“Women are the biggest enforcers of patriarchy” – I read this quote somewhere and this pops up in my head rather frequently when I read such articles. How true! This post has been in my mind for a long time and catalyzed by the article linked above, I finally decided to pen it down.
Marriage brought me into contact with a completely new set of people, people who were completely out of my world-view. I was brought up very liberally, encouraged to do, speak, dress and behave as I want. I was the lucky one in the sense that I never walked the tightrope between tradition and modernity – my mother and grandmother did that for me. The worldviews that women are equal to men intellectually, as-capable and in fact mentally stronger was not just an opinion but my reality. My idols reached the top of their games and my friends and close-colleagues seem very bright, smart and women of the 21st century. My mother excelled in her chosen profession and despite having different responsibilities at home, I never felt that she didn’t have an equal say or equal decision making powers. To me, power was balanced at home. So when I got married, what I observed outside this familiar progressive circle of extremely independent, smart women, came as a literal shock to me.
I saw women who worshipped patriarchy for no other reason than the comfort of familiarity. What the author observes in the column is the ground reality for many women who have been raised ( religious and traditionalist propaganda, in my opinion) to be subservient to men for their “benefit”. I saw women who were happy to act as mere helps and maids, while the man made all the critical decisions. This balance of power was for no other reason other than gender – she was female after all. It was astonishing to see how the women basked in this second-grade role and even justified their reasons to be delegated to the wifely duties alone. The so-called protection was seen as a mark of their pedigree – the inability to venture out as wished, wear clothes as desired, step out at odd hours was seen as being from a “good” household where women were to be protected, treated like breakable china until shipped off to a husband’s home where a new “protector” was established. I saw parents worry incessantly about a grown-up daughter who ventured out to buy some milk in a shop that was less than a minute away. You might argue that there are safety issues prevalent which justify many of these actions. There might be some element of truth to that, but stunting the ability of an individual to protect herself, make her own decisions in the name of “safety” or “culture” is mere a tool to weaken the female gender and render them shackled to the “safety” of patriarchy.
What astonished me even further was this – women are so mired in the system, they don’t realize how rotten it has become. Small freedoms – the ability to maybe spend an afternoon shopping or make a decision to watch a movie with their girlfriends satisfies them. They argue back that they are in fact independent when to me it looks like they win these small battles, but lose the war big time. They compare themselves to their mothers or grandmothers who lacked that basic right, and feel blessed that their condition is better just because they could venture out or decide not to make dinner. (It is all with the husband’s blessings, mind you.) Women are very much the caretaker of the children – ensuring the household is running smoothly with a spotless house and a hot meal waiting for the husband returning from his job.
I saw women with jobs – jobs, not careers feel the rush of freedom and turn a blind eye to the obvious walls around them. It is true that much of the female workforce was unemployed a generation ago, but mere jobs don’t qualify as true progress. The funniest part was how the husbands where the ones credited with “allowing” the wives to work and the women never flinched when such statements were made to their faces. They are indeed “allowed” to work, but pursuing careers, moving cities, chasing promotions that disrupt schedules are options for which sadly “permissions” are still required. Worse, if they dare try to break these glass cases, it is the other women (aunts, mothers, relatives, friends) who will shoot down the idea instantly. It is then natural to accept patriarchy, the mundane responsibilities as enough because fighting so many battles and breaking so many shackles is discouraged, portrayed as unwanted, scary and often character-slandering. These extremely capable women then satisfy themselves with a job that adds a significant amount to the family’s earnings, but still consider themselves second-grade.
The real scary part is that there is a part of society that is not recognizing that it is actually being segregated against – atleast earlier the women were marginalized and they knew it. It just seems like they have broken the prison walls only to find themselves in the yard of an even bigger prison – and they don’t know it yet! I have heard conversations where they find flaws or shortcomings in the lives of successful women who have climbed to the top of their fields and compare it to their own healthy home-lives. “Oh, her daughter stays with the maid all the time” or “Look at her, she never makes food for her family” are so commonly used to judge other women and paint their achievements in a negative light while turning a blind-eye to their obvious positives. This kind of back-biting attitude is human, but also a reinforcer of the old-school patriarchy where women were judged on the quality of their cooking, the cleanliness of her home and the satisfaction of her husband.
I felt many times that I had indeed gone back in time. It was eye-opening for me to see the reality of so many women and their blatant disregard for the bigger picture of their rights and life. With so many conversations happening now about women’s rights and empowerment, I hope these women don’t dismiss this as just news but use the moment to take a look at their own lives and their rights. An equal society would be a wonderful place and changes do happen slowly, but I hope the change is concrete and tangible and from within – not just a larger prison yard with glass ceilings.