Empathy is about imagination.
The ability to put on someone else's shoes. The ability to be, in your own mind, somebody else. Somebody, perhaps, that you are lucky you're not.
I have been preoccupied with women. In particular, missing women. The reports of growing foeticide, especially in relatively prosperous districts, make me angry.
That it should be happen is bad enough, but what really bothers me is the thought that the mothers let it happen - that there are at least a million women out there who agreed to, if not actively opted to, kill their girls - born or unborn. Mothers who are not facing starvation-level poverty. Mothers who, possibly, were neither unmarried nor raped. Grandmothers who pushed their daughters-in-law into getting rid of granddaughters.
I fail to emphathize, because my imagination completely fails me.
I heard all the usual arguments - we're all products of a given social environment. We're all made by society. We're all blah-blah-blah. But we're all also women.
In college, all of us - every single girl - wanted a baby girl. And I went to a very conservative college, all-girls, small-town, where we had many reasons to resent being born women. Yet, nobody wanted boys.
Some of us might have referred to baby boys as an afterthought, as something that might be nice because, well, the family/world, needed to be 'complete'... But in an either/or situation, whoever wanted boys?!
All of us wanted somebody whose hair we could braid. Somebody who would wear little pink booties, and insist on trying out our lipsticks. Somebody who would use dupattas to play dress-up-as-mommy. Somebody who would be sassy and smart and would shake her hips to item numbers, exactly like we did. Brave replicas. Better replicas. Somebody who would give meaning to the bizarreness of human procreation.
In fact, even the men we knew wanted daughters. They wanted daughters who'd play football, wear baseball caps, drive race-cars and beat up all the boys. Nobody I have ever known really wanted anything but a daughter.
So maybe not all women grew up like us. But I'm sure they too wanted baby-girls.
Girls who would cry if you didn't get them new party frocks. Wilful, ambitious girls who would bully, charm, weep, work their way to Head-Girl type glory.
And I try to imagine...
Suppose you get married. Married to a man who might play happily enough with a little girl, but who don't necessarily respect the mother. Married into a family where your decisions are not your own. Married after your own family incurred huge debts. Married into fear and insecurity and the monster called 'ever after'. Married and not allowed to support your old parents.
Married and hating it.
And then, suppose, you think of a baby girl.
You think of pink booties and party frocks (but don't leave her alone with the uncle from Kanpur) and college ('but maybe she should take up home science'?) and first love ('If I see you with that boy again, I'll break both your legs'?) and the first job ('be back before dark'... 'no party-sharty after 8.'). You think of wedding costs, loans, match-makers. You think of you.
You read reports and watch television... Rape. Trafficking. Harassment. Mutilation. Acid-attacks. Honour. Bride burnings. Stoning. Veiling. Wailing.... everywhere, in every country. You think of how easily it could be your daughter's turn.
And then, perhaps, you don't want this world for her... but you don't have the courage or the means to build an alternative world where she will not live out a predestined tragedy.
And I begin to understand. I begin to see why - for all our claims of wanting baby girls so much that we've even thought of what names we're going to give them - we don't want daughters.
We don't have the courage to stand up to the 'baba-not-baby' pressure, because we don't have the courage to live our own lives... We'd rather live with the void. We'd rather stay scared, than run scared.
I understand our collective lack of courage.
For we're products of our limited-limiting environments.
We're terrified of what will happen to us if we break all the rules, and who will stand by us, and who will feed us, and who will hold us if everyone we ever knew disowns us...? We're petrified by the thought that we will not have the guts to stand by our daughters if we let them grow up as we wanted to. And we know we will not forgive ourselves if they live our lives.
I cannot yet empathize, but (God forgive me) I understand. Without forgiveness for being able to, I understand. Ridden with guilt at being able to, so easily, I understand.