My friend and I had just finished exchanging banalities in an overpriced, overhyped Hauz Khas Village restaurant when a random woman walked up to us. It was obvious that she was promoting something. She introduced herself as someone working on women empowerment, causing tears to well up in my eyes. You see the term women empowerment always reminds me of the supposed alien visitations that were witnessed in America a few decades ago. Everybody had seen something or had an opinion on it, yet nobody knew precisely what that something was. Similarly, everyone these days is working on women empowerment, most being blissfully unaware about what it would actually mean in reality.
Anyway, the woman mistook our intense emotions for encouragement and proceeded to tell us that she held in her hands a device that would revolutionise humankind and of course, usher in an era of women empowerment. The device (pee buddy, applause!), an indigenous creation, enables women to relieve themselves while standing just like men, out in the fields, inside lanes, outside public monuments, at the back of a concert show; without being dependent on the availability of public toilets. And obviously, this empowers us infinitely. It is utterly foolish of the government to have roped in Balan to popularise the importance of building toilets when all that is needed is essentially a pee buddy. The inability to relieve ourselves like men anywhere is the only reason why, historically, we have been shunned from public spaces and left marginalised across a broad socio-economic spectrum (I am sure Freud would have been very happy). By the time she was done, we were convinced that our lives had been changed forever. The lady had been hired to sell the product and not to help us in problematising it. Our attempts at exposing the absurdity of the whole situation thus ended on an unsuccessful note.
A few months down the line, to my utter shock, I saw the advertisement of the very same product on my Facebook Newsfeed. “Revolutionary”, “women empowerment”, terms that have been forgotten for their import but embraced to sell products ranging from vagina tightening to fairness creams (the latter is applicable for both men and women, at least here the market objectifies equally), were shamelessly emblazoned across their webpage. While the product could be useful for pregnant ladies and those with certain health problems, and might just even prevent UTI, I do not see why it should be marketed in any way other than as a medical necessity. Women empowerment does not come by giving women “the freedom to
stand and pee”. The proclivity to use man as the yardstick for everything, from framing policies, defining workplace and its ethics, to measuring the extent of freedom for women; needs to be resisted at all costs. The practice is so ubiquitous that often women are left with no choice but to define their identity (including their bodies), or as in this case, “sense of empowerment”, by keeping man as the norm and that is often camouflaged with grand terms like “choice”, “equality” and “freedom”. There is absolutely nothing emancipatory/ revolutionary about peeing like a man and it is high time we start pointing out the absurdity in such a proposition.
Why the marketing is all the more disconcerting is because it shifts the focus away from the main problem at hand. The right to privacy during defecation, intrinsically linked with the availability of pucca and clean public toilets, has been a long standing demand for women, stemming partly from societal propensity to sexualise female body and subject it to social norms of decent and indecent exposure. The major concern before all of us is the lack of adequate sanitation facilities for women and how that has never found much resonance either amongst vast majority of households or our policy makers. None of this is going to change with the introduction of devices like pee buddy. In fact, products like these carry the risk of diluting the debate on the urgent need to address sanitation demand for women by offering them adjustments (not very inexpensive ones, mind you) within a system that continues to ignore their most basic needs.
Of course, there is nothing wrong in offering women (who can afford it) options that make certain tasks easier for some of them. There is also nothing wrong in coming up with ideas that do not essentially have a bad intention. However, anything that is out of the box does not have to be revolutionary. Anything that makes life easier for women or claims to give them a choice does not make it empowering so long as it continues to exist within a system that loves to silence its women. Till then, one must know that nothing equals the joy of a clean toilet. Not even cardboard made devices that let us pee anywhere. While standing (remembers Freud, again).
Article by Nikita Audichya