to fight for their right to property or education or to vote, where no one stared at them for smoking on the streets or drinking. And now I find out it is all a myth. A big lie? I felt betrayed!
So there is no hope for women? May it be different countries, different cultures, different hemispheres, the experiences of women stay essentially the same. Maybe for us the problem is teenage marriage rather than teenage pregnancy, but the consequences are exactly the same. And perhaps its worse in Europe and America because the women are not aware of their oppression as we are here in India. How do you tell a Armani suited finance banker on Wall Street , earning 30 million dollars per annum, that she is oppressed? She champions the myth of emancipation of women not realizing that she has had to work 10 times harder than any man to get where she is.