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Saying ‘No’ to dowry - May 05 2010

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 05 May 2010 22:23

Two recent incidents gladdened the heart and gave hope that the happy trend might set soon as more girls get inspired by such stories. It is up to the girls and their parents to get into action with courage and faith in their souls- faith in themselves, faith in good values of life and the courage to condemn bad societal practices and fully reject them from their life. One story belongs to a lower middle class family with three daughters and two sons. For the family it was going to be the first occasion for marriage of the eldest girl. The groom was good and everything was almost settled when the boy’s father opened his mouth wide and demanded a handsome sum in cash. Before the gloom could set in the family the mother rose to the occasion taking a tough stance-‘sorry, no money will be given’. After the initial shock followed by some delay and deliberations the boy’s family bowed down and accepted the girl and the marriage took place with honour and happiness.

Mother and Motherland - April 21 2010

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 00:02

A child was taught at school not to litter the classroom and the campus and that all scrap should be thrown neatly in the dust bin. Being a good little girl of four years who was just learning the ways of the world she was looking for a dust bin in the crowed market place to throw her chocolate wrapper. Since she did not have a pocket she was holding it in her hand. As her mother caught her hand the wrapper slipped from her little palm which she was holding so consciously. She bent down to pick it up from the ground and was shocked when her mother gave her a whack on her butt. ‘Stupid girl, how many times have I told you to throw it on the road? And now you want to pick it up from the dirty path?’ scolded the ignorant mother not knowing what damage she was doing to the child and to society. The child carried a sense of guilt in her mind all through the shopping and was also confused as to why mother was scolding her for a task for which she should be praised instead! By her conscience she was being a good girl but her mother thought otherwise. Her mother just taught her child to be casual and join the ‘chalta hai’ band which is now the normal population group in India and not just an abnormal sub-group. What a pity! But who cares?

Take another example. A mother pampered her only child, a son, with all the best possible goodies she could give him. She would purchase for him the best brands and naturally the costliest ones in clothes, cosmetics, shoes, and eat regularly in multi starred hotels. He got habituated to such luxurious brands and it was not his fault. The result is anybody’s guess- there were two natural fallouts of this ‘brand’ psychology. One, was that, his focus was neither on studies and nor on personality development but his focus was on extraneous factors such as showing off his brands to his peers (he also naturally choose a peer group that was similarly ‘branded’) and gaining brownie points from them. Two, was that, he developed a craze and praise for everything that was ‘foreign’ and hated his own country and motherland ‘India’. India bashing was a favorite pastime. Patriotism was an unknown and alien concept to him as he developed a desire to run away to the golden lands of the brands! He also had the privilege of going for many holidays abroad and seeing the beautiful cities. India was horribly underdeveloped, terribly poor, it was dirty and filthy and people had no civic sense of keeping it clean.

Such people often have memory lapses of their own great contribution to the filth.

Mothering is a great responsibility and no easy task. Mothers have to consciously think about their actions and their repercussions. Every action will be followed by a consequence. Their actions have far reaching implications and have to be understood by them. Mothers are responsible in a big way for building the character of their children. Good moral character with good habits is what children need to be taught. Developing discipline and good values in children is the need of the hour. Mothers should teach children the value of money and discourage them from joining the ‘rat race’. 

If mothers and fathers do not speak of their own country with pride, to expect the children to develop patriotic love would be ironic. If parents value every other foreign item as good and Indian goods as substandard the child has only learnt what he has been taught. If parents damn care of keeping their cities clean children only model after their parents. Thus children only follow the ideals set by their parents. If there are no ideal parents how do we expect ideal children?

Published in The Hitavada Womens World - 21 April 2010

Stereotype threat - an obstacle to achievement - Mar 31 2010

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 31 March 2010 00:00

A stereotype is just that- a negative label that can be assigned to a community, class, religion or gender that naturally does not hold true for the members of the specific group. For example the stereotype that ‘women cannot do maths’ or that ‘women cannot drive and read road maps’ are myths that are part of a prejudiced mindset against a specific gender. We know otherwise that there are girls who excel in maths and boys who can be no good in it. Many studies have proved that there are no differences between the cognitive skills of boys and girls and thus disprove that men and women are different neurologically and genetically in such skills. The differences in talent are not gender based but are individual specific but the development of talent can be hindered by the strong socio-cultural beliefs, norms and socialisation practices. Such gender stereotypes have been part of our cultural collective unconscious for generations over many centuries. This ultimately gets ingrained in the unconscious of each individual unless the person consciously works hard to break down the stereotypes and disprove them in their life.

One psychological study focuses on how these stereotypes can impact an individual’s performance in a negative manner which has repercussions for future thought and action in the field of education, work and achievement. Claudia Steele, Joshua Aronson and Steven Spencer in their study have found that ‘even passing reminders that someone belongs to one group or another, such as a group stereotyped as inferior in academics, can wreak havoc with test performance’. Steele, Aronson and Spencer have examined ‘how group stereotypes can threaten how students evaluate themselves, which then alters academic identity and intellectual performance. This social-psychological predicament can, researchers believe, beset members of any group about whom negative stereotypes exist’. This phenomenon is called as the ‘stereotype threat’.  Spencer, Steele, and Diane Quinn in another study found that merely telling women that a math test does not show gender differences improved their test performance. The researchers gave a math test to men and women after telling half the women that the test had shown gender differences, and telling the rest that it found none. When test administrators told women that that tests showed no gender differences, the women performed equal to men. Those who were told the test showed gender differences did significantly worse than men, just like women who were told nothing about the test. This experiment was conducted with women who were top performers in maths.

Such is the effect of stereotype threat. A father who believes that girls cannot do ‘boys’ subjects, like, maths, science, might discourage his daughter to pursue science. He might unconsciously lower his expectations from his girl child in contrast to the high expectation he places on his boy child. ‘After all he has to be the bread winner and she need not be’ goes his traditional thought. This lowered expectation from his girl child may act as a serious de-motivator for her in such subjects and make her eventually slip into complacence. What get’s compromised is her inherent talent in the field and ultimately her level of achievement. On the other hand if a father believes in the equality of genders and does not harbour conscious unconscious negative stereotypical beliefs about his children and places proper expectations from both of them, the girl may come up to his expectation and perform better. Psychologically we are aware that realistically high expectations of parents from children make them improve performance and vice versa.

Stereotypes are manifested all the time in daily life- ‘ after all what can a woman do’; ‘she is dumb’; ‘women do not understand money at all’; ‘women are not practical creatures’; ‘girls are good for home science’; ‘women are bad drivers’; etc. Parents should challenge such stereotypes and seriously think about the talent of their children in an objective manner. If the talent is visible it should be encouraged without having a biased mind. If parents stand by in a supportive manner a whole pool of talent in many areas will be unleashed. By removing a significant psychological obstacle a major battle in the field of women’s empowerment will be won.

Published in The Hitavada - Women’s world Persona for 31 March 2010.

Women in Parliament - not just for show off - 17 Mar 2010

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Wednesday, 17 March 2010 00:00

Women are not a homogeneous group. There are all types of women and they are as divided as men on the basis of caste, religion, socio-economic, political ideologies etc. The common ground for all women is the discriminatory laws that prevail in the land regarding the female gender and the social cultural attitudes and norms that the fairer sex is subjected to by society at large. This means that women of all divisions suffer these societal prejudices and biases that society has evolved and nurtured since ages. All women across the nation become victims of such stereotypical negative attitudes of society. This is my perception and many women themselves may not support my definitions. Therefore we also need to define gender discrimination and have a clearly stated version of gender equality. Some male groups are highly confused about what constitutes gender discrimination.

Since the transmission of culture takes place largely by the training given at home by the parents and the guardians, the women of the house are equally to ‘blame’ if not more to ‘blame’ for the process of socialization. In other words majority women themselves are carriers of the ‘discriminatory culture’ that we would like to change and hence we have to condemn such a category of women. This is the tragedy. Women as a gender group are themselves not united on ideological grounds of what constitutes gender equality. Concepts such as the freedom to take decisions, to control one’s life, equal opportunity for education and work, equal wages for equal work, equal property rights and so on need to be clearly specified and understood by the masses. If majority women are custodians of the ‘holy culture’ they will be willing to die for the preservation of the culture as it stands today and might oppose the changes in favour of women calling them ‘radical’ and ‘western’ and ‘feminist’. This according to me are male perceptions and definitions but internalized by most women over the ages.

Therefore the Reservation of Women Bill will become a hotbed of controversy very soon and will become a battle ground for women themselves to voice and fight their differing ideologies. That we need more representation of women in the Parliament is a truism. In fact we should ask for 50% representation (not reservation). To begin with we did not need an Act for 33% reservation of seats in the Parliament. If political parties were in favour of women they could have always allotted 50% of tickets to women candidates. Who stopped them is the question I would like answered by all parties. If the earlier excuse was that they never got good candidates, then the same remains true even now. Where will you get good candidates now? It means women belonging to political families of all parties will be more privileged to get tickets. From prior experience we know that women from political parties and families live under the compulsions of its’ dominant male leaders. So far the women in political power have not shown much sensitivity to women’s issues and priorities. They have been as bad or as good as their male counterparts in power. All that matters to them is the power and the ensuing politics.

Therefore it is the quality of women that will enter politics that will matter the most. Women who are aware and have worked for women’s issues, women who are able and willing to cross all divisions of caste and creed, women who are sensitive to women’s cause are the women we need in Parliament. The whole purpose will be defeated if we have women who are interested in pursuing their husband’s agenda or spending heavy public money in erecting their own statues all over the state, or women who only mouth the parties policies.

Just having 33% of my sisters in six yards sarees and salwar kameez will definitely be a visual delight but nothing more than that if the women in Parliament do not have the vision or the will to work for the uplift of women. In other words just putting women on the seats of Parliament by itself does not make much sense.

Published in The Hitavada - Womens World - 17 March 2010

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