I made an exit from the Vishwavidyalay Metro Station. I was tired, because that’s what a packed metro ride does to everyone. I saw a guy I recognised from the packed metro compartment next to mine, sitting in the E Rickshaw I was walking towards. He looked comfortable after having found a place to sit. However, once I approached, the rickshaw driver asked him to give me a place to sit instead. He was made to leave his seat and adjust next to the Rickshaw driver. I felt horrible, but I felt unable to stop him before the visibly tired guy dutifully made space for me. I did voice my concern to others sitting in the rickshaw, and they agreed.
“Why should he be made to vacate for me?” I wondered. I could have shrugged it off, it was only a humane gesture. But it wasn’t; it was a gendered one. While I am thankful for the seat and I feel guilty that he had to give up his, I do realise that I am not to be blamed.
Though this happens very commonly, I find this “etiquette” to be quite contrary to how I have understood feminism. I do not mean to talk about a situation where the people compared are unequal and in dissimilar circumstances, for instance, a pregnant lady. I mean to talk about those who are quite similar in their situations and strengths.
Gender roles have created ways, moors and etiquettes which are seemingly “respect” giving but are actually patronising towards women and negative to both men and women. While it might seem ‘proper’ for men to give women a seat, this can translate to deeming women inherently weak. A ‘gentleman’ in this case would paradoxically make you a victim of his apparent favour which is implicitly chauvinistic. Worse still, men are bound to follow such rules, because if they don’t, the same gender driven society will dismiss them ‘uncivil’. It is situations such as these which starkly elucidate the ways in which gendered etiquettes affect both men and women negatively.
It is imperative for us to be careful. Now that we are aware, we must also be observant. If we know our Gilbert and Gubar, Virginia Woolf, Gloria Stieman and Ismat Chugtai, we must also know how to execute our feminism. In times when we find our feminism being questioned and mocked at as something as ridiculous as “feminazi,” it is significant that we execute and endure the egalitarian spirit of feminism which we claim.
I promise to make sure to wait for another vehicle, rather than making someone leave his comfortable seat only because I happen to be a woman. If that’s the only rickshaw I have to board, I will make sure I occupy the seat next to the rickshaw driver. Once, an acquaintance on an E rickshaw said to me jokingly, “Ladkiyan bagal mani baithaingi toh Rickshaw walay ke mazay hojainge!” to which I retorted, “For how long? Ek din mazay, do din mazay hojainge ge.” If this becomes a trend, it would be normal seeing women occupy the uncomfortable seats which rickshaw drivers insist on having occupied. Nevertheless, this acquaintance was pleased, having heard something which made sense to him. It was a feminism he understood.
To all the men in line with me for a vehicle, leave me a seat if you see me as a tired human, not as a weak woman, because that I am not, none of us are! If you are equally tired, you don’t let archaic definitions of a gentleman hold you back. Let’s be kind because it’s human to be kind and not because it is manly to leave a woman a seat or feminine to accept that.
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