Friday, March 7, 2014

Norms and Shame - another post for International Women's Day

Cross posted from MN Political Roundtable with the permission of the author:


Happy International Women's Day!  Let's marvel together at what happens in India:
On Tuesday, the BBC ran a fascinating and heartening profile of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a south India inventor who 16 years ago wanted “to impress his young wife” by buying her fresh sanitary pads to replace the “nasty cloths” she’d been hiding from him. “I will be honest,” he says, “I would not even use it to clean my scooter.” But she told him she couldn’t afford to buy clean pads and keep up with other household necessities. And when he learned the markup on pads was 40 times that of regular clean cotton, “He decided he could make them cheaper himself.”
What began as a thoughtful gesture from a newlywed husband evolved into a quest, as Muruganantham – who previously hadn’t even realized that women get their periods on a monthly basis – investigated the plight of women in India. Only 12 percent of the female population use any kind of pads, and many have to resort to “sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.” Added to the challenge is the fact that during their periods, Indian “women can’t visit temples or public places, they’re not allowed to cook or touch the water supply.” Imagine being part of a family where for five days a month the mother and daughters can’t cook or obtain water.
Maxi pads liberate women.  But there's more to the story - to produce and distribute maxi pads Muruganantham had to overcome powerful social norms, or group held beliefs on how someone should behave.  His wife left him and his friends said he “had become a pervert” or was possessed by evil spirits.  Americans might be amazed by this, forgetting we have our own social norms which inhibit behavior.

While as many as one in three American women have an induced abortion,  abortion is still considered deviant, and so women who have them feel ashamed and are shamed.  Women are not supposed to like sex, and birth control isn't natural, and therefore taking birth control or the morning after pill  is shameful and possibly even against your religion.  Because men are the true and perhaps only breadwinners, women still make 77% of what a man makes for the same job. Further,  men's brains are different and so women probably just don't want to be engineers.

Perhaps after we marvel at what happens in India we should work to change opinion, and even law, here at home.  Let's stop inhibiting American women.

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