Women who break the rules seldom feature on the right side of history. They are infamously dubbed ‘fast’ or ‘notorious’ or ‘scandalous.’ But wouldn’t they be better defined as daring? Women who dared to break down the walls of patriarchy, to whatever extent they could, and step out into self-created and affirmed spaces of liberation.
It is routine to hear on the internet that men hate women. Or at least imply so through their daily acts of misogyny. A woman who was harassed on the streets was at fault because of her clothes, men rush to justify online. Mansplaining is as rampant as slut-shaming. Meanwhile, women speaking of their rights will be called ‘feminazis’ and told to shut up.
What do all these women have in common? They all made choices. Choices to dress, study, protest. Choices that didn’t fit in consistently with male-favouring designs of patriarchy where female agency stands void.
Suggested Reading: Have Seen This Happen At My Home: Navya Nanda Calls Out Household Sexism
Do men hate on women all the time? That would make it difficult for them to talk to us or befriend us or love us at all. Sure, outright contempt for womankind would exist for many men but generalisations would be unfair. Husbands would say they love their wives, boys would say they love their female friends, a top boss would say he holds the woman in his team in high regard, and so on.
But is this faith and acceptance strong enough to be all-pervasive? Will these men still respect these women as much when they live by different rules? Or when they disagree with them?
For instance, India prides itself on its nearly one percent divorce rate, which is among the lowest around the world. What contributes to the steady upkeep of this horrific statistic? One of the reasons would be the unreasonable compromise women strike in marriages.
Suggested Reading: Thirteen Signs Of A Toxic Marriage Everyone Should Know
Devoting themselves to the needs of the household and their husbands, many Indian women give up on their own desires and dreams. Marriage is given high sacred status in our country. Interestingly, so are women – many Hindu goddesses are women; the motherland is also a ‘her.’ But the social value of marriage trumps the individual value of women.
So when an average Indian man says he is ‘happy’ with his wife and has no complaints, it could well mean she serves him with obeisance and fits right into the ‘good Indian woman’ mould – making tea on his command, keeping the house clean, raising the children, wearing clothes that cover her ‘decently’ and keeping her own opinions to herself.
There is no challenge to masculine authority in this situation and so, of course, the dynamic would be favourable to a man.
Haven’t you heard of men looking for romance with women who are made after their mothers? If the woman is a figure of subservient sacrifice and emotional shelter, in line with the needs of men, then who would complain? But the minute she dares to abdicate this throne men have manipulatively and selfishly placed her on, then she is abused and vilified with the choicest of sexist labels.
Suggested Reading: Confidence Culture Tells Women To Be More Self-Assured: But Ignores The Real Issues
What does it take for a woman to draw denunciation from men? Simply choosing to do things our own way, raising questions, seeking financial independence are reasons enough for our actions to be called those of dissent. That is how low the bar is.
Society needs more women to get up, take stands and act independently.
Anything that stands to disrupt the status quo that entitles men to the dominance they exercise is a risk and must be opposed. A woman who is fat and does not conform to normative beauty ideals. A woman in a business suit getting ahead of her male colleagues. A woman behind the driver’s seat on the road. Literally anything.
Many men make this disapproval known through, not just verbal intimidation, but physical violence too. In clocking in low divorce rates, how conveniently do we ignore the ‘other’ not so appeasing numbers? An ORF report last month mentioned 30 percent of women in India have had at least one experience with domestic violence. Our rape data is, of course, notorious the world over. (Reminder: Rape is about power, not violence.)
Women breaking the rules we have all been force-fitted into, more often than not, do not care for the reproach they are met with. But the circumstances don’t make it easy, as our numbers of violence show. So must women stop daring and doing? Should we, for fear of labels, fall into obedience?
There’s strength in numbers. Society needs more women to get up, take stands and act independently. We are not serving ourselves through subservience. Let’s toe the line!
Views expressed are the author’s own.