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Accepting women's anger is accepting their right to be so to be no less than men - a step towards equal rights and equal voices.
It is Women’s History Month, or International Women’s Month if you are more into the present.
Women’s rights still have a long way to go, and there’s a lot to be celebrated of the journey so far. But call me insane, it bothers me that half of the human race requires this month to begin with. It should never have had to be a struggle. It should always have been a given.
Equality and equal rights for all members of the race don’t seem like too much to ask for. That’s what I want to talk about as my way of doing women’s history month – the fights, or rather the women who fight it. Or to be more specific, the soft patriarchy around how women are made to feel for having to fight.
In my book Beyond #MeToo, I have written about how feminists were portrayed throughout history, with quotes as blatant as, as this Washington Post mentions, ‘feminists leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians’ to women who are ‘destroyers of families.’ Or as activist Renuka Pamecha has been called, ‘ghar jalaane wali auratein’.
And there’s not much that you need to do to be labelled such. Meaning, activist Pamecha has been called so for taking cases of domestic violence and assault victims to police stations and trying to intervene in dysfunctional families for the sake of the women.
But we all know of women who are called that for just refusing to be the unproportionate bearers of the domestic load. Yes, times are changing. But soft patriarchy lives on through these subtle guilt-tripping and virtue signalling tactics employed within families, by men and women.
Most women around me, feel guilty about being the ones to have to speak up and ask for help – because they are immediately gaslighted as not good homemakers – as women whose priorities lie not in marriage, motherhood, or family.
It starts however even before and goes beyond this. It starts with the labelling of women when they start having a temper. Or more broadly, a voice, that is immediately outlined with ominous unvirtuous notes of temper. Such a woman is quarrelsome and obviously, her husband is a joru ka gulam.
Let me give some examples.
Growing up, and all through my college years, I heard the words ‘Phoolan Devi’, ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’, and ‘Ma Kali’ assigned to girls (including myself), who weren’t necessarily confrontational, but just not docile. And alas, these, were seldom meant as compliments.
It would all have been fine and dismissed as just human reaction in search of peace and acceptance if boys who fought had been also called Mahadev in Rudra avatar or Shivaji. That happened only if someone went full berserk, thrashing people or property.
It is as if, you need to be labelled only if ‘you are angry while being a woman’. Even Kali is worshipped in a form in which her tongue is sticking out in embarrassment from having stepped on her husband. Her losing of composure, so needed and so justified, ultimately a problem that needed to be reigned in. Ultimately a matter she felt terrible about.
Another example is what I witnessed in Whitefields Bangalore, in the apartment complex my sister stays in. Anytime there is a problem with the society’s handling of things – from water connection to dubious constructions to lagging permits, even though my sister is the society secretary, men (and families) would come into her home with the problem, expecting her husband to speak.
Now, my sister is a strong, idealist woman who uses facts more than emotion while my brother-in-law, more often than not, wants all kinds of conflicts to disappear, even if it means a compromise to his disadvantage. Of course, some kudos has to be given for such zen – but that’s not the point here. The point is, when my sister responds, she is labelled as getting angry and unnecessarily agitated.
The stares are diverted to her husband – first plea glances and then pitiful ones – expecting an intervention. Intervention, in this case, means let’s not have a woman muddle the water. When my brother-in-law leaves the decisions (and the dialogues) to his wife – well, let’s just say it’s a puzzling development that is disapproved of.
Obvioulsy, it’s needless to say it doesn’t matter how calmly she speaks, if it’s firmly spoken it signals anger – not that anger would be wrong. But it’s important to note that it’s not just labelling and disregarding of a woman’s voice in today’s urban society, it’s also how much leeway a woman is allowed when it comes to emotions before she is labelled. And this is in Bangalore, amongst urban working professionals.
How many of us have felt the same, seating in with our relatives – men and women – afraid to say what we want to say, fearing a label of ‘bad influence’.
Now, why does it matter? Why not just keep women in peace and let men take the angry (read difficult) roles?
Well, firstly, this and such ‘not too bothersome’ elements of soft patriarchy have long-lasting consequences for a woman’s position in society. What is practised as culture permeates into permanent definitions.
For example, in this society (meaning the apartment society here), every time I have passed through the gates, I have been ignored (despite staying there for months) except for the times when I was accompanied by my brother-in-law, during which there was always a ‘hello’ or ‘good morning sir’ from the guards.
Societies in which women are not given a place to be themselves and are considered passengers rather than decision-makers, eventually cease to exist.
I contrast to this with my childhood society in Kolkata where historically there has been equal representation in society meetings and equal voice. And yes, I have often heard in my circles that Bengali women are argumentative and opinionated, and therefore, dominate their men.
I am not trying to generalize around any race here (because it can’t be done – Bengal is not free of such problems). I am trying to make a point that where there is representation and acceptance of women and their anger (read strongly expressed opinion), there is a different societal behaviour.
I use the word anger here even though there is a double standard because I am not fighting the stretch. I am making a case for acceptance and normalization of ‘anger’ in women just as it is in men.
Well, in men, anger is often celebrated (remember Chak de – where Shahrukh losing his composure at last during the canteen fight and his problematic dialogue is applauded while the same in Balbir is comedy material?) – but that’s a long way to go.
This is seen in other societies also, so singling out is not fair. For example, angry black women have been again made into a myth and often used in caricature comedy in the past decades in the US.
I have seen this during our travel through Greece where we were having problems at the Airbnb we were staying at. Every time I would speak to the host, he would speak in turn to my husband. But that doesn’t make it right. That doesn’t mean this is not problematic.
In a way, hard patriarchy is easier to fight because it’s in your face. Terrible abuse is always terrible. It’s the softer things that we don’t recognize and therefore mould into, that is more damaging.
That is why my plea for breaking the bias this Women’s month is a case for angry women, and us accepting them with pride. Accepting women’s anger is accepting their right to be so to be no less than men – a step towards equal rights and equal voices.
Image Source: Still from short film Being Women, YouTube
Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...
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