For a change, any change, ALL of us have to begin with OURSELVES. We are all part of the problem and all of us can and should be part of the solution.
During the lockdown, the whole family is at home and have the opportunity to have most of the meals together thanks to work from home. And every day presents a new opportunity for a debate at the dining table.
In light of the ‘Bois Locker Room’ incident and the waves that Thappad is making, today’s discussion was about the cause of women’s suffering over the ages.
Epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bible and Quran are wonderful works. Each character depicted in all of these is meant to be made acquaintance with, understood and analysed according to each person. However, religious scholars made an interpretation of these works and since then it has been strictly adhered to without any room for another point of view.
For example, let’s take Ramayana (I believe it is more familiar and more relatable) If you read it strictly as a literary work, understand and analyse each character, you have the opportunity to understand their behaviour in that situation. These string of events are often interpreted too magnanimously for cultural and religious convenience by the society.
The author, thousands of years ago, was capable of depicting such liberal thinking in Sita. She was a forbidden wife but made the bold decision in voicing her decision of returning to her mother’s lap than being a queen. Her logic, was quite simple- her husband, Ram, had deserted in the time of need, during her pregnancy.
He leaves her in a forest to face the challenges of child birth and the threat to her life without citing any reason for the same. For years, no one knew where she was. And almost a decade later, Ram goes back to her, to possess her. But she exercises her right to liberty and makes a choice not to go with him. She, bluntly, rejects his offer of being Ayodhya’s queen.
This liberal thinking was not allowed by the religious custodians to be communicated to the public. With a patriarchal mindset, they spread the word that her birth in human form was over and she had to leave to vaikuntha. Thus, the mental conditioning of thought process began during the ancient period. And it continued in different forms over several ages.
For obvious reasons of possessing money, power and control, the thought process and notions are conditioned and taken forward as legacy. Over a period, institutionalising a belief system in the mindsets for generations leads to inequality among men and women.
Women had always been potential threat of overpowering and hence are a group that needs to be controlled. Capitalist patriarchy is the tool through which the doctrine is passed on to the next generation as a glorified legacy. This gives them control and power that over a period was transformed into misogynist frame of mind that helped sustenance of the power.
Movies like Thappad and Damini eloquently illustrate the patriarchal conditioning and internalising of misogyny even by women that is spilled all around them. But the fact remains that hardened minds take decades and centuries to see the truth that is told in the epics.
It is the same conditioning that harnesses ‘bois locker rooms.’ Boys are not born with the Locker Room mentality. Capitalist patriarchy injects this poison which hurts these boys too. This capitalist patriarchy not only harms women but men as well.
The boy has always been given the responsibility of being the provider, and bread-winner but he cannot be emotional. A man is cornered into emotional castration and hence is not given the emotional expression. The conditioning has confined men into money making instruments.
In order to sustain the power that conditioning supposedly assigned to a man, he is pushed to exert violence and establish that power. Their supremacy has to be established by putting down the women. As nature has not made them different intelligence-wise, they are compelled to do it by being superior resorting to violence. For this, religion is a premise. And thanks to religion, patriarchy has framed certain powers to men and submissiveness to women.
The conditioning that imbibed into the whole generation resulted in women and mothers supporting the misogynist outlook. Thappad illustrates it very well. The father, a feminist man supports the daughter in times of crisis while the mother doesn’t, instead, unfairly tells her to adjust. Her mother is not a bad person, but has internalised some ideas. These were the ideas her mother passes on to her.
Despite having a supportive husband, she could never let go the deep-rooted ideas internalised within her. In society, though very few men raise their voices against patriarchy and for gender equality, it was not accepted by common man. Reason was simple- the benefits the patriarchy gave men were enormous.
However, slowly and gradually, women started to learn to voice out. But, the hardened society did not accept it as easily. In fact, those who dared to speak up were targeted, shamed, silenced, and ridiculed. This gave an opening to the bois locker room attitude.
It is also strange that instead of speaking out for what’s wrong, we find reasons and excuses for condoning it. Instead we find ways to question the women, or men who raise their voices. We distract and deviate from the subject and dilute it, until the real issue is forgotten. And it happens all too frequently.
Bois Locker Room for many of us has been highly traumatising and it drives us to identify the reasons for such happenings (involving supposedly harmless delinquents). Women have been taken back to their own pasts when they were violated in some way or the other. Bullied, ridiculed, shamed, questioned, discredited – all because men yearn to continue doing what they have always done.
The fear, the worry, the shame is all too real for all of women. They were silenced because they feared the consequences. That they would be made to quit their education, refused permission to go out, meet friends, follow their passions, etc. It is a long list, what they sacrificed in exchange for speaking-up. And so they were forced to keep quiet.
Hence, the liberal thinking to present in the epics shown as a thumb rule, is denied to the generations next, as these ‘custodians of culture’ had obvious reasons to do so.
All those women who voice-out against such things, are branded arrogant, masculine or attention seeking by both men and other women too! Again this is the conditioning that a women receives criticism from men as feedback “for their own good.” And similar criticism from a woman, is termed as“nasty” and “unbecoming”.
It must also be noted that often, when men do want to criticise women, they route it via a female figure. For example, a father-in-law may ask his wife to convey a criticism about the daughter-in-law to her. This makes the mother-in-law the villain, while the father-in-law remains a kind, uncomplaining father figure. The societal conditioning is still to keep the patriarchal superiority intact.
Such internalising leads women to strive to win the ideal daughter-in-law image. How can forgetting her own dreams and living for others become the characteristics of an ‘ideal daughter-in-law’? This is the reflection of how deep rooted patriarchy is in our society with a painting of religious morality.
Irony is, it is so engraved in our minds that it has become NORMAL. That is how we have been programmed to think and function. We are programmed to believe that being a ‘good wife’ means to take efforts and bring happiness to the rest of the household.
In Thappad, it is so evident that she is taken for granted. The news from the office colleague upsets him and he slaps his wife. But we find no mistake in him of that action as he is frustrated and hence justified.
In fact at one point where husband tries desperately to fix their marriage we feel sorry for him. We almost wish that she forgives him and moves on with their marriage. Saving the marriage is so important to us than the self esteem of a woman. We are conditioned like that.
Consent, respect, equality will always remain mere words until we learn how to dismantle the existing societal structures completely.
But however subtle the change is, it will be real. Sita’s liberal thinking is in every woman only waiting for an apt time and space to voice out. They would not be silent spectators and their strength in some way permeates. So also, the young boys of this generation are not perverts, but are conditioned by the same capitalist patriarchy.
We all wish to stop such discrimination, establish the rule of law, with a humanistic approach and create homes and societies where girls and women are accepted, respected. And one where they have dignity and freedom. However, for this, ALL of us have to begin with OURSELVES. We are all part of the problem and all of us can and should be part of the solution.
And, fortunately, it is happening already. Thappad is an illustration of that evidence given by today’s society. While Damini had to face threat of life encounter many challenges for speaking, Amrita could achieve it better, though not the idealistic way yet. The women who spoke up, refuse to be silenced. They refuse to allow anyone or anything that weaken their resolve. Or distract from the cause.
When we worship Sita who decided to make a choice for being taken for granted, why are we not ready to give the same liberty to this generation? Because, the capitalistic patriarchal mindsets conditioned us to be so.
This conditioning is more so in women. They lose the identity and get engrossed and become busy being a home maker. And are so happy when the home is doing fine and everything goes smoothly. They ignore their identity and are content with the happiness of everyone around.
Very often when women are taken for granted, not respected, questioned and abused that’s when the UNHAPPINESS comes out. But the habituated patriarchal society is not ready to even see that she is unhappy. For generations now, it is this unhappy state that has been transferred from mothers to several generations and the “why was I born a girl” rant continues.
The seeds of respect are the ones that are to be sown now. Only a person who treats oneself with respect and everyone around as oneself can spread happiness. Every single person deserves respect. The mental conditioning of both men and women needs to undergo a drastic change to ensure that change is long lasting.
These roots of the problem which women are facing today are buried deep deep down, to a point that it is cannot be traced. And unless we cleanse it from the roots, we are just plucking out the weeds which for sure will grow again even faster.
The seeds of this issue were sown thousands of years ago and to completely cleanse it, take many more. A concerted attempt to change the mental conditioning of both men and women will go long way to make a great beginning towards the objective of women’s’ emancipation.
Picture credits: Still from series Siya Ke Ram
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Am a enthusiastic writer who writes in english, hindi and telugu. My interests are social
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