HER WORLD Sunday, November 18, 2001, Chandigarh, India

Thank you readers,

We had invited you to send entries to the question: Should women settle for less than 33 per cent reservation in Parliament and all other elected bodies?

We would like to thank all the participants for their overwhelming and enthusiastic response. The results will be declared soon.

The best entry will be given Rs 750 as prize money. Nine other selected entries will receive a prize of Rs 500 each.— Editor

How women can fight the demon of depression
Mohinder Singh
"You have only a limited number of days on this earth; the fewer spent wishing you weren’t the better off you are." — Andrew Solomon in the Noonday Demon (2002)

Battling over Jones
Barbara Lewis
ritish writer Helen Fielding’s Chardonnay-swigging, chain-smoking, man-craving creation Bridget Jones first swept to the top of the best-seller lists and then smashed the box office records—to the horror of the literati and feminists alike. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Fielding’s air-headed tail of the far-from-smooth course of love has sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide. And the screen adaptation is the most successful British film to date.




How women can fight the demon of depression
Mohinder Singh

Women are more prone to depression as compared with men because of hormonal factors
Women are more prone to depression as compared with men because of hormonal factors

"You have only a limited number of days on this earth; the fewer spent wishing you weren’t the better off you are." — Andrew Solomon in the Noonday Demon (2002)

Simi often stays depressed. There are days when depression brings on deadening lethargy or bouts of self-loathing. These spells of despondency interfere with her appetite and sleep, perhaps her sexual drive, too.

Simi and her architect husband Mohan, live in a well-appointed flat of their own. They have two kids, a girl of three and a baby boy two months old. To their relatives and friends, Mohans are a happily married couple, enjoying good income, and with no particular worry in the world.

Simi isn’t exactly sure what makes her so depressed? Is it because she has put on hold a promising career in textile designing to rear a family? Is she envious of her counterparts working at interesting jobs? Or, was she getting jealous of Mohan himself — smartly groomed every morning and busily driving away to work, while she in her nightclothes was left changing nappies and dusting sofas? Or, is it something genetic — her mother was definitely depressive?

Simi, sharp and sensitive, would love to shake off this shadow of sadness. She has tried more of reading novels, more of serial watching, and more of elaborate cooking. Yet the depression descends on her whenever she’s free from work.

Simi’s dilemma: Should she call attention to her mental unrest or should she simply soldier on in silence? She doesn’t seem inclined to seek professional help.

Depression is defined as an emotional state marked by melancholy, inactivity and self-deprecation. The depression may be fleeting or chronic, mild or severe. What is central to depression is the element of self-loathing, a sense of one’s worthlessness or abject failure. Sometimes these feelings are strong enough to produce suicidal urges. This self-denigration, psychiatrists say, often stems from a sub-conscious disappointment or anger or hatred towards another person or even a circumstance.

And, unlike the demons of hunger and want, the demon of depression largely dwells among the affluent and the sophisticated sections of a populace. With rising living standards and competitive pressures, depression has become a common scourge in advanced societies, afflicting an estimated one in ten people.

Happily for the depressives, medical science is fast coming up with a number of effective anti-depressant drugs. Whereas a mild depression may respond to talking therapy alone, most cases call for a combination of drugs and psychotherapy.

One thing that has helped the treatment of depression is the new-fledged openness on the subject. Those who have sampled depression’s dark offerings are speaking out and seeking help. Styron’s book Darkness Visible, where he mostly discusses his own ordeal of depression, has become an important landmark. In Styron’s case, the depression lifted, burned off by drugs and psychotherapy, and stay in a hospital. However, people who come out of it have to watch against a recurrence of the same — the way reformed alcoholics do.

The new generation of drugs allows a sophistication and flexibility in treatment that was not possible in the past. And, of all these drugs, Prozac retains its premier position.

What’s so different in Prozac from the other antidepressants used for years? The basic principle of all is the same: To bolster the action of serotonin, one crucial chemical that transmits impulses between nerve cells. Shortage of serotonin, scientists believe, is a major cause of depression.

The traditional anti-depressants did the job in a scattered fashion, thus needing larger doses and causing serious side-effects like dizziness, blurred vision, constipation and weight gain. They even caused low blood pressure and heart disturbances — real hazards for the elderly. Prozac is more narrowly focussed; it manages to maintain higher levels of serotonin, but with low toxicity.

The new drugs have fewer side effects. Yet they are not perfect, and do have some side effects such as constipation and dry mouth. Medicines can’t gift happiness to mankind without exacting some price. The sorrow of a broken love affair, the death of a dear one, or the loss of a job or money or position can’t be simply overcome by medicines.

One important development in dealing with depression is the emergence of gender-sensitive psychology. It is being increasingly recognised that women require different medication and behavioural therapy than men because of their different hormonal surges, especially progesterone’s ebb and flow with the menstrual cycle. Many women also fall prey to postpartum depression, a minor or major depression that overcomes them in the weeks after childbirth; sometimes lasting as much as a year. The same can be occasioned by hormonal changes as well as the added stress of a newborn child. With quite a few women, the birth of a child also marks the start of marital violence.

"It’s a common misconception among psychiatrists and psychologists that the risks and causes of depresssion in men and women are the same, so treatment should be the same," says Ellen McGrath, chairwoman of the 30-member US expert panel on female depression and disorders. "But none of that’s true. Paying attention to gender differences is an essential part of therapy for depression." Besides biology, men and women are brought up differently.

The expert panel found that the incidence of depression showed up twice as often in women as in men, and for a far wider variety of causes, including violence and sexual abuse against them, excessive focussing on depressed feelings, hormonal effects of the menstrual cycle, birth control pills and childbirth, body dissatisfactions, marriage strains, pressure of parenting, and weaker economic position.

Psychotherapists are therefore counselled to look carefully for those underlying factors to choose from an array of therapy approaches that are especially effective with women’s problems. For example, group therapy is considered more useful for women than men. The latter tend to lack confidants, while women open up more easily to close friends.

What about the children of depressed women? A barrage of recent studies conclusively proves what was suspected: The children of depressed parents, particularly mothers — like the children of alcoholics — can suffer significant psychological damage. Their emotional scars, starting as early as the first few months of infancy, can last deep into adolescence and possibly beyond. Many deficits and disturbances have been observed in these children such as low birth weight and excessive crying in newborn babies whose mothers were depressed during pregnancy (detailed in the book Gloom in the Womb); inability to smile starting at three months of age; lower concentration in school; hostile behaviour or a withdrawal in adolescence; and increased depression as time goes on.

Depressed mothers are emotionally "flattened" and are thus able to give less encouragement and affection to their children. At some moments she may be sharp and angry at being bothered, at others she may become intrusively involved in her kids. An "overcontrolling" depressive mother might sit for hours clutching and stroking a four-year-old. Middle-class mothers with postpartum depression may even tend to display far more irritability and volatility with their infants during the first six months than non-depressed mother. Their infants, in turn, often become withdrawn, refusing even to look at them, what to say of smiling at them. For a child, the first six months are crucial for learning social interactions, and the same get retarded in these kids.

In adolescence, the troubles of children with depressed parents mount up. Either the child becomes wild, out-of-control, or overtly obedient and sensitive.

These are the strategies a growing child usually adopts to gain the attention of the preoccupied depressed parent. In both ways it hurts the adolescent’s personality.

The point of all the current research on parental depression isn’t to aim an accusing finger at the parents for their children’s problems. The basic aim is to help depressed parents, particularly mothers. She has to examine the hard facts of her life to identify the cause of her depression, whether it’s from being deprived of the satisfaction of an outside job or from a destructive marriage.

Meanwhile experts offer a few tips to depressed mothers when dealing with their children.

Avoid talking your problems to your children; it will only undermine their sense of security. Instead, talk to your spouse, a friend, a therapist.

Never criticise your child; only criticise specific behaviour. Say "That was selfish," not "You’re a selfish girl".

Don’t malign your parenting skills to your children. Learn these skills if you are deficient.


Battling over Jones
Barbara Lewis

Feminists have swallowed Bridget Jones against their better judgement
Feminists have swallowed Bridget Jones against their better judgement

British writer Helen Fielding’s Chardonnay-swigging, chain-smoking, man-craving creation Bridget Jones first swept to the top of the best-seller lists and then smashed the box office records—to the horror of the literati and feminists alike. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Fielding’s air-headed tail of the far-from-smooth course of love has sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide. And the screen adaptation is the most successful British film to date.

Meanwhile, an army of detractors has launched a two-pronged attack on the heroine who declares: "There’s nothing quite so unattractive to a man as a strident feminist".

Critics lament both the death of feminism and the dumbing-down of literature. After decades of struggle for women and women writers to be taken seriously, Fielding, they say, has sold out by creating a female stereotype almost, wholly, defined by men and which men are all too eager to seize upon as Everywoman. To make matters worse, Bridget Jones’s Diary has spawned an entire post-feminist genre of "chick lit"—written by women for women and about women—that is oblivious to the quest for seamless intellectual prose which transcends the issue of the author’s gender.

For the Bridget fans, the Diary is an important expression of the life of today’s myriad 30-something "singletons"—to borrow Fielding’s preferred term for spinsters.

Moreover, it’s hilarious.

Fielding herself is insistent that her work is above all right-hearted, saying: "Critics have missed the point. The book isn’t meant to be taken seriously". The character of Bridget Jones, she has said, is a comic exaggeration, but nevertheless contains some truth. "Sometimes I have had people getting their knickers in a twist about the Bridget Jones being a disgrace to feminism and so on. But it is good to represent women as they actually are in the age in which you are living." Years after the character of Bridget Jones first emerged as a newspaper column before being extended into a book and months after the film’s international release in April, the debate rages on.

In August, writer Beryl Bainbridge, favourite to win this year’s Booker Prize for fiction, triggered Britain’s latest round of Bridget-bashing.

"It is a froth sort of thing," declared Bainbridge, tilting at girly, self-indulgent outpouring about the quest for Mr Right. "What is the point of writing a whole novel about it? "As people spend so little time reading, it is a pity they perhaps can’t read something a bit deeper, with a bite to it," she pronounced on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme which has a habit of establishing the news agenda for the British press.

Within hours, the journalistic community, which had previously professed to being bored with BJD, as the book is known in the trade, had dashed off a rash of articles.

Writer Doris Lessing, who had earlier caused a rumpus at the Edinburgh Book Festival by claiming that women had gone too far in humiliating men, entered the fray. "It’s a pity that so many young women are just writing like this because they think they are going to get published.

It would be better, perhaps, if they wrote books about their lives as they really saw them and not these helpless girls, drunken, worrying about their weight and so on".

Britain’s left-leaning, pro-feminist newspaper Guardian felt sufficiently moved to devote an editorial piece to "chick lit". It dismissed the phenomenon as a phase which readers will outgrow. But in the meantime, it said: "After the earnestness of both Mother Earth feminism in the 70s and careerism in the 80s, what most women want is a good laugh".

Writer for the Guardian women’s page Amy Fleming labelled Bridget Jones as reactionary, but said the character’s concerns—in common with Bridget’s much thinner US equivalent, Ally McBeal—are nonetheless relevant to today’s woman.

In keeping with the anti-earnestness theme, Bridget Jones happened almost by accident, beginning life as a column in Britain’s Independent newspaper in 1995. Fielding then turned it into a book with a plot shamelessly ripped off from Jane Austen’s timeless classic Pride and Prejudice.

For many, the Diary is a brilliant updating of the age-old quest for love. Nick Hornby—whose High Fidelity, a kind of male BJD, established him as the arch exponent of "lad lit"—has been quoted as saying: "Helen Fielding is one of the funniest writers alive and Bridget Jones is a creation of comic genius."

While most would agree that utter drivel has been written by cheap imitators, Fielding is hailed as the best of the "chick lit" genre. In the publishing world, where the fictional Bridget works as an assistant, editors admit "publishers are driving themselves mad wondering where the next Bridget Jones will come from". According to freelance editor Domenica de Rosa, the irony is that the next Bridget Jones will probably be a phenomenon completely different from "a weight-obsessed single-ton".

She adds: "I want to defend Bridget against the sins of her imitators ... Bridget may worry about her weight but never to the extent of actually stopping eating. She thinks about men a lot but is prepared to drop a boyfriend for treating her badly... She does think about other things than men and food. OK it is very trivial but, at least, it is funny, which is more than you can say for some of the others."

Most agree that the humour is hugely redeeming, even in the United States where Fielding had been warned that her irony would not be appreciated — although many women there have confessed to feeling guilty about their enjoyment.

Time magazine famously cited Bridget Jones in its debate on the death of feminism, but in August writer Jessica Reaves came up with something of a retraction in the online version of Time,Time. com. In an article headlined. "I’m a Feminist and I love Bridget Jones Diary",Reaves wrote: "For a long while I hid my affinity for Fielding’s heroine. I laughed along with friends who scorned the book’s so-called ‘anti-feminist’ leanings.... I nodded silently when my mother dismissed the book as ‘fluff."

But then she met Fielding at a book signing in San Francisco and was completely won over. Of Fielding she said: "She was kind and funny and she signed every book proffered to her. She laughed along with audience members and answered pointed questions about her own life with humour." Reaves now carries her copy of BJD with pride.

That feminists have swallowed Bridget Jones against their better judgement is an irony that Fielding would doubtless enjoy.

But the finest irony is that her supposed betrayal of the sisterhood has made her an extremely successful woman of whom feminists could be proud and who bears little similarity to the loveable but under-achieving Bridget. — WFS



The search for Mr and Ms Right

This refers to Vimla Patil’s The search for Mr &Ms Right (Nov. 4). The least satisfying endeavour in one’s life is the search for a suitable life-partner. Despite his professed and pompous idealism of being a liberal on issues like a girl’s caste, religion or professional ambitions, a man always searches for an obedient, submissive, undemanding and a physically charming lass to be his wife Girls too, on their part, look for a prince charming, who can lavishly pamper them. Suchempty dreams, cut away from reality lead to culturally and economically mismatched partners, who are condemned to curse their stars. Despite the so-called educational awakening and gender equality, women have very often married men with undesirable habits and no financial stability. On the other hand, men blinded by the dazzling physical glare have often been paired with some arrogant, lazy, and ill-tempered girls. If both exercise their judgement and look for compatibility, rather than external and outward qualities, they have a greater chance of making a marriage work.

Ved Guliani

High on ambition...

This refers to the article, "High on ambition, they like to play down their achievements" by Rajshree Sarda (October, 28). It contains valuable observations on the topic. That people should value their life partners, according to their worth in terms of love, affection and other intrinsic qualities and not according to the money they bring, belongs to the world of Utopia and not to the materialistic world we are living in now a days. More often than not, it is not realistic. Valuing the partner as a person rather than a financial fountainhead is as it should be, but there is a clearly discernible gap between what is and what ought to be. Like it or not, nowadays most of the relationships hinge upon what the partners bring to it financially. The reactions of others’, their own standing, their feelings of security and even self-worth, mostly depend upon this overwhelmingly strong factor. A woman may be affectionate, loving, caring, sacrificing. She may be a column of moral support, a source of sunny laughter, highly talented, a good house-keeper and a graceful hostess, but what does all this, in the real life, add to ? More often than not, it leads to no security, respect or say, for she can’t translate all these qualities into cash. Unless she can spell out all her love and care in the financial language or the so-called financial alphabet, she remains as vulnerable as ever. Barring the rare exceptions of some highly appreciative husbands who bestow all respect and adoration on their wives, even though they bring no regular addition to the family kitty, a woman is mostly sidelined, insulted and humiliated at every step unless she is capable of earning money.

Sad as it is, it is a fact that a woman who usually gets all the respect despite being a simple housewife, is the one who has either brought a lot of assets with her as an heiress or come as a gold-wrapped precious package, Even so, it is not her own worth, but rather what financial gains she has brought to the marriage that get her the preferential treatment.

So, it is a fact that the people nowadays mostly do tend to see their partner’s worth through the tinted glasses of what the other "brings" to the partnership, Simply projecting the emotional assets and other qualities usually get her nowhere.

Isn’t it, then, better to be facing a little insecurity and a pinch of resentment by earning more, rather than not earning and being brushed aside as an inconsequential entity, who is solely dependent upon the spouse for every penny that she spends or needs to spend ?

Right or wrong, money in the modern world signifies power and women do need this power to be in a better, less hostile and more conducive scenario. Besides, they do need it in order to lend a boldly supportive shoulder to their equally hardworking husbands.

Financial power and self-sufficiency might be leading to various problems, but just ask those who don’t have that power at all how it feels to live without it. Isn’t the former much better than the latter, more dismal scenario ? It certainly is.

Amrit Pal Tiwana


In Indian homes, often the man of the house is seen sitting in a leisurely manner with a news paper or a magazine of his interest, shamelessly oblivious of the plight of his overburdened spouse who is torn psycologically and physically by the endless demands made on her by the home and her career.

In a desperate effort to be an ideal mother wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, housewife and a careerwoman, her system seems to collapse, reducing her to a human machine.

The moot point here is, who is responsible for this kind of mentality ingrained in the personality of the Indian male? Who has conditioned him into behaving thus? Perhaps, it pertains chiefly to his early parenting and the value-system imbibed, howsoever unconsciously. It is customary to watch girls coping with the drudgery of the household jobs right from their childhood onwards. The inherent bias for the girl child in this patriarchal society pampers the male child from the very first day of his birth. No wonder, the teenaged boy is mostly seen priding himself with his cricketbat or loitering around on his mobike or on his papa’s car with his rowdy pals, whereas his younger sister is invariably found doing everyday chores. Against such a background, it is of vital importance for the Government of India to draw up a National plan of Action for Women which should recognise the right of the woman to be free from the bondage of drudgery and exploitation and an intervention to sensitise men on the need for equal treatment, dignity and respect for the woman in the family and community as well as support in their day-to-day work.

It is important that the ageold, dichotomous and gender-based classification of works into water -tight compartments of a ‘man’s task’ and a woman’s task’ be discarded. Aqualitative shift has to take place to view woman not just as an object but as a subject and what is more, as a subject with a voice.

K.M. Vashisht

Who works harder: mom or pop?

This is with reference to the letter by Nandita (October 21) in response to the "Male viewpoint" by Nirmal Sandhu (October 7, one can easily say that letter was exaggerated, belligerent and lacked keen perception.

What about some women in offices who come late, go early and get their work done by some colleagues? The presence of such women in offices distracts the men working genuinely and vitiates the functioning of the institution.

The tradition of women staying at home and men hunting outside was not due to dominance of men but actually a mutual understanding as governed by their distinct biology and physical makeup. No work is lowly or sacred. I agree that the very idea of making children discuss about who works harder is dishonourable. Such provocative and competitive thinking is sure to harm the already endangered institution of marriage. Can there not be a deeper communion between husband and wife which is not based on a sense of one being exploited? Can there be no deeper insight which ensures that they work for the common goal securing their future and educating their children, making them better citizens and working for a life that is harmonious?

Sanjeev Salgotra


The response by Nandita (Oct 21) depicts, the hidden desire of the female to present herself as superior. Teaching a kid who works more will not serve any purpose because in the coming life they will themselves realise as to who works more.

The desire for a male child is hidden more in the psyche of the female more than it is in that of the men. This, of course, leads to a large family and problems related with that. Being a medical practioner, I have seen that psychological problems like depression and neurotic behaviour, is much more common in females.

Teaching a kid who works more will not serve any purpose in a country where the life of more than two-third of population revole a round bread and the desire to have butter.

Rakesh Sood

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