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Beyond A Mother, A Wife Or A Prostitute: Where’s The Space For A Woman’s Autonomous Identity?

By Shivani Makkar:

Where do you start?

The family, streets, society, workplace…each place has become a battlefield where the eternal combat continues. I was lucky enough to be able to decide the course of my own life, but it is a sorry fact that I count this as a privilege, because the even sorrier truth is that a majority of women in this country cannot do so. Their voices are suppressed and their fates decided by the men in their lives. I suffer a sense of hopelessness sometimes. More often is a deep-seated shudder inside: what if there is no way out?

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But as I begin to think of a solution to this much debated issue, even more questions arise. Firstly, is ‘woman’ a homogenous category? In India for example, the society is split along caste, class, and religious lines. How then, can we aim to arrive at a single ‘one for all’ magic formula for the emancipation of women? The world over, women do not just, not even primarily, see themselves through the prism of a gender, but rather as black, Dalit, Hindu, Jewish, etc. Consequently we have seen the emergence of Dalit feminism, lesbian feminism, and black feminism that has created a divide in the feminist movement based on the reasoning of experiential reality.

The fight, I believe, needs to be addressed at a psychological, subconscious level. The gangrape of a medical student in Delhi in December 2012, that shook the ‘nation’ (read cosmopolitan cities), and the consequent anger that poured out on to the streets and was seen in the vigorous debates it sparked off, gave many, including me, a glimmer of hope; maybe things could still change. But what was conspicuous was the language adopted by the irate public – abusing the mothers and sisters of everyone they thought was guilty. This is a method that has almost become a law- you are not insulting the other party unless their women are involved.

Thus the problem cannot be viewed through the filter of rape and bodily integrity alone. Rape is a manifestation- an extreme form- of the mentality prevalent in our society. It is not just a sexual act; it is essentially an act of violence, of humiliation and suppression of the ‘weaker’ sex. What is needed is to readdress the mind-set that condones and even encourages such acts of savagery. We need to remember that patriarchy is customary to almost all societies, only the conception of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ differs. Since before their birth, children are assigned the different roles they will be cast into based on their sex; the names they will bear, the toys they will get, their dresses, bedtime stories, behaviour, etc. This social conditioning is so subtle and deeply ingrained, that we have become completely unconscious and unfazed by it. Even our language is gendered, so much so that we have no vocabulary to converse with someone who does not fit into the two-sex model, of either a male or a female.

Simone de Beauvoir, the French theorist and feminist, in her ground-breaking work, ‘The Second Sex’, talked about the history of the establishment of patriarchy: man was taken to be the norm, the rule, whereas women’s existence was seen to be an accident, albeit a fortunate one. She was thus firmly established as the ‘Other’. It is this notion of being superior to the other half, the perception that women must be kept under their thumb that has sustained the dominance of the man for centuries.

We thrive on this thinking today. The culture that has taken roots, cultivated by the films we see, the celebrities we idolize, the consumerist vulgarity we are driven by, are all a part of the commoditization of women that is under way. Santosh Desai, author and columnist, puts it aptly: “the privileging of desire, and its presentation of a self-justifying need helps create a climate where all that is desired becomes an object that can be brought through money or overwhelmed through power”. Take item numbers for example. Many women claim that they are perfectly within their rights to show off their bodies for they are simply exercising their freedom. As true as this is, what we overlook is precisely the need for such songs, which caters to a male audience. The angle of the camera at it travels over the female body, is in no way asserting the right of the women; on the contrary it is treating her like an object to be consumed. My point is that it is not the act itself, or even its repercussions that should be analysed here, but rather its need and source of origin. If we try and see why we are doing it, we understand that it is not free will, but a manipulation on a deep, subconscious level that makes women themselves participate in a campaign that dehumanises them. What else explains the reduction of women to their genitals, the virginity that is vehemently preserved in the name of the honour of the entire community!

For a large section of the people today, and that includes both women and men, women still belong within the folds of her veil or purdah, or is to be deified in the temples. The more she assert her individuality and aspirations, the greater is the backlash and the attempt to subjugate her. The society is getting transformed, but without the simultaneous change in the attitude to accommodate those developments.

I think unequal gender relations find many other, seemingly normal and conventional, outlets. Taking her husband’s name, moving in with his family, wearing proudly the symbols of her bondage, the bangles, the sindoor, telling the world that she is the property of another man, automatically shouldering the responsibility of child-rearing because she bears the child; all of these and more should be rebelled against. I am not talking here of destabilising the family, which I do believe is sacrosanct. However, I question the double standards that requires the rite of ‘kanyadaan’ in case of a girl, and does not treat her as an independent agency willingly entering a marital union.

More often than not, a woman is viewed as a womb, an instrument of reproduction; bearing children is her destiny. The walls of her house are her universe. She is trained, for the service of the man. She has always been a mother and a wife, or at the other end of the spectrum, a prostitute. There is no middle ground, no place for her to assert her independence.

So where do you start?

You must be to comment.
  1. Babar

    This article aims to control and subjugate women by telling them to behave in a certain way, a way that the author sees fit.

    On one hand she says that in item numbers the camera focuses on dancers’ body parts and calls it sexualization and objectification of women, and on the other hand she wants women to sexualize and objectify themselves, by telling (read: manipulating) them that women who are covered are oppressed and that women should wear what they want – namely clothes that reveal the body. The authors hypocrisy and confused state of mind is blatant.

    Beauty and fashion industries have benefitted from a marketing gimmick, and earned millions of dollars after bombarding girls with images of scantily dressed women in movies, music videos, TV, magazines, billboards, etc. Feminists and fashion industries dictate women with false notions of freedom which in turn oppress women by forcing them to dress a certain way to be a part of society, a society which can then freely pass judgement on the physical beauty of a woman. The only people who are targeting women are feminists as feminists need to ‘sell’ their absurd theories on freedom while beauty, fashion, and diet industries need to sell their products – they control women.

    1. Shivani Makkar

      I reiterate: analyse, criticise, question, before accepting. I never propagated any theory of freedom here if you read carefully. One’s idea of freedom, and the road to it, is for themselves to discover. But that cannot happen unless we open our minds to new ideas, and be ready to evaluate our own. I do not offer any one alternative, ‘my way’ of liberation or notion of what a good life is. Wear skimpy clothes, wear a burqa. Completely one’s decision. But it should be a free choice of the woman herself, and she should know why she is doing it. It should not be externally imposed. That is all I argue here. The power of ideology is such that one does not even realize when and how they become a prey to it.

    2. Babar

      Please stop beating around the bush. Your lies and deceits are out there in the open. You said, “women still belong within the folds of her veil or purdah.” What do you mean by the word ‘still?’ Is there something wrong with wearing a burqa? Do you know that during the ban on burqa in France, many women fought for their right to wear it, risking huge fines and jail sentences. While on one had you say that a woman should have a choice to wear what she wants, on the other hand you term the burqa as derogatory, clearly telling women to take it off. The burka is a sign of dignity, where a woman belongs to her husband only. Miniskirts and tank tops are signs of oppression, where women are semi-nude in front of thousands.

      It is feminists who are objectifying women and promoting their sexualization by promoting plunging necklines, miniskirts, tight leggings, spandex pants, tight jeans, and short shorts, among a host of other ridiculous pieces of clothing. Even in the western world, many parents do not allow their daughters to wear revealing attire, and in many schools and colleges in the west, their are strict rules about what girls can and cannot wear. Parents who allow their daughters to wear what they want should not have children or need parenting lessons.

  2. Antarik

    So after getting

    Different coaches and seats.
    higher interest rates (god knows why).
    Acute advantage in office for just being women.
    Reduced fees from schools to colleges to scholarships.
    super linearity in justice system and pro women laws, with 76% fake rape cases to 82 % fake or unproved cases of abuse and molestation ..

    After having people like shikha sharma , kalpana morparia, veeneta bali , preetha reddy, Smriti Irani , Sonia Gandhi, Sheela dikshit .

    Getting free monetariy help of Rs 2 lakh in M.P. just for passing 10th ..

    You feel so oppressed…. there is no eternal combat going on none at all..

    In a family a women is generally the weaker of the two its because a women never marries a man less than herself (a very few does) . A women always looks for a partner stronger and financially more stable than her . Please marry a job less guy cater to his needs look after him and after sustaining that lets talk about female suppression ..

    1. Shivani Makkar

      Those are some great points you raised, I agree with a lot of what you said. I do not favour the separate coaches; segregation is not a way to solve anything. the other policies of affirmative actions you point out, might be helpful in remote areas as a start, but we give it up right there. Weave gender sensitization into the education system and the need for such grants and reservations, will go away, for the problem remains in our mind sets, of both men and women.
      The thing about marrying someone who earns less than you, hats off to that. I would completely recommend that, a great way of challenging accepted notions. But the idea collapses when you look at ground realities. it would hurt a man’s masculinity, his ego, to be supported by his wife, which might lead to domestic violence (happens in a lot of such cases), and the same way, a woman’s family, or she herself, believes that she needs to be cared for by a man, which is again wrong. men go through this indoctrination too, for they have the pressure of supporting a family, of being macho enough. The only thing is, this indoctrination puts women in a much more disadvantaged position compared to men. Critical outlook from both sides is needed.

    2. Babar

      You must feel oppressed by the fact that seats are reserved for women everywhere, from the political arena to the corporate world to buses. And in buses, even when half the seats are reserved for women, men still leave their seats for women. Have you ever seen a woman leave her seat for a man?

    3. Keyser Soze

      U didnot even her argumeny my dear. Many of those things r necessitated by d patriarchal structure itself n d way men look at women. Many things r necessitated by d psychic manipulation on subconcious level.ofcourse Exceptions f der. But dats not d norm.U seem to be very biased.

  3. Keyser Soze

    Very informative and thought provoking. Mny won’t like it. But dats ok.Prejudices n biases will be broken like dis only.thanks.

  4. Monistaf

    I believe in equality and agree with some of the points you make in your article. However, you have to consider alternative thought processes on quotes like “the privileging of desire, and its presentation of a self-justifying need helps create a climate where all that is desired becomes an object that can be brought through money or overwhelmed through power”. Do you think that it can be applied to BOTH genders? Are you saying that no woman out there has desires and she is not willing to use money, power, influence or anything else to get there? As far as “item numbers” are concerned, I think they are acceptable as long as the woman is not forced into performing. It is her right to express herself, her right to make a living any way she can and regardless of whether it conforms to anyone’s idea of what is normal, we should defend her right to be different. I strongly agree with you that the concept of “kanyadaan” is demeaning to women, they are not pieces of property to be given away. In a marriage, the woman and the man belong equally to each other. You can rebel all you want, but it was not the “Patriarchy” that forced the burden of child bearing on women, it is mother nature that did, and as of now, there is no escape from it. So, yes, in spite of all the progress, most women still feel incomplete without a family and often times, define themselves by it. If you have some time, please listen to Camille Paglia on feminism. It is only about 12 minutes, and is well worth your time.

    Another fascinating and practical book is “The Flipside of feminism” by Suzanne Venker”. The summary is that “you can have it all, just not, all at once”.

    1. Shubhra

      Okay I didn’t know people hated feminists so much for no reason..
      Well lets start with the defence shall we..
      Dear Monistaf,
      The point was never to label child bearing as a burden or ask men to bear children as well.
      We respect our uniqueness and accept mother nature’s blessing with humility. But when the society sees us as instruments to fulfil this purpose alone, we have a problem. We are more than the breeders of the human race and we want the ENTIRE world to acknowledge it. A woman who cannot conceive or doesn’t want to get married is as much a woman as the ones who do and deserves the same respect from the society. Different people have different choices, some want a family, some want a career and some balance both. And do tell where you got the results of your survey? Cause in the family, the kids grow up and leave, and the house-wife then has ample time to herself. What should she do then? Or do you suppose women are incapable of boredom. We have a life beyond familial responsibilities. And whenever we embrace that life we expect no judgement from anyone. All we need is the love and support of our life partners. Cause that’s what partners do- always have each others backs.

  5. Babar

    Since before their birth, children are assigned the different roles they will be cast into based on their sex; the names they will bear, the toys they will get, their dresses, bedtime stories, behaviour, etc.

    According to your absurd and bizarre theory, we should start buying dolls and frocks for boys, and perhaps start naming them Priya, Kate, and Mary, while we should name our daughters Raj, John, and Steven.

    How sensible.

    1. shivani makkar

      I would actually stand up for that absolutely. And u said in another comment, “a burqa means a woman just belongs to her husband”. Or something along those lines. See now I will refrain from any further comments since you believe women ‘belong’ to somebody. There is no case of an issue of men covering up because clearly you have not sexualized their bodies, but a girl’s body too sexual to be exposed if she wants to do it.

    2. Babar

      A woman belongs to her husband as a husband belongs to his wife. Both complete each other and are supposed to live in harmony and peace. It is feminists, through their false notions of equality who are trying to break families, and the havoc they have wreaked can be seen in the escalation of divorce rates. As for you refraining from replying from my comments 1) You can’t refrain from something you have never attempted 2) You actually need to have a solid foundation of truth in order to reply, which obviously you don’t since your entire article is based on lies.

  6. Rhea

    Amazing content. Speechless

  7. Babar

    What else explains the reduction of women to their genitals, the virginity that is vehemently preserved in the name of the honour of the entire community!

    Feminists and the corporate world have reduced women to a chattel, where her body is used for financial gain. Sex is a marketing tool. You tell people to have transient sexual relationships in the name of liberation and the profits of companies manufacturing condoms skyrocket. You tell women to dress sexy in the name of emancipation and fashion industries profit by earning billions. Fill women with false notions of beauty, bombard them with pictures of scantily dressed women in fashion shows, TV, billboards, magazines, movies, and music videos, and women start
    spending heavily on clothes and start using dieting products even at the cost of suffering from anorexia, and today, perfectly young, beautiful girls are lining up for plastic surgery, spending billions in the process. From beauty and contraception to diet and fashion industries, all are earning enormous amounts of money while women remain deluded and continue to pour money into the pockets of those who have infiltrated the minds of women through lies and deceit. I will keep it short, as I am sure women have to go shopping at FCUK, blow up their father’s and husband’s debit and credit cards, and write articles on equality and the sexualization of women.

    1. real man

      your reply is better than this bullshit article ,….

    2. real

      Your reply is better than this bullshit article

  8. themaverickwoman

    Shivani… kudos… i agree to all u said… n i blv all wid brain at the right plc wud agree… dnt mess up n drain urslf replying idiotic coments… they just want us to b busy wid arguing on trivial issue n move frm the bigger ones…!! remeber.. evrytime u wil assert ur individuality…there wud b many assholes standing against it…. so ignore… keep ur head high… march on!!!!

  9. Nirjhar Mukherjee

    Very well written. We need a social war on the Sankha Sindoor ideology and the ideological base of evils like Sindoor and Burqa. Yes it is true that some people want to wear it. If so let them. However, we must strive to make sure that people get sensitised and identify that such things are evil
    While I admit that if a woman wants to wear sindoor or burqa she should be allowed to. But I vehemently feel that these things are nothing but chains and restrictions! We must also take on cultural mafias promoting objectification of the female body. It is okay to dress up and sexualise oneself, but it is oppressive if its done for the market- a woman like a man is a sexual being not a sex object.

    Let passion, love and humanity win above narrow sectarianism of religion, capitalism and patriarchy.

  10. Amlan

    Very well written Mam…

  11. Amlan

    Very well written Mam…Awesome Article…

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