Women”s Silence Nourishes Patriarchy

Posted on January 19, 2010 in Society

Sharon Panackal:

Being born in Kerala, one of the southern states of India, a norm that chases women throughout their life is to be silent. The value behind this norm is becoming an ideal woman in the society. In India an ideal woman is supposed to be silent in addition to the long hair, curvaceous body and wide eyes she is expected to have.

Since childhood itself girls are asked to keep quiet by social agents including their parents and teachers. When she laughs loudly at home, her grandmother might turn up and scold her for doing that. When they talk to someone during free hours, teachers come around inquiring if talking would do any good for the student’s future. In that case, being a silent girl is an easy way to gain a good image in front of the elders.

Being afraid of the informal and negative sanctions at school and home, girls keep as silent as they can, which eventually makes some of them a strong introvert. People thereafter start to see them as self-centered, arrogant and inept. In this fast developing world, where the gates of opportunities are open to extroverts, these girls ultimately find their dreams sinking within their silence.

During a conflict, girls are often told to be quiet, saying that the more they argue, the more heated the conflict would become. However, it is hard to be in agreement with this norm which asks only the women to be silent.

The essence of this norm superficially keeps on changing from becoming a good daughter to a good housewife, hiding the patriarchy it actually is. When men in the society take decisions and women silently follow them, the society seems to be in peace. However, it is extremely disappointing that people support this norm in this age of feminism.

It is true that being the most literate state in India, the situation of women in Kerala has improved a lot in the past years. There are a number of women associations and organizations, and nowadays women in Kerala have a better situation than women in other states of India, and they do go out and work for their family.

Nevertheless, the tradition of patriarchy still lives among Keralites. Viewing the society through the perspectives of symbolic interaction-ism and functionalism, women are still given the least priority and men are treated as the ultimate head of the family as well as the society.

Kerala probably includes the most politicised women in India. They have actively participated in the communist party in our state and their efforts have certainly helped in improving the situations of people throughout the country. However, our society does not care enough to acknowledge the work they did as the key concept of women being silent is deeply rooted in its culture.

The norm for women to be silent reflects the strength of men in the society and how women are obliged to follow the rules and decisions that men make, mostly for their own benefit. In these ways, Kerala, being the model of development to the whole nation, still asks its women to be silent and obedient, following all its norms and keeping up the same values as before.

It is agreeable that an ideal woman should be the one who follows the norms and expectations of the society; but if men are allowed to talk, take decisions and laugh loudly, why cannot women be like that? This question might have been brought up in the society a number of times, but in a place like Kerala where people give importance to their traditions, cultures, values and societal norms, such a question does not have any significance.

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The very title gripped me, as I had echoed the very same thought today – only the context was different. It is very interesting to note that even in Kerala, women are still largely suppressed. The idea one often has about the treatment of women in Kerala is quite different.
As I said I agree with your title, it is only us women who can change our own society, and I think there is hope as more women wake up to this fact.
Thankyou for sharing your article :)


I totally agree with your views on women empowerment and I believe men have done enough damage as it is. It is time women had come forward and made a rightful claim for empowerment against a millenium’s worth of lost dignity and expendability.

But I would like to solicit a reply from the author or any other woman interested in this topic on one question?

Are women ready to defy their cultural identity to uphold their dream of total empowerment, because I see this as the single most deciding step in that direction and my reasoning is as follows:

Ever since the beginning of time Man has tried to suppress the woman by stating the scriptures and traditional texts in view of the fact that women can be weak and fragile and hence incompetent. (Which i totally think is rubbish!). Organised religions like Islam (Hinduism and Christianity also I suppose )readily opposed to the view of woman empowerment. So I see the alienation of Culture from this scenario will be favourable because no amount of rhetoric is going to help with Religion doing the side business of keeping the free souls down. I personally see this as the only obstacle in the path of painting a ROSY PICTURE for the mothers, sisters, wives, etc.,

Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their opressors. ~Evelyn Cunningham


Please try and search for Sunitha Krishnan
and her TED Talk on Sex-Slavery
She explains the exact same thing I am talking about but on a much subtler level about breaking the barriers that obstruct basic humanity.


hey sharon…
very nice article indeed. you actually depicted the unspoken angst inside every indian girl i guess. nowadays i had been reading a lot about ‘good convent education’ being a catalytic factor for girls speaking their minds out, but as you have clearly depicted, a high literacy rate is no factor to encourage women to express themselves or behave as they want. Infact, often a good education makes the female even less expressive, having a mindset that because they are educated, they are expected to behave in a much more sophisticated manner which demands them to be even more silent! whereas compared to it, the less educated or uneducated women who belong to the lower financial status can actually SPEAK, SCREAM, SHOUT and even HIT their oppressors. We say that they are ‘junglee, unpad, ganwar…’ and what not. When a girl from their society runs away to marry her lover, we say that this kind of behaviour is expected from ‘them’ only and exult in our ‘educated’ status where girls, irrespective to their own choice, are forced to have an arranged marriage and cry silent tears their whole life.Which woman is more empowered and who is more silent???


I agree with you. Kerala girls are symbols of ideal girls. They are supposed to be dependent on their father or brother or husband. They are given higher education but if the girls speak out or question anything they are spoiled and not properly brought up.Even the new generation boys grow up with this ideology about girls.

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