Saturday, October 3, 2015

Without Empathy, can there be Equality?

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The ability to identify one with the 'other' and becoming one with his/her pain is true Empathy. Image Source here



What does a woman need - equality or empathy? The question really set me thinking as it is so valid in the present day scenario. It made me think of the entire discourse surrounding womanhood. It made me think of religion and of cultural standards setup in a civilized society. And it also reminded me of the 'construction' of the female in response to an already available 'male' principle. Simone de Beauvoir, the leading French feminist, had argued in her seminal book, The Second Sex, that woman came into being only in relation to the male, and that man became the 'Absolute' while woman became the 'Other'. In her cogently argued analysis, she rightly pointed out that 'humanity is male'. 

Beauvoir's point is so crucial in view of the question on equality and empathy. What is empathy? Empathy is a state of mind where one can psychologically identify with the feelings and thoughts of the other. Ronald E Riggio, in an essay on Empathy (which you can read here) describes psychologist Mark Davis's understanding of three different types of empathy - 

a) Pespective-taking Emapthy - It is the ability to think of the other's feelings and to be able to understand what the other person's point of view is. It is kind of receptive and observant in nature.

b) Personal Distress Empathy - This springs from one's own pain and helps him/her identify with the other's sorrows.

c) Empathic Concern - This kind of feeling is actually the true ability to not only feel the pain of the other, but to be also able to identify with it and act upon it in order to rectify it. This is affirmative, engaged, and committed. It strives to 'perform' in a positive manner whereas the other two exist in thoughts and the second one is disabling in its nature.

An understanding of these kinds of empathy again leads us to the question of women.

As far I have understood the concept, I feel that without empathy or 'Empathic Concern', equality for women is a distant dream. Keeping in mind the idea of the 'second sex', and the lack of empathy on the part of society at large, one can clearly comprehend the state of affairs. To be able to be put on the same pedestal as men, women first need a deeper understanding of their identities and their unique selves. Only then can equality be possible. But then again even women need to feel one with their true inner beings because they too have been attuned to societal norms and expectations. When they become 'subject-effects' (and here I am reminded of Gayatri Spivak's Can the Subaltern Speak?), i.e., when they speak from a standpoint where they have modeled themselves on normative behaviors, it becomes impossible for them to advocate their cause. They too need to break free from those shackles if they want to be honest to their cause.

What do you think of my argument here?

Do share your thoughts!

21 comments:

  1. I have felt that empathy is very important, not just in this case. I was watching this movie a few days ago, and there were multiple references about why it is important to see things from another person's perspective - http://moviesofthesoul.com/2015/09/24/life-of-josutty/

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    1. True Tennyson....empathy is needed to understand not just women, but almost every living being. Haven't seen the movie you mention but will sure check it out.....:)

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  2. So true, Sunaina. I totally agree with the points that you have mentioned here.

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  3. There are women who have already broken the shackles and liberated themselves. Some such women even go one up on men :) But the vast majority, especially in a country like India, are still 'subjects' in patriarchal systems. Equality may be easier to attain than empathy because a spirit of competition will enter women too as soon as they attain equality.

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    1. Do you think that women who reached the top positions did not have to deal with any issue? When you say that they had to 'liberate' themselves, therein comes the point of lack of empathy and equality....equality is easier to obtain theoretically but when it comes to practical life, things change.....

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  5. I agree with your thoughts BUT till we get out of this mentality of talking about men or women , i dont think we will ever be able to get equality.. (if you know what i mean)..

    I mean why does everything have to be seen from the eyes of a man or a women.. why cant we treat each other as HUMANS.. if we are all human and not just men or women .. I think that would be the FIRST step to equality ...

    Bikram's

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    1. That is the whole issue Bikram...we cannot do away with the uniqueness of our gender....we ought to celebrate the 'difference' and yet maintain equality....and deal with the issues with empathy......

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  6. While reading your post, I was just thinking about the way we are brought up. I have seen my father wrking and my mother supporting him. I have seen many of my friends leaving their lucrative jobs to be with their husbands. We are always taught like this that Mans earns and wife is for kitchen. We women never thinks and realizes what we want.freedom,equality empathy or what ? Once my friend was telling me about her problems ,she just wanted me to listen to her problems and not do anything about it. we women have just locked oursleves in an invisible cage and want that people outside it just listen to our problems and we are happy in that cage. It'ssuch a complex thngs ... Human ..... and most complex ... Women ...

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    1. True Nimisha....that is the reason I brought up the point of breaking free from 'effects' of culture and think freely......Thanks for your valuable feedback. When people think and question, only then can solutions be found.

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  7. Sunaina, this is a brilliant, thought provoking post, which I hope is read widely. Personally, I have always thought that equality for women is a misnomer. Gender differences need to be treated with empathy. Each has a role to play but that does not mean the role gets crystallised, turning women into stone. A woman should be free to explore her individuality and dreams. I think a better phrase would be Freedom for Women rather than Equality for Women. If I am happy being at home, other career women should not look down on me and vice versa. It's a man's world still. It should be a human and humane world. But then, we humans tend to stereotype everything. including men. They have their own pressures with society treating less-than-materially-successful men with scorn.

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    1. Hey there Lata....I was wondering where you were....but glad you came finally.....:).....You bring forth valid points here - we all are trapped, men as well s women. We need to break free of those caging mentalities and rethink our way into this world. While maintaining our individuality as being distinct genders, we need to value our identities and deal with each other with love and respect.

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  8. I totally agree with your points mentioned here, Sunaina.

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  9. Attaining equality for us, women, is a titanic task. And, a 'task' it is as the mindset of the patriarchal society is just against this. As for empathy, I think, that's an equally difficult thing for most of our male counterparts don't want to think by putting their feet in our shoes. Even, as you've mentioned, women also need to break the shackles and understand their importance as human beings. I've seen so many instances where women fail to understand that they are under domination or excessive pressure.

    This post of yours is a well articulated and concise analysis.

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    1. Hey Maniparna.....your argument is well written.....Both equality and empathy are difficult to attain. What I personally feel is that when we state that we are equal, we are trying to fool ourselves and the people around us.....we do not dwell deeper in our heart and do not subject our thoughts to self-scrutiny....Equality remains a theory, not a practice. In order for it to become a practice, one needs grooming which will come from an empathetic heart.....Empathy itself is a difficult goal to reach as you rightly point out, but it is a precondition to attain equality.

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  10. Empathy is required for Equality- is a very valid argument Sunaina. Empathy is about from understanding the other's position, respecting the differences, accepting them, and not letting the differences get in the way of their progress. I would like to add that true equality arises from the right to exercise the freedom of choice, and not by blindly copying the others - be it a woman trying to be just like a man or one woman trying to be just like the other. Unless we accept diversity of opinion and choice, all talk about equality is fluff.

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    1. Exactly Somali....you understood my argument pretty well.....equality comes after one understands the 'differences' and is willing to understand and accept them as part of peaceful co-existence.....I am so happy to have good comments on this topic here....:)

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  11. Empathy is required for Equality- is a very valid argument Sunaina. Empathy is about from understanding the other's position, respecting the differences, accepting them, and not letting the differences get in the way of their progress. I would like to add that true equality arises from the right to exercise the freedom of choice, and not by blindly copying the others - be it a woman trying to be just like a man or one woman trying to be just like the other. Unless we accept diversity of opinion and choice, all talk about equality is fluff.

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  12. Equality is not possible without Equality. A very valid argument Sunaina.
    Empathy is about understanding the other person;s position, respecting and accepting the differences, and not letting the differences come in the way of the person's progress. I would add here that Equality in the truest sense refers to equal freedom in exercising choices rather than blindly copying another person - be it a woman trying to be like a a man, or one woman blindly copying the other. Unless there is a respect for diversity of thoughts and opinion. all talks of equality are fluff.

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