If the Genders’ Roles were Reversed!
By Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui

From Purdah to Parliament signified a landmark for the fair sex of yesteryear. If one were to go by the latest research findings a century or two hence some gutsy male author might chronicle his gender’s startling turnabout in an equally stimulating repertoire: From Parliament to Purdah!

Should the prospective author happen to be truly futuristic, he could succeed in mirroring the confounding phenomenon of the times: Wobbly Man: Seldom Forward, Mostly Backward!

The foreboding appears too presumptuous to be seriously taken. Yet, Brian J. Whipp and Susan A. Ward of the Physiology Laboratory, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) suggest the unpalatable prospects in a not-too-recent issue of the prestigious science journal Nature: women athletes are improving so fast that they might overtake men in some events in the not too distant future!

“We are not saying that is what’s going to happen,” Professor Whipp says, but unless there is some change in the progression rate that has been going on for over a century, then that is what is going to happen.”

The findings seem to find favor with some coaches. Ernie Gregoire who has coached both male and female Olympic athletes, believes women could achieve parity in the marathon but not too soon.

True. But on the basis of such evidence a reversal of roles for the genders cannot be summarily ruled out. The plight of man on the track and off the field as a ragged, rundown gender with attendant social ramifications is, hypothetically, not all that a distant prospect. The transition could unfold in a tale encompassing many cities – oriental as well as occidental.

The fair sex could assume the role of parliament’s patron saint to tax its mind about the serious “affairs of the state.” The Iron Lady rarity of the century past becomes the commonplace reality of the 21st century. Men, meanwhile, are glued to their immediate surroundings, the more afluent cozily perched at home to debate the ‘Fall and Winter Ready to Wear’ collection from Paris over midday coffee parties. For some, the green and gray tartan tweed jacket worn over a green jersey blouse and gray flannel dancing skirt has a special appeal. Quite a few fancy the dangerously low-scooped necklines. And only a handful admire the long skirts, high necklines, and conservative colors from the house of Jean-Louis Scherrer, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Lacroix.

Household management in such a balmy spirit is a reminder of the century past when Begums of the illustrious upper class were overburdened with gossip and retired to bed, and eventually from life, without once peeping into the kitchen! In their mold, the 21st century privileged hubbies marshal the home front with matching dexterity.

As the wholesome scene unfolds in its entirety, female dramatists, novelists, poetesses, painters, and intellectuals give an amazing display of gray matter. A feminine renaissance, so to say. Taming of Man is followed by My Fair Gentleman. The work becomes an instant hit as harried hubbies look askance to the searching feminine probe: Why can’t a man be more like a woman?

By-and-by, male contribution in the field of journalism is restricted to the Letters to the Editor brooding. News comments and interpretative reporting become the exclusive preserve of female journalists who trot the globe as pathfinders, a role vividly reminiscent of the Gulf War media extravaganza. It takes a good part of the 21st century for a man to recapture an editor’s seat but to his utmost discomfiture the paper’s circulation nosedives, advertisement rates drop, and its finances remain precariously perched! Finally, the responsibility is entrusted to a charming hard taskmaster possessed of the grace and poise of present-day Julia Roberts.

At about the same time, a Broadway production The Mischievous Husband becomes an instant hit with its Lahori rendering Sharir Shahor launching domesticated husbands on a misguided course. A belated enterprise, anyway.
Sex discrimination of a new kind is the order of the day. Huge corporate houses and public sector corporations buzz with the rattle of buxom female CEOs and managers. Less forgiving and less forgetful than their once-upon-a-time male counterparts, the headstrongs’ involvement with male staffers is restricted to an admonitory grunt on sloppy canteen-management or mundane receivable/dispatch duties.

No wonder, the Annual Nobel Award Ceremony in Stockholm turns out to be a pompous all-female affair with males excelling in the not too unfamiliar eavesdropping act. Mathematics, once a hard nut for the fair sex, too has come to enjoy primacy among female academics.

Confusion worse confounded, a New World Order makes an unceremonious beginning in America with the fair sex abandoning schools that spell out the do’s and don’ts for prospective parents. The all-man faculty for an all-man class is food for thought for concerned members of the docile Man Action Front (MAF) thousands of miles away who revert to Bacon as if in a state of abstraction:

Domestic cares afflict the husband’s bed,
Or pains his head;
Those that live single, take it for a curse,
Or do things worse;
Some would have children:
Those that have them moan;
Or wish them gone:
What is, then, to have or have no wife,
But single thralldom, or double strife?

Internationally, disarmament acquires a new meaning. Star Wars “born in deception and raised in cynicism,” to quote American scientist Aldric Sauncier fired for his plain talking, are reduced to cosmetic battles over satellite networks. Missile plants have come to excel in making consumer goods. The trend set in 1992 when the Soviet Union split up and its biggest rocket factory at Dniepropetrovsk (Ukraine) started producing a wide array of consumer goods such as plastic toy guns, sausage machines, kitchen appliances, music boxes, and umbrellas!

The world of sports presents many stunning surprises. At Wimbledon, greater ignominy is in store for men each succeeding year. Venus William’s granddaughter crushes Aggasi’s grandson with an unparalleled drubbing: 6-0,6-0,6-0 in the year 2040 AD.

The cricket scene is agog with equally exciting prospects. Imrana Niazi, a formidable find from Pakistan, gives a convincing display of verve and speed as she routs the Australians in the 2025 World Cup Final at the Oval. Lyrics, she inspires, and with gay spontaneity:

You are on the edge of your seat
Feelings running high
She’s the best in the world
She makes the white ball fly;
It’s the dream of every man
To play the best that he can
Yet she bowls them all out
Her pretty arm lands the clout
They are sent back reeling
Their wickets cartwheeling
Who will be, who will be the Queen
Who would rule the world?

The bony fighter goes on to cap her field achievements with a tally of 479 wickets, a marked improvement on Sir Hadley’s past century feat.

The social spin-offs of the change are many: in the mindless surge of honking cars and ramshackle mini buses on the roads of metropolitan Karachi, the female drivers calmly wind their way to cement closer ethnic bonds.

The petite police force also scores many successes. Street gangsters turn into heart-broken dullards drifting aimlessly from thana to thana with the burning desire:

Allah karae too bhi ho bemarae mohabbat
With no time for such levity or the fanciful ramblings of Agatha Christie, the SHOs fancy the regimental Italian damsels standing guard at the Pope’s Vatican residence whose Jane Bond image, contrasting with the Swedish guards attire of the past, has a special appeal.

Can such a fanciful futuristic sce nario ever unfold? An article from England titled Battle between Sexes: Women are Winning is some testimony: “Not belonging to the women –on-top-of-the-kitchen-sink school of thought, I would love to see more women electricians, plumbers, window cleaners and truck drivers. What do I see instead? Women manning (or should I say womanning) every store and supermarket counter, every bank/building society window/till and every estate agency/advertising agency office. It is, in short, their monopolization of the service sector that somewhat unnerves me….I seem to be developing a peculiar sense of belonging to some second class sex (!)…” The harried author goes on to make the horrific claim: “I am convinced that the days when wars were fought on account of successions, religious beliefs, territorial gains, or ideologies are over. In the future, wars will be waged between sexes and races…”

Some hazy portent dot the horizon. Remember former Texas Governor Ann Richards’ quip to skewer President Bush: “George Bush can’t help it; he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Her stratagem is well defined: “We need more women in government. They are good managers with flexible viewpoints. We need their stamina and their kind of imagination.” Authors like Joan Smith (Guardian) already see “evidence of a trend towards change, driven by feminist ideas, which will eventually transform countries like even the US , if it is not stopped in its tracks. Some of them are even writing books about it, denouncing the threat of a ‘totalitarian’ feminism which is said to be exercising an insidious influence on everyone.”
No empty words.

The home scene? A few disquieting trends, though of a totally different nature. In the good old days, as any angelic bari boorhi would confide, “Har mard do tin bewian hazam kar jata tha. Aaj jis ghar maen dekho, aek bewa barjaman hae!”
More. Some boys are ditched in their own home and forced to play the ignoble ghar damad role by invading in-laws. Luckily, the phenomenon remains an aberration in infancy – neither a fad nor a norm.

And yet more. While a blue-eyed bahoo feature s prominently in her susral, damad sahib is a lame duck in the in-laws’ circle willingly succumbing to odd commands to oblige as a ready-to-order driver, handy kitchen supplementary, ayah’s reliable stand-by, and the rare two-in-one butler and orderly.

Despite a step or two backward, there are many a step forward taken by bahoo begum.

For any starry-eyed feminist, the UCLA study could be a pointer to a possible future course: men and women launched on a competitive (rather than a collision) course, a century or two hence. Exciting prospects, howsoever remote. For competing individuals exude enthusiasm, ideas, thrills, and a spontaneous qualitative change.

Should one hasten to contemplate such a scenario? Perhaps it would be wiser to share the UCLA researchers’ discretion: “We aren’t saying that is what’s going to happen,” says Whipp, but “unless there is some change in the progression rate that been going on for over a century, then that is what is going to happen.”
Ample room for flight of fancy.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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