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Warped Portrayal Of Women

Warped Portrayal Of Women

In our society, I hear a hypocritical outcry of deteriorating traditional values when a woman walks out of her marriage.  But no one raises voice or limbs in support of the larger number of financially dependent women struggling in bad marriages without rushing to get divorced. Young and old professionals are more prone to and professional at calling off their marriages and only women continue to shoulder the blame. Divorce isn’t the flavour of any season. It happens not because women are uncultured, characterless or unreligious, but because they are educated, aware and have a strong sense of self-esteem. Institution of marriage will be respected minus incompatibility, temperamental differences and intolerance. Societal and familial pressure or trepidation of being frowned upon cannot force a man and a woman to live together.  Many divorces are filled with bitterness, hostility and rancour because mud fight and slander seems to hurt women in a reputation- conscious patriarchal society.

When women encounter problems in our society, tackling them calls for not loud voices, processions or placards, but an objective analysis of reasons which underlie them. Not by lawmakers and enforcers, but by every other woman and citizen who adorns different roles to women in their lives. Always, we find it too improper to mention the real cause of women subjugation, especially if its religion or scriptures. As a result, a culture of pseudo analysis and pseudo action becomes the norm. We have been seeing and hearing expressions like ‘women reservation bill’, ‘Nirbhaya fund’, ‘special woman safety programme’ and so on being bandied about as part of political debates and talk shows. Politicians, as we all have seen, heard and known are supposedly well- trained suitably qualified people who position themselves right at the centre of action with the explicit purpose of not putting anything into action and get away with anything in politics.

Countries which have been able to make some real, visible progress in women safety and empowerment are those whose leaders and citizens have been able to confront the problems head on to find solutions. The government of Iceland has been funding UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) for past three years to promote gender equality and Iceland stands number one on the list of safest countries for women.  By almost every metric compared to the rest of the world, Denmark is very safe and it comes second. Denmark also has a history of finishing as the #1 happiest nation in the world according to statistics. Gender equality is important to the Nordic countries: Political parties in Sweden, Norway and Iceland all have gender quotas, which promote female candidates for top roles. As such, every country has their own ideals of equality between men and women. If one understands equality as just a respectful treatment minus violence, abuse and harassment another one can’t call it equality until there is a gender pay gap or glass ceiling. 

Agreed, men and women are different. Both are capable of playing certain roles better than the other. These roles will do good if they mean to complement one another .

In India, the governments that came and went dragged their everything on passing the women’s reservation Bill for a decade. Rape storms batter our country and #Metoo-a-day routine followed by the blow-by-blow breaking of news by the media calls for a closer and quicker look of where we stand as the victim rarely an opportunistic one or the assailant, many a time the  one with money and muscle power. Guilt is presumed; innocence has to be proved beyond all reasonable doubt makes the concerned lie low and patient till they die and disappear. Worse still, rapists will brazenly continue raping unmindful of reprisals which they know how to handle and sometimes adorn seats in legislative assemblies and Parliament too. With such brats at the top, not just lofty things but even normal living for Bharat’s matas and putris of all age groups become a dream. Seems like it’s not just ‘United we loot’ but ‘United we molest and rape’.

I hear desi folks scream, ‘Increased divorce rates’. I’ve heard mothers and grandmothers warning girl children differently such as, “control your anger, you are a girl”. Such social conditioning of girl children in our society which is male dominated and patriarchal never needed any extra effort from anybody because religion is an important part of our country’s culture. And all religions profess and practice male dominancy directly or indirectly.  All over our spiritual India, women fast on sacred days to ensure their husbands’ longevity but there is nothing similar in the scriptures that expect a man to follow any ritual. In spite of these rituals, many studies and statistics show that women outlive men for reasons known to all. Still, women attempt these rituals out of fear because they know what widowhood means in a country like ours. Most religious traditions have subjugated women. Sexism is intrinsic to Hinduism and Buddhism. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been worse. So much of howling and screaming is done against the objectification of women without realising that nothing will change until scriptures are re-written. Verse 2-213 of Manusmriti ‘ Swabhav ev narinamiha dhooshnam...’ is translated as “It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the learned are never unguarded in the company of females”. Verse 5/151 when translated goes as this: “Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children; women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently.” Many more verses prove that Manusmriti is in a way too primitive. The Bible’s decree of male supremacy is known to the world. Most blessed mothers in The Bible are recorded to have given birth to sons only as though firstborn being a son is equated to a great blessing. The story of the adulteress who Jesus forgave and saved from being stoned is an example of how a combination of sex, a woman, public disgrace and double standard worked since biblical times. There was no mention of the man involved in the act. Without any mentioning the uphill battle remains steep for Muslim women. It is indisputable that women are excluded from Judaism’s most hallowed rituals and practices helping us understand that Judaism privileges are fundamentally male. Sabarimala hullabaloo is a case in point. If discrimination to enter a temple is based on sexual orientation and caste, constitutional Articles related to freedom of religion and essential religious practices must be read to have a wider meaning to signal a new era of transformative constitutionalism. Freedom, rights and values embodied in our constitution should not be let to freeze in time. That would mean no possibility of positive change and progress to changing societal needs.

Places of male gods cite menstruation as the main reason for denying women their religious freedom. How come the normative descriptive imagery and pronouns for god are male, enabling people to sculpt them that way?

Being a Tamilian I pondered over ‘kallanalum kanavan pullanalum purushan’. It means even if the man is as insensitive as a stone or as useless as a blade of grass he is still ‘THE HUSBAND’, a visible god to the wife. Who else but a male chauvinist must have uttered this proverb! And another insinuating comment from men goes as "Ellu na ennai ya vandu nikkanam" translated as "Do more than what is expected of you." OR "...going the extra mile" conveys the typical male attitude.  Tamil literature has enough stories praising devout wives. Nothing wrong about it. But sometimes imaginations soar so high making stories sound ridiculous. One example is Vasuki Ammaiyar, a “Pathiviradhai” cooking delicious meal out a bag of sand given to her by Thiruvalluvar. Making such a story on a man of great intellect isn’t justifiable. And the pail that hung in mid-air as this “Pathiviradhai” rushed to address her husband’s call half way through drawing water from a well is another story to motivate devotion in women.

Bharat Mata is one country where women is worshipped, yet discriminated and abused. It’s a national shame that despite more and more laws and funds, governments of secular, democratic and pluralistic India finds it difficult to ensure that all sections of citizens feel equal, protected and secure. Should we be shocked at every rape and abuse for it isn't a recent discovery that women are abused in cultures where feminine is revered. Were goddesses spared! Parvati created a boy to guard her doors from Shiva. Sita had to walk through fire to prove her loyalty. In spite of laws and their enforcements, unless mythologies are retold and understood in the right spirit, if not rewritten, these will be used to normalize or rationalize different forms of oppression or abuse, of course by the wrong people. 

(Published on 7th January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 02)