Seeing the World Properly

Samarth Narayanan

In this article, I will talk about a lot of things, but at the core, I will try to give you my take on how the opinions we have, more often than not, exist in an intellectual vacuum that irreconcilably ignores what ground reality is like, and I will try to tell you how sometimes taking one extra step to really process information in the right way can really change everything about the way you view the world. Every time I see something closely, every time I truly look at something, every time I put myself in another person’s shoes, it radically changes the world for me. And it isn’t even something that has been hard to do. Here’s the deep dive.

One of my close friends is one of those people who talks in statistics. They always have been that way, for as long as I have known them, whipping numbers out of obscure books or research papers they read to pass the time – ‘Samarth, do you know the percentage of women in India who choose to get a job after school?’

And then this is usually followed up with, ‘Do you know how many of those women want to work, but choose not to because it’s easier than having to deal with two hundred people telling them they can’t?’

I think numbers are a good example of feminist criticisms and opinions that exist here on the internet in articles such as this one, being so far removed from our comprehension of what is really happening that we are quick to dismiss and move on to the next article, acknowledging something, but not really truly understanding exactly how things really are.

Let me explain myself better (before my editor throws something at me for writing in long sentences again). I am trying to say that it is easy for us to see a statistic and go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ and move on in life. Or from a public policy point of view, it is easy for lawmakers to a) pass laws which don’t really change anything, or b) misinterpret truths about the world. But what we usually don’t do is to go down to the level of the person the statistic is talking about and see things more closely.

Let’s try to do that.

So according to that statistic (I asked my friend for the source and he told me it’s from a book called Whole Numbers and Half Truths by Rukmini Shrinivasan, if you’re interested), over time the amount of women who enter the labour force, i.e. go get jobs after school, has been going down. I don’t want to throw numbers at you, so feel free to ignore this, but between 2017 and 2018 the number was 23.3%.

At face value we’d say this isn’t necessarily a nice thing. But let’s stop for a second and think about it. What does this mean exactly?

Fewer women are going to work after school – what could that mean?

Does that mean their parents aren’t letting them? Or are they getting married, and is that what’s stopping them? Are they going to college? If the last thing is what’s happening, then it isn’t a bad thing, is it? But that’s when you realise that there are a lot of different kinds of women in India. There are women in cities and urban settings. There are women who come from different financial backgrounds – middle class, upper class, lower class, etcetera etcetera. There are women in villages and towns. So how many of these women are thinking of going to college?

See how long that took? Barely a few seconds, and the simple number on the screen is already so much more than what you thought it was about.

So then, now that you’ve thought about it, here’s another statistic – that most of the women who are responsible for this decline are rural women, and that between 2004 and 2017, there has been a 40 to 50 percent decline in the number of rural women going to work, and these women make up most of that 80% of women who don’t go to work.

That’s not nice now, is it? But what if they’re all going to college? Fingers crossed, let’s hope that’s true.

I hate to tell you that it isn’t. A majority of these women, across age groups, get married, and end up in households with domestic chores, or child-rearing, or whatever else. Welcome to my world, where I fall into rabbit holes like this every day.

What does this mean now? See, we’re not thinking of an isolated statistic anymore. It’s like we’re building a story, and all of these people are characters (except they’re not characters, they’re as real as the acne you got on the tip of your nose when you were sixteen years old).

We’re asking questions.

I could go on and on about these women getting married – why they get married – do they have supportive husbands – do they have financial autonomy – would their having financial autonomy make them want to work – do they even want to work – what if they were paid more – the answers to all of these questions are a simple google search away, and all you’d have to do is, the next time you see a random statistic, not assume something and move on, instead, stop for a few seconds, and think.

The urban savarna feminism we see today, especially in widely read websites like “Feminism In India,” are a bunch of articles, with big words, and big numbers and big statements about how cool it is to be radical, with clickbaity lines of this and that, exists in an intellectual vacuum, where we simply don’t see the world the way we should be seeing it.

Here’s another example, ‘Why can’t these schoolgirls take a simple cloth that’s covering their face, off? It’s only for uniformity that we ask this?’

So we stop, and think of that girl. Maybe her dad isn’t letting her go to school unless she puts it on. Maybe she just cares about what her god is going to say. There maybe a million other reasons. Go ahead, call the dad whatever you want, I’d agree with you, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’d rather let her wear what she wants, because at least that way she’d be able to continue going to school.

Sometimes all we have to do is stop and think.

We don’t do that enough, with all the clickbait that’s floating around.

That’s what this article was about, I guess. That there’s a lot you’re going to read on the internet. Don’t just blindly drink it all in. Stop, and wonder if you’re seeing it the right way. Nothing is ever black and white. Seeing the world properly isn’t even hard to do, so make an effort. You don’t lose a single goddamn thing.

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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