Ever since I first considered becoming a parent, I wanted a daughter. My partner concurred, vehemently. We have two now, lovely beings both, growing up all too fast for us to prepare them for the world that lies ahead. We wanted daughters because there aren’t enough in India. Our country loses, gets rid of, far too many daughters, in utero, in infancy, in youth… and we felt it our responsibility to do a little to redress the skewed sex ratio. We won the chromosomal lottery, twice, on that count.
We have two daughters to offer to this world. How do we offer them a safer world to explore?
Amid the seemingly endless orgy of violence that appears to be endemic to our cultures, from India to the US, violence directed against women in particular, Eduardo Galeano’s words have been haunting me. Growing up in the traditional family culture he describes, I was quite stunned when I first read him, decades ago. I keep returning to them now, as a parent myself to two daughter, trying to change this culture, starting at home:
THE CULTURE OF TERROR / 2
the dark room,
the icy shower,
the ban on leaving the house,
the ban on saying what you think,
the ban on doing what you feel,
and public humiliation
are some of the methods of punishment and torture traditional to family life. To punish disobedience and discipline liberty, family tradition perpetuates a culture of terror that humiliates women, teaches children to lie, and spreads the plague of fear.
“Human rights should begin at home,” Andrés Dominguez told me in Chile.
Whether it is guns or men’s penises, in India or the US, the talk these days is all about tougher laws, bans, hangings, castration, capital punishment, stemming from an angry desire for vengeance in the wake of heinous crimes. Maybe these will bring some change for the better. I sure hope so. But the violence, like the misogyny, is too deeply embedded in our cultures for these to be sufficient deterrents. It lies too deep, and too close to the surface of our daily domestic lives for us to see, acknowledge, and attempt to stop it.
The violence is within us, reinforced by these traditions which “humiliate women, teach children to lie, and spread the plague of fear.” Therefore, any lasting change to the culture of violence must also start within us, when we challenge these traditions, change them, teach new ones to our sons and daughters: based on respect and kindness, rather than power and obedience.
I sense the implacable anger of women in India right now, and hang my head in shame for my gender, for what we men have wrought against our better halves.
Bringing more daughters into this world is only half the answer. We need to raise our sons better too, in better families rebuilt without the traditional violence shadowing our daily lives. We need to change the culture so that it doesn’t continue to warp them in the ways it has already warped us into accepting so much violence as routine.
Human rights must begin at home.