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When Sweet Equality Tastes Bitter


You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.
(English Proverb) 

- Do you respect my rights?
- I do. The article was devoted to your rights...
- No--do you respect my rights?
- Sorry?
- My rights – to be a housewife, to raise my children, to obey my husband. And more importantly, not to be accused of backwardness and sexist thinking. Is that clear?

This peculiar dialog took place two weeks after the publication of an article I wrote concerning discrimination against women within families. The woman’s questions, and her anger, revealed an interesting fact: negative perceptions of my condemnation of male dominance in families was not coming from men, but from the women whose interests I was defending.

That there are international treaties proclaiming equality for all people, that many women succeed in politics, science, art--these things seem to invalidate the conversation I want to have with you today. But the fact that gender is a hotly discussed topic indicates to me that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, as Shakespeare said. What I would like to discuss is that it is not only the attitude of men, or the lack of legal rights, that create a discriminatory environment against women, but also women’s own attitudes toward gender roles.

First, in my observation, national traditions are an enormous issue. In the face of globalization, each country is desperately trying to preserve its own cultural identity. But, given the laws of dualism, each positive attribute has a parallel negative one. Though on the outside this preservation of cultural heritage consists of costumes, festivals and distinct foods--all quite harmless--on the inside there exists a cultural mentality, often based on outdated ideas and stereotypes, that impedes the progress of cultural growth. Frequently these ideas and stereotypes concern gender.

For example, in traditional families of Uzbekistan, the idea of a woman being superior to a man in any way disrupts the covenant of the ancestors--who for some reason are considered much wiser than their modern descendants. Through the ages in this region women were required to hide behind veils and not show their faces to anyone but their husbands. Nowadays there are no such obvious indicators of discrimination as hijabs, but many woman still think under that dense veil. In some families these beliefs are unshakeable--man always comes first.

Fear of judgement is another element of this aspect of gender discrimination. In what I consider the subconscious, these people - though it seems ridiculous - are afraid of the judgement of God (as a consequence of misunderstanding specific religious ideas). What I believe they really fear, though, is condemnation and rejection by their parents, by men and by society at large, resulting in being totally alone. Fear of loneliness is very powerful.

The third point. Prosy laziness as the law of conservation of energy in accordance with the half-joking definition of scientists. Many women who do not fight for equality--not for lack of opportunities, but for lack of desire. The idea of being equal to men, for them, is not only unbearable, but too much work, requiring not only intellect but the critical use of that intellect. Without a doubt, these women prefer to live in the shadows of men.

The fourth and most powerful factor is biological instinct. I feel that in many women the maternal drive, the drive to have a family, overpowers the desire for equality with men. No law or treaty can prevent this basic fact. But since the weight of bearing children and raising a family falls primarily on women, they will always be the ones who give up opportunities for better professional positions and lose their chances to express themselves artistically. The one who is climbing the mountain with the stone around her neck will always fall behind the one traveling lightly.

Should we--the writers, the politicians, the social scientists--fight against these factors? Yes. But some women may accuse us of violating their right to make their own choices. Some might remind us that democracy requires we not impose our beliefs on them. Or point out that there is no common truth for everybody.

Maybe time will resolve the remaining problems. Maybe we need to move in not a revolutionary but an evolutionary way – for the sake of conserving the touching and poetic balance between Yin and Yang. So the last point in the list of psychological factors I indicated can be expressed by the end of the conversation I started my talk:

“Alina, you say men and women are equal, but what if I don’t want equality? What if I want to be weak and naive, to be pampered like a child? What if I want to be a traditional woman, the woman we are losing because of your feminism? Remember the words of one philosopher: ‘Nowadays women have the rights. The previous time they had the privileges,’ Are not you sad about it? No? I am…”