Category Archives: Myths

Myth #5 – Men vs Women

Two women of great potential – diametrically different outcomes to their life story.

Eldorado Jones (1860-1932)

The only way to get along is to seek the difficult job, always do it well, and see that you get paid for it properly. Oh yes, and eldoradojones-001don’t forget to exploit men all you can. Because if you don’t, they will exploit you!” said Woman Inventor Eldorado Jones.(1) She opposed the opposite gender and never had much use for men employing only women over 40 in her company. She invented the light-weight iron consisting of a traveling ironing board (with a compartment for a flatiron), and a collapsible hat rack. She marketed her inventions to women. Her company, Eldorado Inventions Inc. was successful and many businessmen made buy-out offers but she refused to sell out to a man.

Jones famously invented the ‘airplane muffler’ and moved to New York to find a financial backer for it. The concept was similar to an automobile muffler, and when she tested it at New York’s Roosevelt Field, the New York Times reported that her device could have an influence on the future of American aeronautics. She received her patent in 1923. airplacemuffler

‘Iron Woman’, as Jones was known, continued dealing with men brusquely. Her reputation as Man-hater preceded her and due to her attitude towards men, she never could obtain any financial backing which caused her to deplete all her funds. According to Feminine Ingenuity: How Women Inventors Changed America by Anne Macdonald, she began applying for welfare aid. One evening a neighbor called to invite Eldorado to dinner and received no answer. The neighbor crawled through a window and found Eldorado dead in her bed.

Before her money ran out she had lived at the American Woman’s Association on 57th Street in New York. That organization claimed her body, provided a funeral and had her body cremated and shipped to relatives in Missouri. She had apparently made few friends with her business dealings in Moline years earlier – her obituary in the Moline newspaper was captioned(2):


Savitribai Phule (1831-1897)

First woman teacher of India, was born into a farmer family. 1840, at the age of nine, she was married to thirteen year old Jyotiba Phule. They belonged to the Mali caste (shudra varna of Hindu religion) perceived to be inferior. Jyotiba’s father, Govindrao, was a vegetable vendor. His mother died when he was nine months old. His intelligence was recognized by a Muslim and a Christian neighbor, who persuaded his father to allow Jyotirao to attend the local Scottish Mission’s High School, which he completed in 1847.(3)

They were regularly ill-treated and ridiculed by the upper class Hindus and after one such demeaning incident, Jyotiba made up his mind to defy the prevailing caste system and social restrictions. He then started his campaign of serving the people of lower strata of society who were deprived of all their rights as human beings. In 1848, Jyoiba and Savitribai started a school for girls in Pune – the first ever formal school for girls in India. The orthodox and upper class of the society were furious of Jyotiba’s activities and blamed him for violating the norms and regulations of the society. Many accused him of acting on behalf of other religions. He was then made to leave his house with his wife for the ‘crime’ he had committed.

PhuleyJyotiba needed a woman teacher for the girls’ school but there was no way of finding one as girls had no right to education till then. Jyotirao took a bold step and educated his wife Savitribai at home who would be the first female teacher of India. Savitribai had to suffer a lot of miseries during this course. She was ridiculed by the orthodox people, mostly the priest Brahman class, on her way to school. They did not hesitate to throw mud or cow-dung on her. The lady however, took all that humiliation in stride and would go to school with two sets of clothes—one to wear on the way to school and another to change into when there.(3)

Together the couple worked to abolish many evil customs. They challenged the concept of untouchability in Indian society. Child marriages was a norm. Many brides would become widows even before they became women. Life of a widow was one of utter misery – their heads were shaved to make them unattractive. They were not allowed any delicacies of life. Mahatma Phule conducted a strike of barbers against the custom of shaving heads of the widows. He argued for the cause of remarrying of widows. And most of all, he started a maternity home, where Savitribai used to give residence to the poor young widows who were made pregnant by their own people. Viewing the pathetic condition of widows and unfortunate children Jyotirao opened an orphanage in 1854. Many young widows, from the upper-caste spent their days in the orphanage.(3)
The couple even adopted one such child and made him their legal heir. Savitriai-Phule

Savitribai Phule shared every activity in which her husband was engaged. She suffered with him but she had her own distinctive personality. After Jyotiba’s death, Savitribai took charge of their movement – Satya Shodhak Samaj.(4)

Savitribai Phule and her adopted son, Yashwant, opened a clinic to treat those affected by the worldwide Third Pandemic of the bubonic plague when it appeared in the area around Pune in 1897. Savitribai personally took patients to the clinic where her son treated them. While caring for the patients, she contracted the disease herself. She died from it on 10 March 1897.

The Phules had an equal relationship and revolutionary vision. Jyotiba understood the oppressive ways of society and knew that the only way change can be influenced is by men and women working together to bring reform and he found a strong ally in his wife – Savitribai Phule.

The first Indian to place universal, child sensitive, intellectually critical, and socially reforming education at the very core of the agenda for all children in India”, is how Wolf and Andrade describe her in their paper.(5)

Every Indian woman who is educated today owes Savitribai a debt of gratitude and the man (Mahatma Jyotiba Phule) who had internalized the true meaning of equality.

Male support was as crucial then as it is today, more so in the campaign for Women’s Rights.
Men and Women are two sides of the same coin and progress is never achieved by Men vs Woman.

It does take two to tango!



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Myth #4 – ‘Not in My Backyard’

I received a web link from my mother saying, ‘You might want to read’. Read I did and couldn’t believe how legal systems can throw up surprises that sometimes are beyond imagination. Here’s the link and I am sure most of us don’t even know such laws exist –

The article highlights some laws within the Indian legal system that need to be immediately scratched out but are a reflection of the unapologetically patriarchal society we live in. Some excerpts –

Section 7 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956 (HMGA) provides “natural guardianship” only for an adopted son. This is in keeping with the traditional notion that adoption was meant exclusively for those who didn’t have a biological son. HMGA is completely silent on the status of somebody having an adopted daughter.

Further, Section 6 of the HMGA touches on the status of a biological child. It clearly establishes a hierarchy saying that the natural guardian of a Hindu minor is “the father, and after him, the mother”. The Supreme Court tried to lessen the severity of it in 1999 by stating that the term “after” in Section 6 should not be literally interpreted to mean “after the lifetime of the father” but instead be taken to mean “in the absence of the father”. It clarified that “absence” in turn could extend to situations where the father was away for a long time or was totally apathetic to the child or was rendered unfit because of an illness.

So basically, the laws simply don’t see the mother fit to be guardian to her own biological children or specify guardianship for an adopted daughter.

Irrespective of all the campaigns to ensure equal rights to girls, no Indian government has shown urgency to change these and they continue showcasing the blatant patriarchal attitude of the community and reinforcing the belief ‘woman is but man’s property’.

Many of us sitting pretty in our comfort, feel bad about women’s rights in distant lands and talk about the nature of governments there. We thank the universe that our neighborhoods are evolved and such laws don’t muddle waters in our backyard. Or do we feel better in our assumptions and just don’t want to see?

Let’s take a walk around the world and find laws that are still playing havoc with human attitudes.

– Bahamas, Kenya, Nigeria, Malaysia – Married women cannot pass their nationality to children, with foreign fathers, born outside of the country. This is not true for children born to local men. It’s also easier for men to get citizenship for spouses however the woman cannot pass on her citizenship to foreign husbands.(1)

– A 2011 UN Women’s report found that 127 countries do not explicitly criminalize rape within marriage.(2)

– Spousal rape is legal in India if the wife is over 15 years old, in the Bahamas if she’s over 14 and in Singapore if she’s over 13.
– In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women suffering from marital rape have no protection and have to live with the husband and follow him wherever he sees fit to reside.
– Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Cote d’lvoire and Benin permit non-consensual sex in marriage.
– Laws in Yemen and Sudan see refusing sex to husband as an act of disobedience.

– Malta; the perpetrator of a kidnapping is given a lighter punishment if he plans on marrying his victim and isn’t punished at all if he does. In Lebanon and Palestine territories, rapists go unpunished if they marry their victims.(3)
– In the United States, marital rape was legal till 1993 which is when all 50 states criminalized it.

– In Nigeria, violence “by a husband for the purpose of correcting his wife” is just fine.(4)
– Little Rock, Arkansas US, grants a man the right to legally beat his wife, but only once a month and only with a stick that measures no more than three inches wide.(5)

– Kenya’s 2014 Marriage Act legitimizes polygamy. This is also true for Indonesia, Mali, Algeria and Tanzania.(4)

– In Iraq, a woman wishing to obtain a passport has to ask her father’s, brother’s or uncle’s written permission. Similar laws exist in Malaysia, Qatar and Libya.
– In Egypt and Iran, the woman needs her husband’s agreement to obtain a passport.(1)
– In Cameroon, a husband can decide whether his wife may study or work and he can choose the kind of study or work.(1)
– In Guinea women are not allowed to have “a separate profession from that of her husband” if he objects.(4)
– In Russia, Article 253 of the country’s Labor Code bars women from working in 456 types of work, including driving a train and being a professional sailor.(2)
– China bans women from working in mines or doing any job that requires intense physical labor.
– Women in Madagascar can’t work at night.(2)
– Women in Turkey need to have husband’s permission to be able to work.(6)

– Saudi Arabia maintains its 1990 Fatwa prohibiting “women’s driving of automobiles” as “a source of undeniable vices”.(4)

– In the US, Michigan state law says women have to get their spouses’ permission to get their hair done because legally, their wives’ hair belong to them.
– In Vermont, USA; it is illegal for women to wear false teeth without the written permission of their husbands.(7)
– In Owensboro, Kentucky, it is against the law for a woman to buy a hat without first letting her husband try it on first.(5)

– Pakistan considers a woman’s testimony in a court of law to be worth half that of a man’s.
– In Iran, a woman is considered half as valuable if the case involves adultery or some other sexual matter.
– A Tunisian law from 1956 requires that “the male inherit twice as much as the female”. The UAE passed a similar law in 2005.

– In Japan, women are required to wait six months after a divorce before they can remarry, while men are not under such obligation.(8)

– El Salvador, mothers who suffer the pain of miscarriage may be jailed.(9)

– La Paz, Bolivia prohibits married women from drinking wine, unless it’s in the presence of her husband.(6)

– Women in Saudi Arabia and the Vatican City are not allowed to vote. Women cannot legally divorce in the Vatican either.(10)

– In Florida, women (if single, divorced or widowed) cannot skydive on Sundays. (What’s that about!)(6)

– Adjusting stockings in public places in Dennison, Texas and Tennessee can get you 12 months in jail.(10)

– A law in Burundi states that men are the head of the family, of course!(8)

The list goes on with some unfair, many cruel and then some downright bizarre.

United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women meets periodically, to review reports from several of the 188 States part of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Antonia Kirkland, legal advisory of Equality Now suggests, Why not have an ascendency process – like joining the European Union – where countries get recognized based on demonstrable actions [or] outcomes, not just what they say or sign?”

The same people and governments who decry equal rights for women as foreign or Western or colonial or immoral or ask for ‘patience’ or cultural sensitivity “have no qualms using Western medicine, weaponry, technology, education, media and probably Viagra and pornography.”

These have a far more damaging impact on their culture or going against religion and tradition than giving women the rights to inherit land, get equal pay for equal work, pass citizenship to their children, “or, dare I say, drive,” she concluded.(11)

Many laws across the globe have changed for the better over the years. Not just by women fighting in isolation but beyond culture, ahead of tradition and much removed from perceptions; positive change has been driven by local and global human rights organizations and more importantly, men & women working together. It’s not us vs them but a society can progress only when we see each other for what we are – one half of the whole.

Change comes from us; it begins at home and in our perspectives; one person at a time.

Be aware. Stand up for what’s right. Support each other!


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Myth #3 – The Weaker Sex

For most of history, we have been an agrarian society the world over. Groups would live close to water bodies, toil hard in the fields to bring back food, hunt beasts, fight wars and construct homes and great monuments literally by hand. Men being physically stronger were best suited for hard labor and blood & glory in the war zone. Also, for most of history, average life expectancy of humans was below 50 years.(1) Infants and children died at a horrific rate (some say up to 1/3 of all died before the age of 5) and a significant percentage of women died in association with childbirth: 5% perhaps from the birth itself, often dying with the child, and a further 15% from childbed fever–the infections that followed a poorly managed delivery. (2). Lack of preventive medical care, hard labor, direct exposure to climatic conditions and the vagaries of war threatened human life. Life expectancy began to rise in the 19th century hitting 49 years in the United States and then doubling in the 20th century.(1)

Life expectancy however does not mean that every individual dropped dead at the age of 40 but this is an indication of the high child mortality. It technically means “life expectancy at birth” or “life expectancy at age 0” and refers to the average number of years that a newborn baby can expect to live in a given society at a given time. The calculation would go like this – If half the children die before the age of 12 (let’s say, at the average age of death of 6), then the remaining half would have to live on average to be 74, for the life expectancy at birth to come out to be 40.(7)
With such high child mortality rates and a need for men to protect the community borders; women had a very important role at home. They were literally supporting society. Bearing children was critical to society’s growth and without today’s medical aid that we take for granted, this was with considerable pain and a lot of time and effort. Caring for the child and ensuring they don’t become another child mortality statistic was required for the society’s existence itself. Therefore, while men fought the big wars and became the protectors, women were the nurturers. Both roles much needed for survival. An outcome of this was men who won wars became leaders and kings and women ruled the home. Men held the power in society and women in family. These were not stereotypes but practical need of the times.

Industrial revolution, development in technology, medical aid, better food and work shifting from hard labor to office jobs has brought Life Expectancy to 87 years in Japan (the highest) and lowest being 52 years (Mozambique) in Africa (reasons being obvious).

During Industrial revolution (1760-1840), machines replaced human hard labor, work moved from intensive agriculture to office jobs requiring more brain analytical ability than physical strength. Education became increasingly important to acquire better paying jobs and close-knit communities began spreading based on availability of better job opportunities. Better jobs, developing infrastructure and technologies, progressing economies, multiplying inflation and a need for families to bring home higher incomes.

So how equipped are men and women to live in this new world?

Let’s begin with health – Scientific research has now brought out facts about human beings that we need to be aware of. We now realize that from the moment of conception on, men are less likely to survive than women. It’s not because men take greater risks or hazardous vocations than women as it was normally believed. There are poorly understood — and underappreciated — vulnerabilities inherent in men’s genetic and hormonal makeup.

weaker sex

While there are differences, much of the brain areas are quite similar although many stereotypes are simply ingrained in our cultural make up – Men are better in Maths & Science. Women in language skills. Men aggressive – Women emotional. As more research is being done and we have help to better understand ourselves, we find little actual differences – just different ways of doing things. However millions of years of stereotypes play a major role in how our brains are trained to react. Here’s an example: Psychologists conducted a behavior test at Harvard with a group of 46 Asian-American female undergrads. The subjects thought they were taking a tough 12-question math test. Before one group attacked the advanced algebra, they answered written questions emphasizing ethnicity (“How many generations of your family have lived in America?”). Another group’s questionnaire subtly reminded them of their gender (“Do you live on a co-ed or single-sex dorm floor?”). Women who took the math test after being reminded of their Asian heritage–and thus, it seems, the stereotype that Asians excel at math–scored highest, getting 54 percent right. The women whose questionnaire implicitly reminded them of the stereotype that, for girls, “math is hard,” as Barbie infamously said, scored lowest, answering 43 percent correctly. (6)

The power of stereotypes, scientists had long figured, lay in their ability to change the behavior of the person holding the stereotype. (6)

The perceptions of male superiority and females as the weaker sex has emerged and entrenched in the human psyche through history as men fought wars and became kings. Slim & dainty being the idea of female beauty and the knight in shining armor saving the damsel in distress defining genders and validating stereotypes. Progressing from barbaric brute male strength to technological advancements has been much easier than stepping out of the psychological box. Gender roles then had a reason and gender equality now is a need.

Stereotypes emerge with resistance to change, a need to maintain status quo and sheer insecurity. The more things change; the more we want them to remain the same.

Today considering the relative biological fragility of men, isn’t it counterintuitive for us to urge them from boyhood on, to cope bravely with adversity, to ignore discomfort, to persevere in spite of pain, to accept without question the most dangerous jobs and tasks we have to offer(3) and continue trying to prove their superiority?

Are we putting undue pressure on one and unfairly discriminating against the other at the cost of our species?

It’s time to leave behind our psychological insecurities, stop feeding the stereotypes and look at males and females as integral parts of the same species. Ruben Gur, PhD, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania says, “Most of the differences between sexes is complimentary. They increase the chances of males and females joining together. It helps the whole species.” (5)


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Myth #2 – Equality is ‘Allowed’

Despite great strides made by the international women’s rights movement over many years, women and girls around the world are still married as children or trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery. They are refused access to education and political participation, and some are trapped in conflicts where rape is perpetrated as a weapon of war. Around the world, deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are needlessly high, and women are prevented from making deeply personal choices in their private lives. (Human Rights Watch)

Throughout the 19th century and several centuries before ‘Coverture’ was enshrined in the common law of England. Simply meaning, ‘upon marriage, a woman’s legal rights and obligations were subsumed by those of her husband.’ The premise of this principle is clearly described in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in the late 18th century:

By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything; and is therefore called in our law-French a feme-covert; is said to be covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture. Upon this principle, of a union of person in husband and wife, depend almost all the legal rights, duties, and disabilities that either of them acquire by the marriage. I speak not at present of the rights of property, but of such as are merely personal. For this reason, a man cannot grant anything to his wife, or enter into covenant with her: for the grant would be to suppose her separate existence; and to covenant with her, would be only to covenant with himself: and therefore it is also generally true, that all compacts made between husband and wife, when single, are voided by the intermarriage.’(3)

Now let’s just check the definition of slavery. Wikipedia says, ‘Slavery is a legal or economic system under which people are treated as property. While laws and systems vary, as property, slaves may be bought and sold. Slaves can be held from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work or to demand compensation.’(4)

Many female of the human species know what this means all around the world. Some follow laws, for many the laws are enforced; unwritten. Every human rights organization, many governments, feminist groups advocate and fight for the fundamental rights of women. Should a woman be allowed to wear certain clothes, should it be okay for women to work after marriage or aspire for jobs that are ‘different’? Is it acceptable if a woman does not want to bear child or should we let her choose when to get married? Can she happily remain single if that’s what she wants or is it even okay for her to want new experiences? No matter advancements in every field, these questions have remained the same through centuries.

Laws and traditions are made by those in power and through history, these have kept women on a tight leash, be it England, Turkey, United States, South/Western Asia or Africa. Statements like the one made by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently at a Women’s Rights conference (of all places!) can be protested against but are of no surprise. He says, “Women are not equal to men… it is against nature to put them on an equal footing.”(6) This sentiment is very easily shared by many around the world.

Laws allowing women specific rights are made after much debate, backlash, even from religious groups highlighting that God doesn’t want women to do certain things. “Women cannot do this” is repeated many times over. “Women should not do/want this” more times and the judgment is passed without the burden of proof of capability! After much struggle, rights are ‘granted’ and basic freedom of thought ‘allowed’ – Equality; a reflection of the benefactor’s magnanimity.

When it has to be allowed, is the status equal?!

The way is found if we as women, have a will to change our own beliefs ingrained through centuries of traditional conditioning.

Equality is a fact, not a privilege and self-worth needs no external validation; should it?


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The British Library has unearthed a book written by Haydn Brown published in 1899; the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign. Here is a book giving advices to the young unattached Victorian woman and a great insight into life and (in)equalities in the 19th century. Interestingly, it is not all too irrelevant in today’s times and the library has decided to republish it. The article captures some of the main points from the book.
Women’s own judgements of themselves and attitudes reinforces and helps carry forward social traditions (or impact change).


Myth #1 – Women take care of homes; Men work

When you repeat something out loud a little too often, it turns true, isn’t it?

Ever wonder when you see your little girl playing house? She makes tea, bakes a cake in the tiny kitchen, feeds the kids and puts them to bed; standing at the door of the play house she waves goodbye to the man of the house who is going out to work. Then she gets back to her chores in the playhouse. We look, gush over and smile – how cute!

She grows up and we don’t hesitate to tell her ‘it’s time to get married’. If we had enough, we educated each of our kids including the girls or maybe we were struggling to make ends meet and only enrolled the sons in schools. Of course, we don’t fail to teach her that a woman is complete when she bears child and her best achievement is a well-cooked meal.

That reminds me of when I had just graduated and stepping out in the world with big dreams of working abroad and traveling the world. One of my father’s close colleagues and senior from the Indian Army asked me about my plans. I shared my thoughts with him with all of youth’s excitement and ambition. He looked at me, smiled and said, “That’s nice. But have you thought this through? It’s not as if you have to build a career”. Maybe I did want to build a career (Reaction: raised eyebrows!! Result: tiny puncture in the confidence bubble) but it was naturally expected for marriage to be my first priority. Rest could follow with my husband by my side. I have since travelled the world, worked abroad in different countries and built a life. But how much have perceptions really changed?

Let’s look down history – There is a huge historical misconception that women have only worked in the very recent past, emerging from their suburban housewifery after the second world war to begin their climb towards the glass ceiling. But in reality, the modern idea of the housewife is an invention. The historian Amy Erickson estimates that up to 98% of married women were engaged in waged labour in 18th century London. (Ref 2).

The power-driven machinery in the English and Scottish textile industries were introduced in the second half of the eighteenth century revolutionizing and transforming Western Europe and United States all through the nineteenth century. But far more than the cotton textile industry was transformed in the course of this revolution. Public perception of paid work shifted from heavy labour to office jobs.

All over the world, occupations have been professionalized over the 19th and 20th centuries through and following the industrial revolution and women kept playing catch-up battling the inertia of long-standing religious and educational conventions. Lack of access to education continued delaying women’s entry into higher professions.

[Cambridge University fully validated degrees for women late in 1947 after much opposition and acrimonious debate]

Before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution Britain was immensely different than the one that exists today. In the United States, life was, for most of the population, the life of a farmer. Education was poor, only the rich had the privilege of tutors and nannies. Politics was based upon land ownership and military honors won, with women and ordinary men given few rights. Life as a result was a constant struggle against famine, a wicked landlord, overwork and sheer bad luck. (Sounds like much of Asia today, isn’t it?) Industrial revolution reached some parts of the world a bit late and just added to the confusion of cultural changes. Industrialization would change only some of these worries and women had a long terrain to trek. (Ref 3)

Expectation of right and wrong for a woman hasn’t much changed in either developed or developing countries irrespective of scientific or economic growth and every tiny shift for women as a group has always been discussed, debated and allowed reluctantly.

Women have contributed to their communities mainly through agricultural work. In Southern & Western Asia and Africa 20% women work in paid non-agricultural jobs. Women have traditionally managed the ‘hawker’ stalls in Central America, South Asia & Africa. By 2012, 63%(5) of Filipinos working outside the country as domestic workers are women supporting families back home. Construction work, hard labour, seamstresses, manufacturing; where have you not seen women through history and in modern times?

While I might be the ‘ultimate leftover’ woman by Chinese standards and looked down upon by the stereotype maintaining society; we all forget that women have always worked outside their homes. Centuries before the industrial revolution or after…. while bearing and rearing children and taking care of homes.


Change begins with shift in thought one woman at a time. You have a right to know and realize your true potential!


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