I turn over the pages of the newspaper and find stories which, in my opinion, would have been much more believable in the 19th century – even though they may have been as appalling then as they are today.
Every day, I see stories of women being attacked, threatened, molested and raped – often, for not succumbing to the expectations of a patriarchal society. A walk down a family court will probably bring up bundles and piles of cases of domestic violence and families defending their regressive ideologies.
In my eyes, a major bummer for all these people defending their cases is the fact that they may probably never have expected the new member of their family to speak up. They wanted their daughter-in-laws to be docile. They wanted them to be disciplined – and for them, ‘discipline’ starts with a word starting with the letter O – ‘Obedience’. Wives are still expected to be obedient towards their husbands – yes, even in this century, among all the talk about women empowerment!
The next word in this ‘discipline’ starts with the letter C – ‘Coy’. In this case, women are not expected to be self-affirming creatures, living with their heads held high. They are not expected to raise their voices under any circumstances. A ‘loud’ woman is not a ‘civilised’ woman in the rule books here.
If you can pass on to being obedient and coy by some chance (say, by virtue of your natural character), you are then expected to be the embodiment of sacrifice. You are not entitled to have opinions or desires of your own. You have to keep your family above yourself, at all costs. It’s not a choice, but a duty.
For many women, another of these duties is to always serve food for the family on the table. I meant this in a metaphorical sense, but you can read this literally too. It’s not an unimaginable situation in many parts of the country. And god forbid if you somehow don’t know the art of making perfectly shaped, circular rotis – which is an absolute must for many a woman to survive in this world!
Defying these commandments will not only lead you to be graded as a blasphemous woman – it will also, in all probability, rob you of any kind of respect that you deserve as a human. Anyone who is trying to stand against this so-called ‘rule book’ for daughters-in-law is often termed as the ‘mad woman in the attic’.
If environment in the domestic sphere is not enough to find the perfect ‘angel in the house’, one can extend it to any given field. Often, women are still expected to live by the rules laid out by men – especially, to satisfy their fancies.
Take, for instance, the issue of the ‘dress code’ for women at various institutions of study and work. Besides this, one can also find other such commandments related to the ‘expected’ behaviour of women in particular environments. As if women are barbarous, uncivilised creatures who need to be told how to dress and behave in such environments! They are expected to not be loud or brash, and are told to dress in attires that don’t reveal ‘too much’.
It would be no surprise if I tell you that in certain places of the country letting the pallu go haywire, or leaving your room without covering your bosom with a dupatta in the company of men is a downright punishable offence, according to the custodians of ‘cultural and moral values’. Some cultures expect you to put on a veil, even before you hit adolescence and begin to understand the world in your terms.
Another ‘crime’ to be added to that list is your unconsciously bright smile, or a good laugh – in the presence of male members (no matter their age). This is an inexcusable attempt to seduce men, according to many of the ‘rule books’. If you closely observe the customs in certain places of the country, you’ll be surprised how women are still able to breathe, despite following such senseless commandments.
For these people, women who have taken control of their lives and those who have refused to be dominated by the whims and fancies of men any longer are categorised into the well-known category of ‘mad women’. Hysteria and women have been associated since centuries. If there’s been one true friend of women, in the eyes of many men, it would be madness – the lack of reason.
According to them, if women want to take control of their voices and meet the decibel levels of men, or take control of their bodies and affirm their sexuality, they have probably lost their capability to reason. Exploring your sexuality is hysteria, dyeing your hair blue is hysteria, smoking a cigarette is hysteria – and a woman in the vicinity of alcohol is probably hysterical. If women go out of their way, trying to walk in the shoes of men (which may only be a means to assert their rightful places in the world), they are often termed as witches, and become ‘bad influences’ for other daughters and wives.
It was never easy for a woman to live in this world. But, you would expect that with the passing centuries, we, as a society, would shed our unreasonable dogmas and accept women for the humans they are. However, nearly 20 years after Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar came up with the expressions “Angel in the house” and “madwoman in the attic” (a representation of characters recognised in the Victorian era), we still find ourselves entangled in the refined definitions of the expression which has managed to mangle our lives. Even though we have moved forward, we are still behind.
I hope this year becomes the torchbearer to the change that we wish to see in the world and in the lives of women. Till then, god bless the ‘angels in the house’!
Featured image used for representative purposes only.