Recently a Lt.General in the Indian army came under a lot of negative publicity for his remarks about women in the army. It is possible that he had good reasons for his statement besides being purely male chauvinistic but in today’s time and age, you do not make such statements publicly without explaining or qualifying. A combat role in the army is very hard because of the demands it makes on one’s physique, rough and unfriendly terrains and finally the emotional demands– not something easy for men either but I suppose if there are women willing to enter such roles without claiming any special treatment, they should have the opportunity to do so.

When one sees the quickness with which women today challenge such statements and want to assert their equality everywhere, one wonders why this was not the case even 50 years ago – how did they accept a decidedly inferior role for themselves in life and be content with staying in the shadows. I remember discussing this with a friend’s grandmother – she was a graduate, well read, well-travelled and very insightful. She told us that in those days there was a different kind of equality – the clear demarcation of roles depending on a perception of who was better suited to do had no values attached to the different roles. There was no inferiority associated with home making and child rearing which were left to women while men worked to put the bread on the table. They made all important decisions together as equal partners. Neither felt any threat from the other – so there was no need for enforceable laws and rights as it was the unwritten norm in society.

I remembered this conversation while reading “Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull which is a very interesting and amusing narrative by an Australian living in Paris on the cultural differences. She writes:
"France may be famous for feminists such as jean d’Arc and Simone de Beauvoir but the notion of “feminism” is scorned in this country by both sexes. Despite the French penchant for revolution, reforms for women have occurred through slow evolution, and generally later than other developed countries. Incredibly, French women didn’t get their vote until 19444, more than forty years after laws were passed in Australia and New Zealand and almost three decades after Canada and Britain. Until the mid sixties they had to have their husband’s permission to obtain a passport or even open bank account, and their property and family right s were severely restricted.
It is not that other countries do not have issues to resolve concerning women – take a look at Australia where paid maternity leave is almost non- existent and the number of women in senior management remains negligible. But the situation in France is intriguing.
Attempting to explain the absence of women in French Politics, an Ex Justice minister says:
“The very specific history of France, which excludes women from Political role while granting them a well recognized place in society….has created a unique situation between the sexes,” she writes. “if women have not felt totally inferior, it is because their right to speak out has been consistently recognized., bringing them a certain role and power.”
In other words, if French women have not fought for their rights, it is because they have traditionally been treated with respect. If women haven’t shown anger toward men, it is because in this country there is no simmering male anger toward women either.”

I know this may seem repetitive as we had quite a lively exchange of ideas on similar issues after my recent post on women's issues and it made me think of this further.I think in India the unfavourable tilt in the balance of power happened when they stopped educating women on the assumption that they did not need it for fulfilling their traditional roles. With this, informed decision making automatically became a male domain. And when the job of bread winning meant going out to work and not merely on your farm or by practising the family profession, earning money became superior to the traditionally ‘feminine” roles. Deprived of Education women could not enter this arena and this resulted in opportunities for subjugation of women and women were not equipped enough to counter the overt and covert forms of submission. It took a whole movement to be born and they had to organise themselves and fight for "rights" and "equality" in a concerted fashion. Happily all this has changed in the past 50 years. At least in theory there are laws to ensure equality. But in spite of all the rights and laws in existence, nobody can “make” anyone feel “equal” to another. This has to come from within. Every girl should feel that she is no less than any other person whatever she is told.
Another reason for this post is this excellent post by The Rational Fool here where he talks about the challenges before every girl of today in becoming her own person- the historical and social blocks to be overcome and the determination to march on with a focus to live her life as a person in her own right and not be stereo typed into a traditional female role. I believe every girl must do it not only for herself but to be an example and inspiration for her less informed sisters and for the future generations.
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9 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Some very interesting insights, Usha.

    Strangely, women have been very active politically in India. We're yet to get a woman president, & you can put some of the women in politics today down to the influential families they come from, but by & large, a political role for a woman is not a problem in our country.

    I see the point your friend's grandmother made. But I think that in addition to women being educated on a larger scale, the societal symbols & bahaviours that reinforce a male-dominated culture need corrosion. I think that while education will enable women & solve part of the problem, we also need to ensure that as we rear our children, we ensure that we discourage symbols or behaviours that create this kind of bifurcation.


  2. M Taher Says:

    Thanks Usha for your research skills.
    From your's I went to Rational link. And, there I found, serendipitiously, the Tamil connection to an article about 'Back to the future.' I have cited Rational's creative find.

    Your blog's title & subtitle is the focus of my post (as a reflection on perspectives), that I did published yesterday, i.e.,: To perceive other viewpoints or to see things in new ways.

    Be assured (about copyrights); when I was reflecting on that post, I had not come across yours. But now, I can cite you as, well.

    All the best, Mohamed.

  3. MJ Says:

    The sounds we hear from the society are only the reflections of the pain n sufferings that we go through.As far as i remember the Indian history before 19th century has been very content when we speak about women.We have examples of Jhansi lakshmi bhai,n some mugal princess who ruled for certain time...the power of woman was give high respect in other forms if not the complete freedom to evolve equally with men.

    If not the ruling status but she was provided basic education of Snaskrit or whtever...but as u said the "struggle for existence" has changed the whole mirror view.N thats waht is still being reflected.

    There has been lot of changes now from where i can remember.We have come a long way from the fights of gal education,rights n lot of law ammendments to the equality in everything.One must realise that women dont need an upper hand above everything but definetly an equality

  4. ravi Says:
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Add to all this, the Jayamala incident. Sometimes insanity further blinded by religion doesn't look like it has any heights.

  6. Hip Grandma Says:

    we still have women who get upset if their husbands did not treat them to a generous dose of tongue lashing,beating and bashing on a daily basis.There are educated,employed women who can't decide on simple matters without their husband's approval.They cannot fill out a railway reservation slip much less an income tax return form.I sometimes wonder if education plays a role in such matters.women choose to be what they are.My mother in law was not educated but she was aware of her rights and she groomed me to take over from where she left.

  7. passerby55 Says:

    Hi Usha,

    I have to go through your earlier post. I am sure i have missed alot.

    this post furthur asserts and affirms your post on women's issues.

    I agree and appreciate the way you have concluded this post... "I believe every girl must do it not only for herself but to be an example and inspiration ...."

    Many of us write to alert or project an issue but few like you come with the solution!... and that is "wht really matters"

  8. Ardra Says:

    Usha, catching up with u'r posts...
    reading this post reminded me of a quote i had come across long ago:

    "Women are not needed to do what man does, that is not what she is for, she is not needed to think man's thoughts. Her mission is not to enhance the masculine spirit but to express the feminine. Hers is not to preserve the man made world but to create a human world by the infusion of the feminine element in all its activities"
    - Margaret Sanger in woman and the New Race.


  9. Mahadevan Says:

    'Clear demarcation of roles depending on a perception of who was better suited to do had no values attached to the different roles ' - A very correct observation indeed. Almost every woman of those days accepted her role and never considered it as inferior to that of men. However, a fall out of this perception was that the education of women suffered. Many a mothers felt that educating their daughters beyond certain level was not necessary, looking into the role the daughters had to play in the family or society at large.

    A few great social reformers sowed the seed for women's education in the early part of 20th century and today we find that with education emancipation has come. However, it has not reached all sections of the society as yet. Yesterday's newspapers reported that in some villages of Vulsad in Gujarat, polygamy is quite common and is acccepted as a social status. What is intriguing is that the first legally wedded wife actively encourages the second marriage of her husband if she fails to deliver a male child or is incapable of bearing a child. For entry into and exit out of marriage, women should have equal rights and inside marriage she must enjoy dignity and respect and I believe a large number today get this respect, though a long distance needs to be covered.

    It is heartening to read in today's newspapers that in the IT sector, women have been playing much greater role than men, because they are technically better equipped to handle knowledge-challenging situations and have also been handling human relations well. TCS, Infosys and many other IT companies have a large women workforce at various levels.

    Politically, in India women have been accepted at all levels and we are far ahead of many western countries.

    In religious practices, one certainly finds discrimination. Perhaps, the reason could be that they are not very sure of overcoming the temptation over flesh and hence, keeping the object of temptation at a safer distance seems to be a better option. This could be the reason for keeping away women of vulnerable age group from certain temples, asking them to cover themselves with purdah etc. Gods do not discriminate. Men certainly lack civility.

    We have promises to keep and miles to go and yet, when we look back, we find that many other countries are lagging behind us in the race for gender justice.