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October 13, 2014

Who Let The Women In?

Text by Radhika Vaz. Illustration by Farzana Cooper

Girls are still not allowed to wear short skirts, speak loudly or have a drink or two. Verve takes a look at the patriarchal nonsense that uses fear, force or guilt to keep women down

Knock! Knock!

Who’s there?

Women.

Women who?

Exactly.

When the modern Olympic Games were first introduced to the world in Athens in 1896, the organising committee known as the IOC declared that the Games would not just be about athletic excellence. They hoped that it would become more than that, a movement perhaps, that reached well beyond the sports arena with the intent to promote peace, love and brotherhood – a delightfully hippie sentiment, more in line with Woodstock than a bunch of seriously boring, conservative, old guys. Well, it appears they got the ‘brotherhood’ bit right because there were no female athletes participating that year.  It was only in 1900, the second time the Games were held in Paris, that women were allowed to compete, and that same year they accounted for about 2.2 per cent of all participants. But things improved dramatically for us women and, in 1928, the all-male IOC discovered women could actually run! This led to women being able to compete in races like the 100-metre dash amongst others. After this Vasco Da Gama-like discovery there was no stopping the IOC. In 1936 they found out we could ski, in 1952 they figured we could ride horses, in 1984 they outdid themselves and realised we could shoot and cycle, some of us apparently able to do both at the same time, and in 2012 they unearthed one of our longest held secrets, that women can box. This was great news for India who, thanks to Mary Kom, won its only Olympic medal for boxing that year. The weaker sex now accounted for 44 per cent of all participants in one of the world’s most loved sporting events. Who knows what else the IOC will unearth in the future, but I am guessing that eventually we will account for half of all participants the way we account for half of the world’s population. Look, here is what I think: Nobody lets women in. Historically women have had to let themselves in, sometimes climbing in through a window. And only after centuries of being around are they even accorded the same respect as their male counterparts. Because I am a comedian, journalists often ask me if I think women are funny. Would they ask a male comic if men are funny? No. But I get a feeling they could very well pop up and ask P.T. Usha if she thinks women can run. I have no idea how they expect me to respond to this lunacy other than by saying ‘Yes’ but apart from being an insulting question it is blatantly sexist and illustrates the point that no matter how far we may think we have come we still live in a world where women in any field have to prove themselves over and over and over again. That world-class female athletes, who are without doubt stronger and faster than most men on this planet, had to beg, plead, fight, petition and turn bloody cartwheels before being ‘allowed in’ is just depressing.  For 116 years these women pushed to be allowed the opportunity to simply compete in the same events that men were invited to join in.  And this patriarchal nonsense has been going on for so long you would think everyone, including the patriarchs, would be sick of it.  But they aren’t. They are the ones who don’t want girls to wear short skirts or speak loudly or have a drink because according to them these are all unladylike, rape-instigating behaviour patterns. Which is why every single time a woman is attacked, I can feel the ‘Don’t say we didn’t warn you’ vibes coming off politicians and police officers, not to mention many people I know personally.  They are prepared to use guilt, force or fear to keep us down.  And what is darkly comical is how some of these cats seem like they are almost waiting for something bad to happen to a girl wearing a tank top so they can show us all up. They make me wonder if we as a society are moving forward or backward. There are so many ‘don’ts’ designed to keep us safe and virtuous, all by people who really want us to remain a group that is largely unseen, unheard, and to be called up on only for the two things that men just can’t physically do which would be childbirth and the hand washing of garments that run colour.  Motherhood is possibly the only job a woman won’t get pushback on, if anything it will be pushed on you whether you want it or not.  This is one ambition everyone wants you to realise, even if it was never your ambition to start with.  The phrase ‘keep her barefoot and pregnant’ may sound like something from the Stone Age but it’s not. It belongs firmly in 2014 where forces are constantly at work – in subtle and not-so-subtle ways – to stop us from competing. In India today we have labour laws that prevent women from serving alcohol in restaurants or from taking the night shift in factories. These are essentially laws preventing some of us from earning a living. Of course there are arguments regarding our safety but this is a classic ass-ways handling of the problem. Can’t law enforcement and policy makers ensure that we are protected in the workplace rather than asking us not to show up at all? Are women such an inconvenience to keep safe that the best thing for our survival is to simply be invisible like we were at the 1896 Olympic Games?

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