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We hear this so often – ‘women are women’s worst enemies’! No! Here’s why this is a popular perception – and it has everything to do with patriarchy.
I am a very amenable and easy to get along person (at least I’d like to think I am). There is not much that ruffles my feathers. Even if something does, I try to reason out and make peace with it in what I think is the best possible way. There are few things though that get my goat. I get restless when confronted by these few things. I keep thinking and stressing over it.
As you must’ve guessed by now, I was facing one of those few things when one of my best friends stated a fact on our girl friends’ Whatsapp group. When one of our friends suggested that we try to build a network for helping out married women facing issues with their husband’s and in-laws, another friend replied that it would be a good idea because mostly women tend to pull down other women because of insecurities and jealousies.
I have heard this reasoning so many times, but it never ceases to give me a migraine. How conveniently we blame women for pulling down other women while letting other reasons (read men) go scot free! Yes, I agree there are always exceptions to the rule, but I cannot imagine that we can blame the problems that we women face squarely on other womens’ shoulders. I know where this mostly comes from. It mostly comes from the dreaded mother-in-law (MIL) and daughter-in-law (DIL) relationship dynamics.
The link to the story that prompted such a comment from my friend was about a DIL who had been forced to move to her in-laws 1 bedroom apartment along with her husband and child because he lost his job in the US of A. The hapless DIL writes a harrowing account of how her life had changed considerably because of the pressure and work load her MIL has been putting on her.
Quite heart-wrenching really. No doubt about that. I can imagine how helpless the DIL must be feeling and my heart goes out to her. No wonder that we feel extremely angry at the MIL and feel like she’s the root cause of the problems facing the DIL and since the MIL is a woman, we conveniently pay homage to the oft repeated – Women are women’s worst enemies! I would say that is going a little too far! Let’s put our ‘coloured against MIL’ lenses away and try to reason this very common story out.
On the surface, it sure looks like the MIL is a monster-in-law. But do you really think that she had wanted this to happen? Here she was happily living her life with her husband after having taken care of her son’s marriage and career. Lo and Behold! Her son lands with his wife and child in tow. Suddenly the number of people in the household swells from 2 to 5. The space remains the same, a little lesser even with the arrival of 3 new members and their belongings. Not quite the best of situations now, wouldn’t you think?
There are so many things that go along with going from living with your spouse to living with your child’s family. What does the MIL do? She doesn’t turn them out. She doesn’t tell them to make this a temporary place. She opens her small home for them. What would have happened had she not done so? Where would they have gone with no savings and no job? Agreed, that she does this because of her son. But still, she doesn’t turn away the DIL, does she? Is the MIL the enemy here? As I stated earlier that is going a little too far.
Ditto for the DIL. Here she is caught in a situation that she had nothing to do with. She is just following her husband for her survival. He brings her to his parents home. She moves in because there is nothing else she could do. Imagine her situation where she goes from being the mistress of her own home to being an inhabitant in her MILs house. Once again, not a peachy kind of situation for her too.
What my point her is that both the DIL and MIL are driven by their limiting situations and both are reacting to this new phase of life. They are struggling on their own in their own spaces. If we could set aside our biases and look at the situation for what it is, then we would blame the situation as the culprit, not the people involved and definitely not the entire female population.
To understand anything related to the dynamics of relationships between human beings, one needs to first understand the way we human beings are wired. At the very basic level, the first thing that we are born with is a keen sense of our own survival. We need to live and we need to live well. For that we need to be the fittest to survive. If we are not the fittest physically, then we need to be the fittest mentally. If we lack both of these then our very existence becomes suspect. As human beings, we are constantly trying to cement our places within our homes, with our families, friends and the entire world. How do we do this? We do this by making use of the tools made available to us in the best way possible.
What are these tools? These tools are our intellectual abilities. We observe, we learn, we assimilate what is of value to us and apply that knowledge to further and better our lives. The things that we observe and learn are dicated by a wide variety of factors. The family we are born into, the culture that surrounds us, the way we are made to think, the things we are made to learn etc etc dictate how we acquire and use the tools towards our survival. If we are taught to believe that we can survive in our home only if we took control of everything that goes on in it, wouldn’t we try to have every bit of control we can? Would we be willing to relinquish that control without a fight? Doesn’t our culture imbibe in us women that we need to be take care of our men and our homes so that our men in turn take care of us?
Didn’t my culture tell me that as a woman I need to always look towards my father, my brother, my husband and then my son to take care of me? As a woman don’t I need to make sure that one of them is always there to shoulder the responsibility of my existence? All I was taught is that I needed to make sure that the various manly men are on my side for me to lead a comfortable life. So if I strive to make them on my side, how does that make me the worst enemy of the woman on the other side of the equation? I am just trying to tilt the balance of survival as was laid out to me by all the wise men that preceded me towards my side. I can’t help it if the other side suffers a few bruises in the process now, can I?
For me as a person my bringing up has been dictated mostly by the norms of the society that told me that the only way I could hope to reach salvation is if I marry a good man and he takes care of me till the day I die. That is what I go by and is it a wonder then that when I marry this man I struggle for my survival by making sure that he looks after me.
Isn’t that survival of the fittest my basic quality as a human being? Then why would I be judged as a woman who is another woman’s worst enemy? I am not fighting a woman here, I am fighting the entity that stands against my survival. If society has chosen to make that person to be from my own gender, what am I supposed to do? Just bow my head and allow my existence to just wither away? Or should I look after my own survival and try to fight this entity with all the tools I have gathered in my life? Wouldn’t I be applauded if this entity happened to be a natural calamity or a virus or a tragedy or even an extra terrestrial? So why then is my role as a woman in fighting an entity that happens to be a woman is used towards labeling me as being another woman’s worst enemy?
Before making such a preposterous, generalized and sweeping statement let us first give credence to the fact that almost all the rules and laws governing our lives and our society have been laid down by venerable men. These are the people who laid the groundwork making sure that women turned against women. To be fair to these respectable men, they were also looking out for their survival. They knew that if they were to rule the world, they had to make sure that their domination continued. The best way to make sure of this was to prevent anyone else from gaining that upper hand. Rules were laid down, battle lines were drawn and a huge list of dos and don’ts were put in place for the human race – for the women by the men. Being as we were at that time ‘cave’ beings where physical strength dictated the domination, there was nothing for us women to do then to give in and we did. We women were manipulated, beaten, raped, dragged, lynched, killed (with a plethora of other violent acts) into submission.
In this era where physical strength has a diminished impact, we women are being subjected to psychological conditioning. Adages like the one we are talking about makes us turn our attention towards our worst enemies – ourselves, while ignoring the outside danger. We are so busy trying to fight off the women in our lives that we forget about the bigger enemy – the men. Like lambs being led to the slaughter house, we allow ourselves to be manipulated in our thoughts and actions.
We need to stop this slave mentality that has been drilled into our psyche. We need to stop men from telling us that we are our worst enemies. We need to stop them from telling us anything. We need to start thinking with our brains and not with the brains of those venerable men who seem to take great pleasure in dictating what a woman should or should not do. We women need to mobilize. We need to understand that we have mothers, sisters, girl friends and daughters we could turn to.
Men are not the be all and end all of our existence as we are led to believe. We don’t need to fight each other for them. They surely don’t deserve it. As for us women who fight each other, at least we are not using nuclear weapons to destroy our worst enemies, like our men folk do!