Hope : Relative clause
Do we want to continue wanting docile girls who will do anything for their husbands, who will subsume all their dreams to be the appropriate wife, the...
Do we want to continue wanting docile girls who will do anything for their husbands, who will subsume all their dreams to be the appropriate wife, the accommodating daughter-in-law? How much happiness has that brought our girls?
In a fascinating book called ‘Seeing Like A Feminist’, Nivedita Menon writes about the difference between gender and sex. Quoting the famous early anthropologist Margret Mead’s work she talks of Mead’s early research that demonstrated that masculinity and femininity differed over cultures and over time. Sex is biologically determined. It is what we are born with.
But gender, like culture, arises out of a blend of belief, attitudes, behaviour and socialising and need have nothing to do with biology. However, it is what is called biological determinism, the acceptance that one set of people – one race, one cast, one gender – is superior to the rest and that that is what determines their fate, is what has lead to the long term oppression of women in all societies.
The qualities that are considered masculine or feminine in societies are not dependent on biology but on culture. According to Menon it is child rearing practices that establish and perpetuate differences between the sexes. From childhood we train boys and girls in what is, at that point of time, considered gender appropriate behavior. Boys mustn’t cry, Girls mustn’t laugh uproariously. Boys can sit with legs wide open, Girls must not. Boys can jostle boys.
Girls must not. At most times these cues and teachings are subtle but if breached they can also bring punishment. Bravery and courage for instance are viewed as masculine however many women show these qualities and however few men do. So parents will say of a brave or bold or courageous girl, “Yeh to mera beta hai”. Menon quotes the famous poem by Subhadra Kumari Chouhan, “Khoob ladi mastani who to Jhansi wali rani thi”, even the great warrior queen Lakhshmibai of Jhansi’s courage had to be explained as being like a man!
Societies also value “masculine” traits more than “feminine” ones. How often the papers quote a Parliamentarian woman going up to a male colleague who hasn’t spoken up vociferously about an issue and taunting,” Chudiya pahenlo”.
Menon sites a fascinating and really funny incident of how these traits and attributes change over time. Till the middle of the 20th century for instance, in the West the colour pink was attributed to boys and blue to girls! Pink was considered a stronger colour, closer to the fiery red and therefore more determined and assertive. Blue was gentler, closer to the blue associated with the Virgin Mother and therefore appropriate to girls. As a country rushing into the code of pink for girls and blue for boys and shutting out the rainbow for our children we would do well to think of this.
I have repeatedly said in this column how important parenting is and how we need to be aware of all the cues we give our children consciously or unconsciously. In a fast changing world, in a fast deteriorating security scenario, do we want to continue wanting docile girls who will do anything for their husbands, who will subsume all their dreams to be the appropriate wife, the accommodating daughter-in-law?
It’s a tough road ahead. None of us have the recipe because the climate itself changes so fast. But one thing is for sure, that we can’t go into this in auto mode, doing what everyone does, what our parents did, what our neighbours do. We constantly need to gage, weigh and decide. And evaluate again and again and change course when necessary. Then we might hope for sensible, adjusted, confident youngsters.
(The writer is a popular danseuse and social activist)