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A plotting mother-in-law, the sultry seductive ‘other woman’, the selfish woman in flesh of a saintly friend, the unsupportive husband, the strict father.. looks like we just opened a box of the tele-serial world, isn’t it? Inspired by real life as the world of soap operas is, the fact is that today we are in the company of those few who have spoiled the way everyone else in their situations is looked at.
Feminism, some one just reminded me a day ago is a woman’s thing. Amused as I was, I kept on thinking why is it that when we think of a feminist, we think of a woman who is there raging with anger and shouting out slogans against men.
It is true that those situations used to be there earlier, but today, as times have changed, feminism has moved beyond bra burning and occupy the street kind of movements, and as I say this, I don’t intend to demean the value of them as well.
The larger discussion today should be how feminism and the struggle for making women more empowered has a lot of do with women themselves than the men around, who have to indeed play a strong role. But when I talk of feminism, I want to move beyond the whole idea of ‘male Bashing’ and the ‘blame it on your counterpart’ game. I might sound a little more preachy and spiritual here, but the key to understanding Feminism lies in understanding the concept of ‘Standing up for yourself’ and not ‘Standing against someone’.
I was talking to a friend when she remarked that the only way this particular colleague of hers gets her work done in her office is opening the two top buttons of her shirt, her body posture leaning a little more towards male colleagues and flipping her hair right and left as she spoke. While everyone has a right to do what they want, and someone’s dressing up or down should not be a reason to question them or their character, I still fail to understand why that would work more. As for the one who is standing beside in subtle attire, tied up hair, much more talented, the struggles are much higher.
Moving beyond all this, the thing that makes me wonder how ‘one woman spoils it for every other’ is that even those who dress up or dress down and are not trying to signal to their counterparts are looked at with evil eyes. For the women around question her and the men around lech at her.
And this debate continues beyond mere work structures. A friend recently said, “My mother-in-law is not such a typical mother-in-law like the ones I used to be scared about. You know the typical out-of-horrific-family-dramas character”. As she said this, I realized how the general notion towards a mother-in-law has been that she is the wicked character of the family that a girl plans to enter. And that can be attributed to the fact that somewhere the story of that one evil character has spread like a fire in the forest, spoiling it for all the good ones too.
While this one side of the story is on how women blame other women, and mostly one case spoils the image of everyone else, the other side is of blaming men. I overheard a woman talking in a food court a few days ago. “My father had done the same thing, not letting me handle my life on my own terms and my husband is doing the same. I work so hard, day in and day out but no one appreciates, cooking-cleaning-children take up my life.”, she remarked. The discussion that followed helped me understand how we mostly try to blame our situation on others, especially the men and do not take the burden of changing the situation on our shoulders.
There can be numerous examples. And these might be just 10% (an approximate exaggerated figure) of the whole lot, but they create the image for others. The very reason that one bad fish can spoil the life of the ones in the pool is a clichéd statement but a fact here. We need to look into us before we go around blaming our bosses, husbands, fathers. Before we do something that speaks for other women too, we need to stop and think of the repercussions it might have for all the women in similar situations. We need to understand that the first level of change is “I”. Going on and speaking evil of the husband/father for not letting you do a particular thing can happen only when you have rebelled (subtly, that works more) enough and found no solution. Negotiation, after all is a trick women do/can specialize in.
And as I see women demeaning women, judging their every single act, making them fall rather than succeed, I look at the tele serials and realize that the world today looks at others, especially women with shades of either extreme black or extreme white. Grey seems to be absent. And that being true, this is even more in case of women judging women.
Are we as feminists, losing the ground of being humanists? I am just trying to question the culture of ‘male bashing’ and ‘Oh! She is the evil one’ for every single failure of our struggle to question our patriarchal social roles. While there are men who won’t let us work, there are those who will happily support the cause. Instead of painting the movement of empowerment against males, let’s first look inside and question how many of females are against us.
Questions we can ask ourselves before we act and react:
– Who is responsible for my situation?
– Have I done anything to change that situation?
– Has negotiation failed? If yes, should I rebel further?
– Am I being driven or I am driving my life?
– Am I being supportive to other women in similar situations, or worse?
Against or in favour? The classic debate!
Pic credit: Martin (Used under a Creative Commons license)
A Development Communication & Social Work professional working in the field of gender, health and technology
Wow! Great article Suchi. We hear of mothers in law/ mothers who are baby sitting for their d-i-l’s/ daughters so they can work or study. However at a certain level I think women do go ‘against’ other women.
you have very well drafted the article and deserve appreciation for such a nice work. Self Help Groups constituted by ladies in vilolages are not successful because of the reason you have mentioned in nyour article.
Dr Mrs Sushma Joiya Pandit
No, women do not need to bash men. But let’s remember that in many of the “women-pull-down-women” statements made, men are given a free pass. for example, in the very example cited by a commentor above, why are mothers/MILs baby-sitting “for their DILs/daughters”? Did those DILs/daughters make those kids alone? But, its cited as one woman doing it for another women. What about the men who sired those kids? Men are also enabled to go to work only because some woman (whether wife or mother or MIL) is looking after their kids.
Women can be good, bad or ugly just like men. But the systemic reasons why women fight with each other (MIL vs DIL for e.g.) are mostly because of power structures. The MIL gets respect because of having sired a boy and with women having little to do outside the house, they want to hold on to what they have inside. The cycle continues as the DIL gets her day when she becomes a MIL. So, lets not just point fingers at women for not supporting each other, but also look at some of the systemic reasons.
I take your point about looking within though – we are often stronger than we know, and should look within for the strength to fight discrimination, and not just cry about it (although a good cry also helps sometimes!)
Thanks to Suchi and Riti for putting across their views very beautifully. The same questions have come to my mind too. For eg. you can see in this blog itself….the name women’s web reveals that it has more concerns related to women. So, I seriously doubt if many men will look into it, as they may brush it off, thinking it is something to do with gynaecological issues, taking care of a baby or kid, etc. So, does it mean that men do not think much about these issues, because they think it does not affect them?
The new trend of blogging in such sites definitely has its merit, because, this is also more like a self help group for women. How many women like us would have thought of similar issues, but when we discussed with our partner or their family, we were looked at as weird or arrogant. When we come across similar thoughts in the blogs we are able to understand that they were all trying to suppress us, because they did not want us to leave the family fabric, so as to maintain them within their fold. This is because we are in a ‘patriarchal’ society. Imagine a situation, wherein the husband is supposed to live with the wife and her parents after marriage, and the wife is the care taker of the parents in their old age. I am sure, there will still be issues in the family, wherein the husband and the wife’s father may not get along well. The wife will be supported by her parents, the husband will not have much say, he might find the atmosphere claustrophobic.
This is just a power struggle in the family. For an ideal set up, the husband and wife need to establish a separate family with their own routine, so that both need to show flexibility in their new life (unlike the current situation wherein it is expected only from the wife), both of them take turns in baby sitting, financial aspects and take care of both side parents, when in need.
This struggle is happening because, women have started expressing their need for space, freedom of living in it and the right to enjoy her life, just as another human being, and not willing to stoically accept whatever life doles out to her.
To conclude I would like to say that we need to voice our rights(not request or beg for the same) in other sites TOO, so that when the patriarchal society gets more clarity that women are trying to assert their space, and not impinge in the men’s rights, they would understand the situation better. They will just pooh-pooh the opinions in the beginning and may even act as if to over-rule the ideas. They do it, because they have started feeling insecure that they may be over-powered by women. Nonetheless, women should learn to assert because she has every right to enjoy her space, inspite of the various names she gets due to this.
Interesting think piece and portraying the image of compartmentalized society based on genders.
Personally, I think, by and Large, the third world societies struggle with lower literacy rates (though there are many other social ills exits apart from lack of educational avenues, however education can subdue many of socio-economic troubles) and in these circumstances it is hard to anticipate a clarity over the notion of “feminism”. Ideally, if someone lives in a “knowledge based societies’, then one may understand effectively the issues posed by feminist standpoint.
Next point, the societal structure, whether its West or East still limits individuals at various scales from achieving their due rights (notion of rights itself varies with reference to context and space, i.e. in recent years access to internet itself become one of basic right, but third world societies are still grappling with completely different domains of social rights. Therefore, pace and level of change both at tangible and intangible scale differs across the world and within same society too), and in some cases we don’t understand the limits of freedom too, which seems a sudden / radical challenge to primordial structures of society whether it be at personal, family, group or greater scale.
So, what to be done, when we witness society is being compartmentalized between gender groups both at intra & inter level? First of all, it is significant to acknowledge that there are umpteen of instances which shows some positive trends in various pockets of the world / societies, as some instances are also identified in the article too. To unravel the issues related to gender and development, at least state policies can initiate programs for “GENDER SENSITIZATION” and enriching Female human capital through equal opportunities, these policies can be employed at educational and work place. There will be an optimistic pay off.
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