Monday, December 01, 2008

Feminist or Feminine?

I was reading an article on the changing role of women in modern India and this thought came to my mind - are we feminists or feminine?

Picture the Indian woman of the 19th and 20th centuries… shy, demure, a saree wrapped around her with the quintessential 'ghoonghat' to avoid the lusting eyes of 'paraya mard', agreeing to every word uttered by her family and her husband… someone who's entire life revolved around the whims and fancies of her man. This was the time, not too long ago, when women depended on men for financial and emotional needs. In her infant and growing years, the man was her father, soon to be substituted by her husband. From being the last to get her meal to wearing old clothes so that her brothers get new ones to giving up education (or not being educated at all), she would sacrifice, sometimes as a daughter, a sister or a friend. Then, she would step into the role of a wife and typically, as soon as her in-laws / husband demanded, a mother. Here, her sacrifices would be in the form of domestic violence, dowry, harassment - both physically and mentally. She would be expected to cook, clean, look after children and in-laws and satisfy her 'pati-parmeshwar' in bed as well. And finally, at the very end of her life, when society and her family had sucked out the life-force out of her, she would be glorified as an ideal 'bahu'. And all this just because she could not free herself from the shackles of financial dependence. She would stop living and just existing.

Zoom in to the 21st century Indian woman. She is educated, financially independent with a string of nannies and maids to take care of her house and her kids. She is a globe-trotter, dressed in a business-suit with the lap-top, scaling the echelons of top-brass companies – a complete go-getter. She is the mistress of her own career and life. She no longer depends on men for her financial needs. She competes with men in all spheres of life, even in erstwhile male-dominated areas like riot-police and defense services. From the professions to politics and from the arts to business, the feminine paragons of our times are taking charge of their lives, competing with men in the public sphere, succeeding in their jobs, re-scripting their family lives, nurturing their children, running elegant homes and maybe doing a little social service on the side. And hence one would think that finally, women would have started living and stopped just mere existence. But, the situation is not too different.

Even today, she has to forcefully claim her existence and freedom. She now has to manage both her career and her home, with little support from her ‘better half’. In contemporary urban middle classes, career couples have become fairly common. The issue of how to balance both work and family responsibilities is however largely considered as a “women’s issue”. It is mothers, much more than the fathers, who are held responsible for finding the balance. One could argue that this simply reflects the reality of most women’s lives as they struggle whether to put careers on hold and go through guilt and anxiety over the time their jobs take away from their children. She is still expected to manage her family with as much finnesse as she would, if she was confined within the walls.

She still needs to make tea in the wee hours of the morning and cook dinner after a hard day at work, while her man stretches on the couch with the remote. She knows she still cannot show her skills of multi-tasking or learn faster or better than her man, for fear of repression. She still cannot interact with her male colleagues without her man constantly judging her with suspicious eyes, irrational mind and inherent insecurities. At work, she is the subject of sexual harassment and glass ceiling with very little recourse in the law. She is the girl with dreams in her eyes and aspirations in her heart but has her wings clipped and thoughts stifled. She is as bound and as dead as were her predecessors.
One may argue that I am a feminist and so are all the women who think men suppress women. But the truth is, men do extinguish the inherent femininity in women. In the mad race for one-upmanship and gender equality, have we women lost out on our femininity, our grace, our warmth, our tolerance? Call me feminine or feminist, I believe we have lost much of both and gained a little of each. I hope we are as balanced as we portray… after all, at the end of the day, we don’t want to lose out our core, true self as women and our sensitivities. **

** On a lighter note, my hubby felt my strong feelings on supression of women would lead to an interpretation that I had written it from personal experience... Just to put it on record that I have a very loving and tremendously supportive life partner!!!


  1. I absolutely agree with you! I'm a student of feminist studies.. and I know how you feel. And as you said, I too wonder if we women would end up losing our femininity in our desire to be feminists who claim equality.

  2. It would be indeed sad if women were to lose their femininity as that is the most refreshing attribute they have bought to a unipolar messed up world (the race is on in our mind and we choose to run it. So the losses /gains are our entirely based on our choices)
    If you look around you will surely find many more stories of the 'male' also aligning himself to the realities of this new planet and at times not just treating a woman as an equal but even giving her the credit, the support and the respect that she desires.(akin to what your hubby provides!!!)
    It is only in the larger interest of humanity that we live through this transition phase to emerge as equals.
    My personal belief is that 'A woman will get treated as an equal the day she decides that it is the only way to be'

  3. I second your article and it makes so much sense to give a reality check to where are we heading and at what cost ?? Are we ending up giving up much of ourself ?