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Fall of the Feminine

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A few weeks back I had written a post about how the media has not kept pace with the changing role of women in society. Our movies relegate female characters to the sidelines as mere showpieces, simpering and sizzling, applauding the hero’s antics and ready to break into a song and dance at the drop of a hat. In the 21st century, women continue to be objectified.

Someone put a very pertinent question through the debate that ensued – how did we manage to evolve from a Devi worshipping society to a society where baby girls are murdered because they are guilty of being a she, if she is fortunate enough to live, she lives to face discrimination, threat of assault or even death for the sake of family honour. Ahh... this happens only in villages, we the city people are far more progressive. But it is in these cities, girls are dragged out of bars in the name of morality. Brides are burnt for more dowry. Cars slow down when they see a woman walking alone on the road. Many of them, with the entirely honourable intent of making her life more exciting, try giving her a friendly nudge, sing a song or two and make declarations of lust. A very senior teacher in my school stopped driving because she had a terrifying experience on the road. A bunch of young boys driving their Daddy’s car mistook this 50 something lady for Lara Croft and gave her a heart thumping chase. Not content with a few friendly dents they even tried to stop her car. Why?? Because it is fun harassing a woman.
Where or more importantly when did we go wrong? From times immemorial the woman has played the role of the nurturer. There was a time when cultures across the world worshipped the power of female and her ability to produce life. I am sure many of you have read Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. In his book, Dan Brown put across the theory of how the predominantly male church demonised the sacred feminine and called it unclean. “The original sin” and Eve’s contribution to downfall of human race was created by man. Women, once the sacred giver of life, had now turned into the enemy.
The worship of the divine as female has a long history in India as well and continues to be popular even today. But a curious phenomenon emerges- the more a culture deifies women, the less rights women actually have in that culture. Time and again the woman is told that she’s weak and needs to be protected. Sadly it is often at the cost of her freedom. Remember your History lessons and the infamous Manu who codified societal norms? In childhood a woman must be subject to her father, in youth her husband and when her lord is dead, to her sons. To put it simply a woman must never be independent. Society and religion imposed a code of conduct for women and she was expected to adhere to the roles assigned to her. These roles are often patronizingly referred to as virtues. Coy, obedient, subservient – good girl, your parents taught you well. Go getter, ambitious, strong willed – office bitch, no wonder you’re still single. Women suppression also took form in clothes. Victorian era women were expected to squeeze themselves into corsets for that expected 18 inch waist and more often than not ended up with medical complications. Chinese girls had to bind their feet in their quest for tiny feet. In the so called modern times is it any better? I doubt it. Women happily submit themselves to the surgeon’s knife, get painful botox injections, starve themselves in their quest for beauty. Beauty is a virtue, cellulite and wrinkles are cardinal sins. If a woman gets raped it is her fault – what was she doing all alone at the bar, wearing that short dress, smiling at strange men. What was she thinking?? She deserved it!! I hate it when I have to tell my teenaged daughter that she has to learn to deal with unwanted male attention, telling her to dress down every time she goes out on her own Do reservations for women in Parliament, in buses, in the metro really help their cause? Ahh poor thing, let’s be nice to her. The Protection of women against sexual harassment bill has finally been tabled after 13 years of dithering but why aren’t the women popping champagne in jubilation? Opinion is divided and the debate is on how the law continues to look at women as dependents in need of protection. My shoulders do not square up in pride every time I hear the “Kindly vacate your seats for the old, the disabled and women” announcement in the metro. Do women really need patronizing or rather should we continue to accept it?
Unfortunately feminism is a much abused term. It is not about using cuss words, sending your emotions into a deep freeze, being ruthless and behaving like a man. It is not about viewing the opposite sex as your biggest enemy and scribbling I hate men all over your wall. We women are unique – we feel like no one can. The emotional fools we are, we can love to the point of worship We can be strong and delicate, angry and loving, emotional and stoic, dignified, graceful ... Rather than feeling ashamed of our femininity lets revel in it. I will snivel and sob even as I watch Bridges Of Madison County for the 14th time, I will come to a screeching halt at the sight of colourful bangles and make you wait while I try all of them on. I will sulk, crib and unload all my PMS-ing on you. But it is me you will long to come back to at the end of the day, to unwind, to share and laugh.

As I conclude my post I can’t stop humming the Shania Twain number “Man, I feel like a woman”. Why? Because I feel proud to be a woman and no thank you, you don’t have to vacate your seat for me, I can take care of myself. But if you need a shoulder to cry on, I’ll be there for you.

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