Note: Written by Suraj Prasad and Prerna Mitra, published before. Seemed slightly relevant now so posting it. (Modified it a bit)
In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman :Margaret Thatcher
But Aristotle once said ‘A woman is a woman by virtue of certain lack of qualities.’ What made Aristotle say this? Was this plainly the whim of a chauvinist or was this cemented as a result of his observations and experiences? One may never be able to know for sure but it is commonplace to find men who hold similar views even today. The phrase, ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’, has rung in our minds almost an innumerable number of times. What is noteworthy here is the fact that though the woman is given credit for the man’s success, she invariably finds herself standing behind him, but not on par or ahead of him.
Is she still behind him?
The answer: She is Still Behind
As per the Holy Bible, let’s look at the following verses:
002:007 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
002:021 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;
002:022 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.
002:023 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
Thus came the woman, who was made out of Man’s rib. Flesh of his flesh … bone of his bone. They would cling to each other and live for one another. What then happened to this eternal closeness that they shared? Why suddenly did there grow an animosity among them? For centuries we have seen women being guided according to the will of the men they are related to as daughters, sisters or wives. There have been certain expectations from them…regarding the way they behave, conduct themselves and live. Can this be traced back to the sin committed by Adam and Eve, their transgression and expulsion from Paradise and God’s curse on them?
The Woman was tempted by the serpent and she tasted the forbidden fruit that led to man’s transgression and God’s curse on him. Was it then that Man left Woman behind?
Religion tells us that a woman completes a man but alone she has no entity. She is the armour and the conscious support of her man but when secluded from him, she is nobody. Was it here that we taught men to leave women trailing behind them?
History tells us the story of women subjugated by men physically, socially, emotionally and economically. Historical references of women have been in relation to men…as their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters.
The two great Indian scriptures, Ramayana and Mahabharata, also portray a much chiseled role of Indian women. All women portrayed in these scriptures were under the protection of some man or the other. There was no independent existence of any woman portrayed in both these scriptures.
Sita of Ramayana was portrayed as a pativrata who took King Ram of Ayodhya as her husband. She stood by him through thick and thin, ignoring her own comforts and accompanied him to the forest for the 14-year vanvaas. She was portrayed as a devoted wife who overlooked the advances of King Ravana of Lanka and remained loyal to her husband, waiting to be rescued by him. What is interesting here is how Ramayana shows that without a husband, father or sons, a woman has no entity of her own. After Ram doubts her loyalty toward him, she proceeds to live in the forests where she gives birth to her sons and lives as their mother. But finally, when her sons Luv and Kush reunite with their father, she being left alone without the support of any male submits herself to Mother Earth.
The Mahabharata portrays women in a very similar perspective. Kunti who bears the son of Surya, the God of light was shunned for being an unwed mother. However Surya did not bear the brunt of the same. On the other hand, Draupadi who was to be the wife of five brothers had to resign to her fate and accepted it without objection. So much was her life regulated by the men that formed a part of it, that they could lose her while gambling like any other piece of property they owned. Even to save the outrage of her modesty, she could not take an independent stance but had to plead Lord Krishna…a man, to save her from disgrace.
Manu Smriti, which is an ancient scripture dating back to the first century B.C., elaborates the code of conduct as laid down under the Hindu dharma. In this scripture, Manu has defined a sociological hierarchy in the form of a pyramid. Another interesting fact is that Manu says that all women will live as either the wives or daughters or mothers of men in their lives. According to Manu, food must be served first to men and elders, followed by children and lastly, to the women of the household.
Is the perception created after reading these scriptures in the mind of the Indian males the reason why they left the woman behind?
Well, even if we leave the Bible and the texts of Ramayana and Mahabharata one cannot refute that there is this view of “she is still behind” that does not come up in a day. Across ages, timelines, religious writing and long history evidence points to a patriarchal society which has created a mindset not based on abilities of mind, but on anatomical considerations.
Is the prejudice in the minds, or in the system? Sometimes it can be in favors and sometimes against. But the balance is changing, though stereotyping of jobs is still seen. There are various examples that have been set in different and varied fields where it was not thought an Indian woman could enter. This mental stereotyping though can and will come into place, as per a Harvard research which states that if a representation of a particular group falls below 20% then such stereotyping is inevitable.
So all of you either, if you are in a class or work, look around you at your school, college, division, and department or company now. Do you notice something? How many of these has a representation of 20% or more for woman in that particular group of people which you are a part of. Well we won’t be surprised to see, only a few of you raising hands.
Infact it’s known very well, the representation of women even in management institute is 20% or less. In some cases, some of the Indian premium institutes have representation as low as 5–10%. And in a particular batch of management graduates, the representation was zero. So chances of a single mindset view shall and can be there, resulting in straight jacketed opinions. And finally the status quo will still exist and the ‘woman will still be behind.’
Who is to be Blamed?
The onus of creating this system does not lie on one factor or in one hand. There are certain influencing elements in the system, which create an atmosphere in which our protagonist grows. This atmosphere creates an environment in which she grows and develops and determines her aspirations and finally where she goes. And if this atmosphere has to be made favorable for our protagonist, then one has to understand the influencing factors in this system. We categorize these different influencing factors such as Cultural elements, Political and Social policies, Family elements, Personal element, Technology element, Organization process.
We shall be observing in detail the cultural elements, which have an enveloping effect. They in turn affect all the other influencing factors listed above. Now the question that we need to answer is what culture is and how one defines culture. According to Edward Burnett Tylor (19th Century English anthropologist), culture is defined as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”.
So as one is growing up, these cultural elements surround us and influence our thinking and behaviour. We make decisions and think in a particular way due to the way our culture influences us. However, in today’s scenario we are not affected only by one culture. Thanks to the power of globalization, we come in contact with many other cultures and these are contagious. They can spread by diffusion from one area or sphere to another. This diffusion will lead to evolution, and formation of a new culture in time. By saying this we mean, things are changing and what a predominant socio-cultural norm and cultural fact that was few years back, may not be so in the near future.
So let us take a journey through a timeline of Indian culture. And through this we shall see how women in India have been represented and how evolution has taken place. This is important for us, as this will give us an idea of the past and where we are heading in the future. So how did this all begin, and evolve in the recorded history, which we know of. Let’s look where it all began. Who set the rules of engagement?
Where did the first rules come from, or to be more precise the code of law which every person has to follow. As per Indian mythology and history it has come from the first man, Manu, who is credited as the author of the Sanskrit code of law, named Manu Smriti4 . But what stands out for us is the chapter, which states the conduct of woman and wives.
Critical to our understanding of the views stated above is the excerpt given below.
• By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house.
• She must always be cheerful, clever in (the management of her) household affairs, careful in cleaning her utensils, and economical in expenditure.
• By violating her duty towards her husband, a wife is disgraced in this world, (after death) she enters the womb of a jackal, and is tormented by diseases (the punishment of ) her sin.
Day and night women must be kept in dependence by the males (of ) their (families), and, if they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one’s control.
The following verse will generate much interest:
Balye Piturvashe Tishthetht Panigrahasya ||
Yauvane Putranaam Bhartari Prete Na Bhajetstree Svatantrataam ||
This means, “That a woman must stay in the guardianship of her father in her childhood, of her husband in her youth and of her son when she is a widow. But in no circumstances should she live independently.”
Nothing wrong in that but then, times have changed and now things are different, we have ladies reaching out for a lot of things and showing the world what she is made of. But what we want to show here is the centuries of these thought processes and its flow into the environment that make for a mindset that is difficult to change overnight.
But there are certain good points in Manu’s writing. Like the following:
• “Where women are honored there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored no sacred rite yields rewards,” declares Manu Smriti (III, 56) a text on social conduct.
• “Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands and brothers-in-law, who desire their own welfare.” (Manu Smriti III, 55)
So what do we see here, two sides of a coin? On one hand, the lady should be protected and not be given any responsibility and on the other hand it also says that woman should be respected and not harmed. But we know how things have been in the past and present. And what we can see is a pattern emerging with all kinds of messages from the old mythological stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata5 , songs and poems, painting to even the modern popular medium of movies, literature and serial in the present form showing some form of these rules being portrayed on woman. Somehow it seems the pride has been stripped off the Indian woman in most cases.
Indian Woman—The New Wave
Coming back to Ramayana again, look at the role which Sita portrayed, or even the role of Draupadi and Kunti in Mahabharata, was that of pativrata and they all as a character show an Indian woman how a woman has to adapt to a married life and her husband’s extended family. She is made to work on the principle of Pati Pratyaksha Devatha (Husband is the Living God). These women especially Sita represent the epitome of a woman in India. India by practice and system is a strong patriarchal society. And through the different stories and cultural representation of India, people who are growing up (in a traditional Indian culture) are taught and shown, that a woman should never be left alone and be protected throughout her life. Now doesn’t that sound familiar like the Manu Smriti verse, which we all have read before. Many of these ideals seem to be fully incorporated into the lives of most Indian wives and daughters-in-law. And this is the same which the popular media keep on repeating time and again thus making the point of idle womanhood. She is shown to be an ever sacrificing and even in her suffering always gives her best to the family.
In the most well-known medium, the movies, most of the Bollywood portrayal of women has been homely. There are some talks of things that are changing, but this change has been outward, the outside has become glossier with better costumes, glitz, locale, and glamour. But the soul still remains most of the times as same as the movies of yesteryears. Even in the new powerful medium of television, the portrayal is similar. And most of the portrayal of a career woman role is shown to be like the “other woman”, with some negative shades. Now let’s look at some of the character portrayal in today’s popular medium of television and movies. Whether it’s Kusum (Kkssum), Tulsi (Sans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi) on many others, the continuous and subtle messages which come across these media and other forms of cultural representation reinforce the minds of young girls and boys and stereotype the image of a woman. This may lead to a self-defeating mindset, for a woman.
What is needed is a positive image and a positive reinforcement from all sides and media. Inspector Kalyani from Udaan (an old Doordarshan serial) focuses on a positive image.
UDAAN is the story of the flight of the human will towards excellence.
These images will create a positive atmosphere in terms of messages from popular media, but other influencing factors also have to move in tandem in order to make a mind believe, ‘yes she can do it’.
On another wild note: lets talk about Sex. Or more specifically No Sex!
In Liberia, the women led a movement of “No SEX” to stop the civil war and they succeeded. This movement was way back in 2003, led by Leymah Gbowee, a young mother. In 2011, she won a Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign.
Read her interview here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elisabeth-braw/leymah-gbowee-nobel-peace-prize_b_1561922.html
This year in Togo the story goes like this:
“An initiative “Let’s Save Togo” coalition called all females in the country not to have sex for a week to force their men into supporting demonstrations against the government. They wanted to unseat the President”
A similar sentiment is seen in Kenya.
What happens if the women/GFs of the law-keepers of the land rise up and do the same. Or all women do the same. The MEN will be driven to action. And if the law changes then one thing i can say…Frued was right!
And off-course our honourable politicians…… the honorable ladies in position of power are not standing up… SO PLEASE STAND UP, and rest of you Gentleman, lesser said better. Two phrases sums it up: #theek hai # I withdraw my statement! Someone else should have done the withdrawing before…… i mean nomination for the seat!
PS: I did not quote the third book for obivious reason…no use!
Disclaimer: I write this article under the garb of free speech. Dont want to hurt any honourable sentiments. #Arrest or torture me not!
Source of images and news: No copyright held, used for illustrative purpose only.