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Even today, glorifying motherhood and questioning women’s choices about having children, is the norm in India.
Recently the Facebook Motherhood challenge resurfaced and women in India religiously followed the rules and posted five pictures with their children and tagged five other ‘amazing’ moms to the post, thus keeping the challenge alive.
Social media was abuzz with motherhood pictures, with images of mothers with their children; the hashtag is always a huge hit, and gets trending every now and then.
Women proudly flaunt their motherhood with images; for some it is just light-hearted fun, for others, it is a proud display of their dear kids. The emotion, the affective content behind these images are priceless and are, cherished ones, no doubt. But are they appropriate? Are they in the right spirit of feminist values we have been trying to uphold in an increasingly misogynous Indian context?
Indian society is undoubtedly a patriarchal one, where narratives glorifying motherhood always become popular and reinforce the values of the mother, the sacrificing, heavenly image of a woman whose identity gets shrunk into that of a mother, wife, daughter and so on. From the self-sacrificing mother of the mythical times to the maternal tags we give to women as a symbol of honour today, motherhood and images glorifying the status of motherhood are aplenty.
As in the rest of the world, motherhood is a cultural phenomenon exploited by the media and the commoditized social reality to serve the interests of capitalism. Images of motherhood have been used in nation building activities and as part of political agendas across the world. It is institutionalised everywhere and gendered stereotyping is the norm. Perceptions about motherhood revolve around devotion, compassion, caregiving and of course, sacrifice of the supreme kind. Frameworks of motherly affection and expectations are faithfully set in place for women to fit in snugly.
Social sanctions given to the ‘coveted’ position of motherhood triggers reactions of various kinds in our society that seeks to pull back the progressive nature of several movements that strive to create a better society for women in India. Women’s choices are constantly questioned when it comes to the issue of motherhood.
I have friends, couples who defiantly tell the world that they prefer not to be parents. They are forced to announce repeatedly, almost every year since their marriage, that they are couples who choose to remain childfree. The societal pressure such couples encounter is stressful and often the questions they are forced to hear intrude upon the private, intimate spaces of individuals. Apart from in the metros, living as a childfree couple is an arduous task.
Another category of women who suffer due to the myth of motherhood, are the women who are married and childless and hope to be mothers, if possible. This category of women undergoes the worse form of torture in the form of infertility treatments. Their bodies are violated, they undergo hormonal treatments that alter their temperaments and are subjected to emotional and physical harassment of an extreme nature. The social ostracism faced by women who are unable to conceive is often validated by this glorification of motherhood in images of popular culture.
Another form of social stigma attached to this concept of motherhood is the one faced by mothers who are accused of killing or hurting their children. Even before the law decides upon the course of punishment, or even before the crime has been proved, the woman accused of the crime is brutally attacked verbally, emotionally and at times even physically. Social media will spare not a moment to condemn her as the killer mother, or use the opportunity to vilify women who speak for equal rights. Feminism is then trolled extensively and motherhood is hailed as the ultimate goal before which the woman’s identity crumbles into insignificance.
So can we be a little more sensitive to the cultural and political nuances that define motherhood in contemporary society? We might be able to create a more inclusive society, not just for women but for all genders.
The top image is a screen grab from the Hindi movie Karan Arjun
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Reads and writes and thinks about gender identities and cultural contexts.. involves actively in women'
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