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Are Mothers Responsible For The “Good Girl” Image Being Propagated In Society?

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Disclaimer: Views shared are purely personal, but definitely not fiction. All parts where “mothers” are mentioned are not generalising everyone but speaks about a majority, “often seen” scenario.

Our Air Is Conditioned

Today if I have a good-paying job, a place of my own, a car and the ability to fulfil most of my personal and family needs, I would be called a successful or a well-established person in society. This is socially correct and good. Correctness lies in the eyes of the beholder, as in the case with beauty.

But this is the assumption, or what I can call a benchmark or image of success decided by the society over time, and people start running behind this image to be socially correct and to mix into society to fit in the frame. This is social conditioning. And this socially conditioned air that we are breathing every day is really bad for our health. It’s even more dangerous than breathing Delhi’s air.

The important thing we should know is that we cannot develop socially or morally until we break the social conditioning which has been embedded and programmed into our brains. And whatever we engage into, be it our work, our opinions or our development, this conditioning, this ideology — the majoritarian ideology of social correctness, which has already been programmed, will take effect.

Women In This Conditioned Air

lockdown women
Representative Image.

When it comes to women in this socially polluted environment, the situation is horrifying. Discrimination, injustice and violence against women find a comfortable breeding ground in such a conditioned environment.

When a guest comes, why is it that most often, it’s the lady of the house who gets up to make tea? Maybe the husband makes better tea; why not him then? Why is it the wife who needs to wear a sign that she’s married? Why is it expected of the wife to be the maker or breaker of a marriage?

Why is it shocking for some if the wife says she doesn’t know how to cook, but it’s pretty normal if the husband says so? Why in most invitations it’s written “Mr Husband and family” and not Mrs Wife?

We need to question this. Why do we often witness or hear or experience such instances? Why are these practices not questioned? Why are women or society unable to figure it out and not able to see discrimination and injustice? It’s because of the conditioning of our minds. And this is terrifying because this conditioning, though bad for society as a whole, is especially unhealthy and ugly for women.

Now, where do we break this conditioning? In the parliament, making and passing acts to become laws, or in the judiciary, or schools and colleges? Actually everywhere. We need to break it at every possible opportunity.

But the place where this conditioning is needed to be broken the most is — inside the four walls of our home.

The Praises We Receive

“Annapurna”, “Grihalaxmi”, “Sarvagun Samppan”, etc., these stupid terms are used to praise women in our society. But there underlies subtle exploitation in these. It’s unknown, or people don’t dig in much to see that there’s discrimination disguised in these praises.

But at the same time, it’s not fair to blame those who use these terms; it’s unknown to them too. By using these false praises against women, you are making them stay inside the kitchen, inside the four walls of the house, making her take all the household chores on her shoulders.

Senior woman washing dishes in the kitchen
Representative Image.

For example, my mom tries to avoid serving restaurant food to guests at home because “what will they think if she orders food”. Then she won’t fall in the above-mentioned categories, which she can’t afford to lose. My mom doesn’t allow my father to do the household chores when my grandmother or some other “special” family member is around. Again, she will not fall in the good wife, good mother category.

It’s also the women who many times positively accepts these titles. But why is she doing it? Somewhere deep inside, she wants these praises. It’s simply because she feels her hardwork has been credited.

Just think of her; she doesn’t have a job or a business; she’s a homemaker, and a lot of women are just homemakers in India. The house is where she spends all her time. So it becomes very important for her to be the best homemaker possible. And these praises are delusive apprehensions of a “good housewife”, which is all a lot of married women in our society want.

So it’s pretty understandable why women often crave these praises and try to be the lady these titles portray.

How Mothers Continue This Cycle

The famous French author and philosopher Simone De Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex is considered the trigger for the second wave of French feminism.

In the book, Beauvoir talks about mothers. She talks about how most mothers, being victims of patriarchy inside the house and society outside, unknowingly pass on the victimhood to their daughter/s, how the mother, in the quest of fitting her daughter in the social framework, goes on teaching and following the same customs and practices that were once made to be followed by her.

Most mothers do not understand that the image of a “good girl” society has created is based on and deep-rooted in various forms of discrimination, inequality and violence. And knowingly or unknowingly, that mother who herself is a victim of all those now becomes a perpetrator.

chhaupadi
Chhaupadi is a form of menstrual taboo which prohibits women and girls from participating in normal family activities while menstruating.

For example, the mother is the person most responsible for the still existing taboo around a girl’s periods. Why to this day is menstruation still a “not to be said or talked about” thing in our country? The mother may be passing on the same information, which she got from her mother without putting logic into it, to the daughter.

Again, it is the mother on the phone who asks her daughter to tolerate and bear all the mental and physical trouble she’s facing with her in-laws because she’s a girl. “A girl should learn to tolerate and lend a blind eye to everything wrong happening to her”, and “getting a divorce is not an option for her” is all some mothers would advise their daughters — unknowingly passing on the victimhood.

Acceptance Is The Problem

It’s saddening, heart-wrenching to see women accept their fate. They accept they are inferior, belong in the kitchen and accept they have to serve the family.

In the 2015 film Piku, writer Juhi Chaturvedi wrote a very beautiful dialogue which, if I am not mistaken, very accurately defines the condition of a section of married women. The dialogue goes something like this: “Husband expects the wife to serve food in the day and sex at night.”

It’s disheartening that women are actually submitting to this, not many, but some are. Some accept it as their duty; some silently believe it’s their fate.

The Use Of Art To Create Change

The Great Indian Kitchen
The Great Indian Kitchen.

“Bringing change and social development in society is primarily in the hands of one person.” – Mother.

Last year a short film, Natkhat, directed by Shaan Vyas, premiered on YouTube as part of the We Are One Film Festival. The film very interestingly portrayed how a mother could make a difference in society by making a difference in how she raises her kids, what ideas and beliefs she allows to sneak in her kids and what she filters out.

If the mother logically and scientifically explains to her daughter about menstruation and doesn’t introduce her to the various superstitions or irrational customs around it, then for the daughter or at least between the daughter and the mother, menstruation won’t be taboo anymore.

If the mother, since his early years, teaches her son how to respect women, or tell him stories about women who have changed the world, or make him understand that women and men are equal, then that boy will surely develop a healthy ideology and mindset over the years.

I am a stern believer that art has the power to change society. Good books and films are the most powerful weapons to take on the illogical and vicious thoughts, ideas, rituals and customs that persist in our society. Basically to break the social conditioning.

Hence, I would like to recommend one movie and one book to all the readers. The movie is pretty recent, the 2021 Malayalam film The Great Indian Kitchen directed by Jeo Baby. This movie will surely move everyone inside out. The recipe of The Great Indian Kitchen is hard to digest.

The book is an old one, but surprisingly it is still relevant, Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. It’s a 1949 book written before the start of the second-wave feminist movement in France. And it’s sad that even after 72 years, it feels relevant. Simone De Beauvoir once said, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.”

So we need to stop the irrational and heinous social elements from making a socially or morally correct and appropriate model of “men” or a “women” out of a human.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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