Sunday, August 10, 2008

Introducing... Masculinism

The flip side of Gender Discrimination

It was around 2200 hrs on September 22nd, when I disembarked at the King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia only to realize that the following day was the sole holiday in the kingdom and that majority of the airport staff had decided to make the most of the rare long-weekend and were on leave. There were only three immigration officers to cater to some 500 passengers and the consequence was three awfully long queues. As if this was not enough, one senior official suddenly realized that he had a moral duty to serve the females and the families first. They were asked to the front of the queues and the poor men were left stranded at the back of the queues for a good part of two hours.

It’s not that I was entirely against this official’s decision (at least not until the third flight had landed) but this was in a country which is deemed by most as the most misogynistic place on Earth; a place where gender discrimination is ubiquitous. This was yet another classic case of gender discrimination but this time it was the males who were on the receiving end. This reminded me of other incidences of discrimination against men. For instance, at most big shopping malls across the kingdom, weekends are a families-only affair and according to the generally accepted definition, only a male who’s not accompanied by a female is not family while a lone female (spinster or otherwise) is a family all by herself. I call this “misoandry” which, I believe, is at least as prevalent in the society as misogyny.

In my humble opinion, misogyny is a very misleading term to start with. Ever since the times of Abel and Cain, women have been objects of fascination, desire and love for men. It’s always been the men who have had to face the brunt of hatred and I have always been of the view that a lot needs to be done in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to address this discrimination against males.

Okay, Saudi Arabia does have its fair share of instances where females are discriminated against but when you think of Pakistan, or at least the urban parts of Pakistan, there’s nothing that a woman in her right state of mind would want to do that she cannot do while in Pakistan. Women have as much rights as men and in addition to all these “equal” rights, they have their very own “for-females-only” rights as we’ll discuss further.

To start off, let’s consider a very “everyday” example. I, and most of my male compatriots, readily yield their seats on public transport as soon as they see a female passenger standing up. I’m sure Rosa Parks would have strongly objected to this practice of discrimination but we term this as ethics. It is not compulsory; and men are not forced to be gentlemen but if someone decides otherwise, it’s never taken well by the bystanders (or the bysitters) and there are always a few raised eyebrows as if the women have a right to each and every seat on the public transport system in Pakistan.

Now consider education, another famous forte of the feminists. Feminists have always argued that women don’t have an equal access to higher education. Many universities in Pakistan, especially the government universities, have a special quota for female students in addition to the merit based seats. There are a handful of other categories also, each having its own criterion, but none based on gender except the female quota. All other categories/quotas provide an “equal” opportunity to the males and the females but on top of this, we have our very own female-only category giving the females effectively better chances of getting admitted to the university.

And when these females get into the universities - albeit in a smaller number than what the mathematical probability suggests - they have a relatively easier path to the degree as compared to their male counterparts. During my four years at the university, I never saw a girl flunk in a viva voce unless and until she herself was hell-bent on it. While the guys were judged on how much they knew about the electromagnetic theory, the ladies were judged on how well they had made themselves up.

And when these women have breezed their way through the university and are looking for a job, you’ll always find them nagging about job opportunities for females being scarcer as compared to those for males; completely disregarding the notion that it’s the extra “fringe benefits” women want that deter most employers from employing them. Jobs generally have certain requirements; some may require the employee to commute a lot while others may demand working in late shifts. Whenever a woman goes in for a job interview, she neither wants to work in late shifts nor does she want a job where she has to commute a lot and when she doesn’t get that job, she says that the employer was biased.

And if an employer errs by hiring a woman for such a job, it becomes his “duty” to provide for her special needs. Remember the uproar in India a couple of years ago when a call center worker in Bangalore was abducted on her way back home late in the night. Following the incident, each and very NGO in the country had taken to the streets asking for “better” transport and “extra” protection for female employees working late shifts. And these were the same NGOs who spend rest of their year rallying around for “equal” rights for women. So much for equality.

Bluntly speaking, female employees are a tad more of a pain in the neck as compared to male employees. They need better transport, more protection, maternity leaves, no late shifts etc. etc. Why would an employer want to employ a female and go through all this fuss of arranging special “services” for her when he can get a male employee of similar caliber willing to work on similar wages without demanding any special treatment?

On the other hand, there actually are a certain jobs where women are preferred over men just because of their gender (read sex) appeal. Jobs like customer care, front desk personnel, secretaries et al. I’m not here to question the morality of the people who employ female secretaries just because they are female; but the fact goes without saying that female secretaries are a lot more in demand. Now, when these women ARE given preference over men, it’s again a crime against the women community. The employer is readily labeled as a “pervert” and the poor female soul stands as the victim (… by the way, one’s just got to go into an interview room to see the “charm offensive” some of these ladies launch). Some people just want to be more equal than others.

Also, you see a lot more nurses (and I don’t feel the need to prefix it with female) as compared to male nurses. Though this is a job – unlike most other jobs - that is better suited for women because of a few traits they are born with à la tenderness, kindness, softness etc., the concepts of gender equality dictate that there should be roughly as many male nurses as female nurses. Even though this is not the case, I am yet to see a rally organized by male nurses against this act of gross discrimination.

Feminists have been grumbling since forever and a day about how women have never had equal rights and how they have never been provided with enough opportunities. I believe it’s time somebody thought about men and the way they are discriminated against. Forget feminism, say hello to masculinism.

Disclaimer: The piece does not entirely reflect the opinions of the author. It is an attempt to highlight the other side of the story, whilst trying to make a point that arguments are needed to be looked at in a context.

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