Posted by Manmeet Bali Nag
The concept of ‘women empowerment’ has undergone a multitude of change, since the advent of active feminism. It may have reaped rich dividends on several fronts, but when perceived in the bigger picture, it turns out to be a farce at times. Lot of importance to the adage — ‘Women at par with men’, is termed as coming of age of feminism. Viewed through the rose tinted glasses by various societal agencies, including feminists; it sounds emancipating but overlooks the schism that exists between both genders, as humans first. In order to be “at par with men”, women are still being asked to fit into many predetermined molds as per “modern standards”. Is this truly women’s empowerment?
The undercurrents of bias are so cleverly imbedded in the fabric of societal discourse that the subtlety of it comes across as a glorification of women, rather than being a prejudice. Some peculiar nuances of such glorification are self-complimentary phrases used by emancipated women on a day to day basis. To me, the term “Woman with a mind of her own” comes across as a gross underestimation of her mental abilities. In an amusing way, it categorizes women in general, as mindless. I mean, do we ever say “A man with a mind of his own“?
In order to be “at par with men”, women are still being asked to fit into many predetermined molds as per “modern standards”.
“Woman of substance” is yet another deceptive term, which caricaturizes and acknowledges a woman with tangible achievements, as credible and not otherwise. There is no such term as “Man of substance“. Doesn’t self-made man or woman sounds more accomplished and humanistic?
Then we have this very flattering term, “Super Mom” wherein a woman is perched on a pedestal of glorified motherhood, very often exaggerated beyond reality. This competitive terminology sets a precedent of certain unachievable/tiring parameters, requiring a woman to prove herself as a credible successful/holistic woman. Modernity and financial empowerment, in many ways sets precedence for such image benchmarks. These are very often demanding and lead to frustration in the highly competitive role she performs, while multi-tasking on several fronts.
“Woman of substance” is yet another deceptive term, which caricaturizes and acknowledges a woman with tangible achievements, as credible and not otherwise.
Such are the misgivings of an image conscious society that in the endeavor of carving that pseudo image, women largely become competitive clones of each other. Rather than realizing and cherishing their own unique capabilities, they get into a race of running after that elusive impeccability attached to performance.
So who’s a modern woman?
In the name of modernity, the media and the advertising world leaves no stone unturned in churning out a nauseating image of a designer women. Their objectification is the hallmark of many a jingle or advertisement, from baby food to automobiles. There’s a plethora of such interpretations which can be discussed and debated upon, as a series. I am just touching upon the tip of the iceberg.
Moreover, such an analysis is often met with rebuke because it’s an anti-thesis of stereotypical image of a ‘modern’ woman. It may ruffle the feathers of many, whose conditioned mindset associates women emancipation in consonance with comparability to ‘Men’ and how far she goes in that pursuit. In my opinion, it is sheer dehumanization of a woman, when her resilience; tenacity, grace, charm, compassion, intensity and unconditional love gets over glorified. She need not be deified because as a human she may equally be vulnerable, scared, insecure or powerless at times; and that’s perfectly okay.
In the name of modernity, the media and the advertising world leaves no stone unturned in churning out a nauseating image of a designer women.
The stereotypical benchmarks often reinforce the clause – “Women marching ahead, in tandem with men” (Aajkal auratein mardon se kandhey se kandha milakar chal rahi hain!). Such comparisons and success parameters for women reveal the dark underbelly of patriarchy, in a sugar coated pill. Often, modern women have got entrapped in this clause, embarking on a lone journey with negligible co-operation, but with the onus of manifold responsibilities on her. As a bait to lure her towards tangible success at work, sexual innuendos and exploitation of women in workspace isn’t a rare occurrence.
Ironically the ‘Man’ again is a nemesis of this very inescapable conditioning by society, and may be equally vulnerable and stuck at times. Times are changing though, but still it’s a long way to go, before such stereotypes ad prejudices are negated totally.
Can “empowered” women retain their holistic identity?
The desirability of a woman also comes under the scanner vis a vis her so called feminine attributes, as benchmarked by society. There is a deep rooted mindset which associates beauty with brains as a threatening trait in a woman. On the face of it, it may be applauded but the vulnerability clause (Damsel in distress, who’s saved by some Prince Charming) is subtly given precedence over a heads-on approach. This alchemy of desire, many a times manifests itself in crude humour wherein sexist jokes are the forte of males but it ceases to be humour, if a women cracks jokes on sexuality or morality.
The society conditions us to wear masks, forsaking one’s uniqueness as humans. There can’t be anything more detrimental and appalling at individual and collective level. It’s about a cause and an effect and the deep rooted conditioning points towards masculinity being a stronger trait. Feminism is about fighting for human rights for both gender at par and thereby evolving into a more inclusive realm. On the contrary, honesty of image/ identity is hardly respected or appreciated, and this is a zero sum game for either gender. The core needs to be strengthened, wherein a person is neither apologetic nor trying to prove a point vehemently, in order to sustain one’s identity.
The desirability of a woman also comes under the scanner vis a vis her so called feminine attributes, as benchmarked by society.
The fall out of an insecure society is that a woman starts feeling apologetic for her strength or masks it in some guise. At times, she may be mocked, humiliated, taken for granted or misused if she stays her own self. On other occasions she may become a poor copy of her male counterpart, just to prove a point. Delving into the subtle undercurrents of the society is required, wherein a woman doesn’t need to wear pseudo mantles to survive. Otherwise, the scenario is a no brainer for sure, and restricts the overall growth of a society or culture
There ought not to be an image associated with femininity/woman, whose standards are set and governed by patriarchal pseudo-morality. She need not be monitored by her appearance and perfection standards set by society. Her sexuality need not be shamed because that’s the essence and life breath of life itself. Our ancient texts and our heritage understood those nuances hundreds of years ago, while attributing divine and cosmic angles of “Shakti” or power to it.
All this and more encompasses womanhood in its totality and any digression is bound to be detrimental for women as well as for men. This calls for doing away with the mothballed standards based on insecurity and fear. Women have a multifaceted aura which is far more superior than, what she gives herself credit for, or is perceived by the society.
As far as being a woman in India is concerned, her individuality needs to get acknowledgement in a broader realm. She needs to be perceived as her unique multifaceted self, while her potential needs to be optimally utilized by her. She is merely not an object of desire, and needs to feels safe under all circumstances. Until and unless a woman gets to nurture her true essence, the celebration of womanhood and adulation of Goddesses remains a sham. Subsequently ‘women empowerment’ should not remain relegated to an issue, but should be a given.
Manmeet is an academic, blogger and cultural critic, in the pursuit of some learning and unlearning. She extrapolates her thoughts for a deeper insight into things in general and gender dynamics in particular. Given the ponderous nature of her thoughts, her blog calls itself ‘Pondering Pauses’. For more pondering please log here.