When Kris sent me this article by Sandhya Menon yesterday, I have to admit that I didn't know what to make of it. Certainly, I've experienced my fair share of misogyny while living in Kerala... but it's been mild: men not wanting to shake my hand, or an obgyn addressing my husband about my medical queries. These are moments that can be intensely frustrating for someone used to her own independence, but they are hardly threatening. And then comes this, 'What the Internet Gave the Kerala Man (Apart From Porn)'.
I started to wonder how much of this sentiment really exist beneath the polite (if distant) experience I've had relating to men in Kerala. Suddenly, my skinny jeans and light coat of mascara seem so... inappropriate. Over the years, I've turned to my in-laws for guidance as I struggle to tow the line between cultural respect and self expression. They have never once expressed any concern for the way I present myself. And yet, to read some of vitriol that is directed at female celebrities like Ranjini Haridas, our similar wardrobes are deeply offensive to some.
I'm torn, too, because, while I want to maintain a level of cultural awareness (I won't for example wear spaghetti straps or short skirts), I don't believe in demonizing the female body or repressing a woman's right for self actualization. I champion independence for women. And at the same time, India is going through some intense scrutiny right now in it's record of violence towards women.
What the article open my eyes to (aside from how a woman's appearance can be threatening to some) is how much independence and success for women are frowned upon. I know plenty of successful professional women in Kerala - my own mother in law was a highly acclaimed attorney in her day. I myself am working as a designer, and yet, I can't count the times I've heard people ask me what my husband does. It's never once, in two years (!), been of the slightest interest to anyone that I also might have a career. How sad! I make it a point to both ask this question of women I meet, and volunteer information about my own career status.
By the way, I'm in no way belittling the women who make the amazing choice to stay home and care for their families - it's just that I believe that we should celebrate both efforts!
I've been blessed to have a loving and supportive family, but I felt sad reading this (albeit one woman's) opinion about the undercurrent of tension between the sexes in Kerala. As a state that boasts some the highest education achievements in India, it would be sad to have this be it's legacy.