Posted by Emili Dutta
“Don’t tell it to anyone. It’s a ‘shame shame’ thing,” said the mother to her four-year-old sexually abused daughter.
“We can’t accept this alliance. The girl has had several past relationships,” said the groom’s mother.
“Who will marry you if you join modelling?“, said a super model’s mother
“I know he molested my cousin. But he is my husband. I can’t go against him,” said a wife.
“I am marrying the person I love. It’s okay if his family wants dowry,” said a bride.
Commonly heard lines aren’t they? They are not coming from any misogynist man. Here, women become the agents. These women are not wrong. They know what has happened or is happening is wrong. But they have internalised it all. It often happens to most of us, we wear a dress, we like it on ourselves but we decide not to wear it outside. The fear of social validation stops us. This is exactly the case with patriarchy around us. Yes, we are slowly moving towards equality in public space. But what about patriarchy within the four walls? What about the seeds of patriarchy which have become the undying tree in our minds? The incidents have become so commonplace that we don’t even realise that they are tiny ropes holding us back.
Women have internalised patriarchy so deeply that they don’t know the wrong in their perspective. Let us go through a woman’s life and see where the seeds have been sown. At least some of them.
1. As A Child
Every grandmother has the story of Sita, being the ideal wife, who jumped into the fire to prove her purity. A woman has to be pure. She has to be her husband’s companion. Another story develops when she is bought a ‘kitchen set’. She has to learn to cook after all. The game chosen for her is ‘ghar ghar’ or imitating her teacher. Teaching is a woman’s category job. It’s safe for her. She can play inside the house. This is exactly where the seeds are sown. Taking this thought in mind, comes the next stage…
2. Growing Up
The tale of shame becomes her identity. Her mother tells her to be ashamed of her stained skirt, to silence her menstruation cramps as a ‘shameful pain’ which can only be shared with women. We all know that wrapping sanitary napkins in a newspaper or black polythene is not necessary. Menstruation is normal. But how many of us stop the chemist from doing so? Or just question our mothers when they stop us from entering temples?
That is where we internalise patriarchy.
3. The Age Of Dreams
India is moving one step at a time towards acknowledging female rights. But even today, the question arises, “Are your in-laws letting you practice your profession after marriage?” The question here becomes double-edged. Both the person who has asked and who has been asked have internalised patriarchy. The latter, because she has been subjected to this question at the first place is questionable. Quite ironically, women in the urban areas are restricted from working after marriage whereas rural women are not. Yes, the answer to this is it’s a necessity for the poor people. True! But isn’t it a necessity for every individual? To earn his/her own bread and be self-reliant? The urban areas fail to understand that working or reaching for one’s dreams is not necessarily to stabilise financial insufficiency. It is to make an individual identity irrespective of gender. Every woman in her life is accused of being over-ambitious, asked to take a break or quit her professional life after having a baby. It is not a choice which she makes at that time but a subconscious compulsion. It comes under the veil of choice – a result of internalised patriarchy.
In the case of women profession and gender are linked and thus comes intersectional inequality. Even today there are raised eyebrows when we see women taking up professional careers as in ‘mechanical’ engineering, mining, army, merchant navy etc. Women are seen as physically weak without even testing their prowess. The ratio of females to males in the above mentioned professional careers are low. Same goes with men. Even today males going for teaching jobs in schools and colleges, fashion designing or cooking creates a frown and he has to struggle to prove his merit as equal to any MBA or engineer. Jokes portraying women as bad drivers and males unfit for cooking are still prevalent. We have taken it so casually that our mind automatically ignores these minute bias existing in our day to day lives and choices.
4. When The Word Marriage Means Serious Business
Have you ever wondered why this word marriage is something that haunts us in India? Most women run away from this word? It is not the responsibility or the phase that haunts. The reason is the perception of a marriage built in our mind. The idea of “paraya dhan”, the idea that it is a road from where women can’t come back home, the idea that girls are burden to be given off to someone else. Yes, India is progressing but somewhere even the most educated urbanised families utter the line “How can you not get married? You are our only daughter, it is our responsibility.” “Get married before your dad retires, we will be relieved of our responsibilities”.
In India, the word ‘age’ embedded within marri-age takes up the utmost priority. The age to get married has to be perfect. She has to have ripe youth to say ‘I do’. She has to be the young looking wife and the flawless young mother. Again, these are internalised patriarchal choices women make. Maybe no Indian girl would have ever cried if you didn’t tell her she cannot come back home now. Or if you would have said, marriage is just beginning of a new relationship, or just maybe if patriarchy wouldn’t have instilled the fear of getting judged by the society if she doesn’t cry while leaving her parents.
5. Entering Motherhood
The identifying role. The one without which she is “incomplete”. Motherhood. The biggest example of internalised patriarchy lies here. Care, concern, compassion are human traits. But we often confuse them with traits belonging to a particular gender. Women since childhood are taught to carry and nourish dolls. Be a mother. That’s gender performance which is confused with conforming role rendered to women. Yes, womb and reproductive ability rely on women but the choice is often denied. Abortion is a taboo and a ‘sin’ for the most part of the population. The fear of non-acceptance in case of motherhood before marriage and the fear no choice from motherhood after marriage haunts every Indian woman. It is a conscious choice and a right of every woman to be or not to be a mother but she often ends up asking herself, “Am I being insensitive? How will I survive in the society with the tag of a childless woman?” Again, internalised patriarchy.
No, I am not blaming women. The internalisation of patriarchy is not a fault. Its unnecessary, unrealised legacy women are carrying. We don’t even realise when and how patriarchy has seeped into our identity so much that we hallucinate its compulsions as our choice. We don’t realise the darker shades that are much stronger than we realise. The solution to this?
Realising ourselves as ‘womanists’ (as Alice Walker puts it) if not feminists. We are humans. We want to questioned as humans and not people bound to their gender role since birth. We need to realise that woman as a community has to face the battle against patriarchy which not only includes misogyny but patriarchal agents.
Emili Dutta is a passionate literature student and an amateur artist. A true Potterhead, she prides on calling books and words her best pals and the pen her most loyal protector. Her biggest strength? Being born as a woman.
Featured Image Credit: Laura Callaghan