Padma who has pointed out the extremes we could be headed for if the female foeticide and other wrongs against women continues passed the baton to me for my take. On a serious note, we both share a lot of concerns on the status of the girl child in India, female foeticide and the discrimination that uneducated poor women still face overtly and educated employed women face covertly in this country. So on both our behalf, I present the serious side of issues relating to feminism.

What does feminism mean to me? I hate labels and usually stay miles from any isms because I do not want to become rigid in my thinking. But certainly I will not stand by and let anyone, man or woman, treat me or any other woman shabbily in my presence just because of our gender.I cannot be stopped from doing something because "women don't do it." For me there is only one criterion for deciding what I can or cannot do - whether it is right or wrong from a humanist point. I am not unduly sensitive or paranoid and dont go about looking for discrimination everywhere with a microscope but I will not tolerate even in jest expressions like "after all, she is a woman" or "a woman should behave like a woman" ( so often heard in Tamil films and on Television - "pomblai pomblaiya irukanum" "after all ponnu nee, unakke ithanai thimir irundaal aambilai avanukku evlo irukkum?")

I shared her outrage when I read Shruthi"s post about sending bangles to Sachin.

I laugh when educated women - women hailed as women of substance marry peepul or banana trees because they have a flaw in their horoscope, or observe certain type of fasts which are meant to keep their husbands in good health or give them longevity of life. Yes I know a medical doctor who observes Savitri vrat.Needless to say I do not consult her anymore on medical issues.

I am repulsed when doormat like behaviour of women is romanticised - for example portrayals of Paru and Lolita on the big screen; Worse when young women copy this behaviour and voluntarily subject themselves to abuse from their lovers, all in the name of love. Sunita's post here reminded me of this.

It sickens me when women models promote beauty products in advertisements so that a woman can be more alluring to her man

Today we have come a long way from the traditions of child marriage and Sati and the misery of Widows in Benares and in law we are all equal and yet we wait for someone else to "allow" us to be free, to "give" us our rights.
As long as the sense of equality does not come from within us, no one else is going to get it for us. As`The Rational Fool says in this post women have to rebel wherever they find discrimination. To fly you need to use your wings and your lung and muscle power not piggyback on someone else.

I do not feel the need to refuse to cook or to wear trousers or burn the bra to assert my belief that I am equal to a man. His attire or behaviour is not the reference point for me to be considered his equal. I am convinced that I am as human and deserve everything that he does and will not be "told" what I can or should do by Man or Woman.
I do not consider myself a feminist but do share the same plight as Rebecca West
"I myself have never been able to figure out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."

The status of women in India and my views and those of the readers of my posts has been discussed in this space in many of my earlier posts here, here, here, here, here and here.

I have known many of my generation and those of the younger generation tell me that things have changed "a lot" since independence and today's women are equal in every way. I know some of these people personally and see an illusion of freedom and happiness in their lives. They have always been "allowed" to do what they wanted - so they assume they are free. Perhaps there has been no conflict of interest. The actual power balance comes into play only in situation of conflict of interest:
"in marriage, he respects woman as wife and mother, and in the concrete events of conjugal life she stands there before him as a free being. He can therefore feel that social subordination as between the sexes no longer exists and that on the whole, in spite of differences, woman is an equal. As, however, he observes some points of inferiority – the most important being unfitness for the professions – he attributes these to natural causes. When he is in a co-operative and benevolent relation with woman, his theme is the principle of abstract equality, and he does not base his attitude upon such inequality as may exist. But when he is in conflict with her, the situation is reversed: his theme will be the existing inequality, and he will even take it as justification for denying abstract equality."
(Simone de beauvoir, Second Sex)

So it might be a good idea for every woman to assess her situation and see if she is really free and equal - if she is really free to do anything she wants to even when it challenges a man's ego and pride. Secondly whether a woman is able to identify with another woman primarily as a woman irrespective of every other point of difference between then - caste, language, religion, economic status, colour etc. and whether they are able to express outrage at the insult and support for the victim wherever they find a woman discriminated against.
Therein lies the hope for the future of woman power in India.
19 Responses
  1. Chitra Says:

    I cringe when the model for the Pond's anti-aging cream says, "I got my yesterday's husband back". After she goes on to say how he had lost interest in her etc and then she got rid of her wrinkles, and now he is interested in her again. What about tomorrow, when she can no can longer control the wrinkles even with the creams?

    There is a lot of dual standards amongst the women-folk. Just like the people that were offering bangles to Sachin were women. I know of women who think they are extremely righteous just because they listen to all the elders in their husband's family and fast at the drop of the hat for anything and everything. My husband and I have re-defined the Savitri festival just between the 2 of us. We pray to God on that day for each other's health and happiness. It is really hard in India to continue to stick to such simple acts of ours when the extended family is equally interested to know what I did or didn't do for my husband's well-being. The irony is my husband and I have a deeper understanding and more respect for our marriage than some of these folks with the dual standards. I know of one couple that can't stop fighting and then on these "special" days, the woman slogs her a$$ off for his welfare. Not just the fighting, but also having no regard for him on "ordinary" days. Whatever!

  2. Altoid Says:

    Very relevant points. Unfortunately the very same people who get treated like doormats believe there is a bigger cause to have to put up with it. I dont remember if I said this in my blog or in some private email but the basic premise is "if the woman bows and gives in to not getting her way BECAUSE as a woman she isnt supposed to expect so, then she is "homely" and well adjusted", if she even simply persists in getting her way just BECAUSE she can, she is a selfish bitch!"

    And another line from my play "Men are known to excel in many different skills throughout generations, the one thing thats always been a woman's forte is sacrifice and compromise".

    Sorry, I didnt mean to ramble and make a mini-post in your space, but it boils my blood to see "doormatism" being perpetuated to this very day and most times its because we women let ourselves be subjected for fear of being labelled with a negative way.

    Sometimes I think girls these days need to be taught skills in how to stand up for oneself because they seem to believe its selfish to do so.

    Good post, as always, Usha.


  3. good post usha. The feminist in me enjoyed this psot immensely, needless to say I agree :)

  4. ggop Says:

    What a well articulated post! I understood a lot of things from the conflict of interest bit you mentioned. I immensely enjoy your writing.

  5. Deeps Says:

    "Quote" I do not feel the need to refuse to cook or to wear trousers or burn the bra to assert my belief that I am equal to a man.

    Exactly! I agree totally! I don't really care for women who fight for wearing a man's clothes or stuff like that. The respect is the thing that we should be asking and fighting for! Thats exactly how I feel..

    Also I think the way guys are brought up also matters. Some are shown that women are unequal right from their childhoods. I think I might have mentioned this before, but here goes again.

    When I was still getting proposals, the first guy I "saw", seemed stunned at the fact that I was wearing a chididhaar and not a saree. Plus he looked positively bewildered that I knew all about F1. C'mon, what do you expect? The girl to be dumb and ignorant?

    Another guy was like the guy that Sunitha mentioned in her post. I hadn't even met him and he turned quite abusive in the chatting stage itself. I said I didn't even want to meet him. No thanks!

    A healthy respect of view point is more important to me than anything else. Yes, there are things that I want that I might not get, but the least I want is to be heard and understood. I want to have a healthy discussion rather than a curt "No" without explanation. I've even heard a man say "I have bought her so many things, so I don't care for her opinion" about his wife! What the heck! Just because you bought something for her, doesn't mean you own her soul, damn it!

    Like Chitra says, the media/entertainment says that its all for equality, but end up treating the women like prostitutes. A man's shaving ad has to have a naked woman, well, any man's ad has to have a naked woman or a bunch of them. In one of the weight reducing ads here in US, one lady "proudly" says, "I'm hot now, so my husband doesn't look at other women"! And this is in America! So if you aren't "hot", your husband can look at any woman on the road?? Un-freaking-believable! Lady, you are degrading yourself!

    Not only that, the anti-wrinkle cream ads (like Chitra mentioned) that are very famous here in US are shifting to India. The good values never get spread like this, only the bad ones do..

  6. Anonymous Says:

    You know, sometimes even some women don't seem to acknowledge the idea behind 'feminism'. For example, check out the 5th comment on my last post. Lot more needs to be written I guess.

  7. yseterday, a friend of mine told me that I should go the beauty parlour and try to look good as 'boys' like girls who keep themselves up to the mark! it was so disgusting to hear that from her!! I had to give her a lecture on how 'looks really dont matter'..she is educated and an open minded person but somehow sayin this really dint hit her, this is what happens, somehow we just start acepting this fact and go on propagating it blindly! really sad.

  8. Mahadevan Says:

    Feminism, like Communism, started as a campaign against exploitation. If the Communist movement was against the capitalist class and the bourgeoise for upholding the rights of the proletariat, the feminist movement started its campaign against exploitatiton of women. As Marx's and Angels' scheme of 'the State withering away' is still in the distant horizon, the State being most powerful instrument in Communist countries, the Feminists too lost their focus. Instead of working for equal rights of women, the movement started concentrating on symbolic actions like bra burning, changing surnames etc.

    Women have been exploited from historical times and the exploitation continues till today, in different ways and degrees. Till three years back, Bombay gymkhana, the prestigious Elite Club in Mumbai, did'nt have voting rights for Women. Nandini Sardesai, Rajdeep's mother, had to carry on a relentless struggle till she secured the rights. Infant foeticide, discrimination against girl students, bottom pinching and sexual advances in offices are common. Casting couch is the niche area in the film world, notwithstanding the platitudes of pseudos like Mahesh Bhatt. Advertising world thrives on female flesh. At some of the hospitals and nursing homes, clinical touch is indistinguishable from carnal touch. But there are no feminist movements against these exploitations. Feminists should aim at making men realise that a woman is an inspiring subject and not merely a stimulating object.

    30% reservation for women in parliament and legislatures is absolutly essential because these are representative bodies and in such representative bodies, unrepresented groups need protection by way of reservation. Should not feminist group lead a movement against reservation of seats in Parliament and legislatures ? Let the women of the country take a vow not vote unless they are given 30% reservation in Parliament and legislatures and I am sure, the politicians would yield because they cannot think beyond votes.

  9. Usha Says:

    Chitra: I have seen that ad too and another anti pimple cream and then there is the one for Dove soap - all of them harp on looking good for the sake of attracting or keeping a man's attention.
    Society and tradition try to exercise a strong hold over the individual's life. It is a question of how far one is willing to go in order to liberate oneself. Breaking free means foregoing certain security backups.

    Altoid:This projection of doormatism , the symbol of suffering and sacrificing narihood has been glamourised so much in our litereature and films that there are women who almost want to do this - much like suicide bombers seeking shahidhood.
    Hey you mentioned a play - what is it about? you wrote it?
    I can women who do not have any education or exposure needing to be trained but why can't urban, educated, employed women stand up for themselves?

    ggop:Thank you. Yes like a puppy held on a long leash, "I am willing to allow you to go this much but not beyond.if you do I may have to punish you!"

    Deeps:True, if a guy has seen a doclie mother and a dominant father he probably expects the same kind of relationship between himself and his wife. I am not a psychologist but i guess children form their opinions on roles and relationships based on what they see around.I know engineers employed in big companies and who have seen abit of the world applaud dialogues like
    "A woman should know her station"
    (hennu hennagira beku!)!

    Kishore:This is the age old argument that men and women have tried to give - the inner strength of a suffering woman, how physically she is weaker and needs protection etc. Like a caged bird describing the beauty of her golden cage. No amount of writing is going to help them.

    Anisha:I have also heard and read about exploiting ones sexuality and sensuality etc. - never actually understood what all this means and how long these will work. There are women's magazines which advocate the merit of these!

    Mahadevan:Men need not be inspired by women - if they just let her be, that itself is a great beginning.
    Trouble is that a lot of women themselves have a vested interest in the status quo and many could not care less about discriminations as long as it does not reach the levels of physical assault.
    Women abstaining en masse from voting - ha, this is a country where we go and vote for a party by taking a saree and a stainless stell pot! As someone said In India we do not cast our vote but vote our caste!

  10. Hip Grandma Says:

    'To fly you need to use your wings and your lung power not piggyback on someone else.'
    How very true.Women need to relize this before clamoring for equal rights.If they expect to be given preference while standing in a queue and expect special treatment for being a woman then is it any wonder that men prefer us to be dumb dolls or living robots?

  11. Fuzzylogic Says:

    Great post Usha, and I agree with every point you have raised. Haven't we all grown up hearing those clichéd advices on how a ideal woman have to behave?It used to infuriate me to no end. It still infuriates me when I see the potrayl of such servile attitude being glorified on the Indian tube too.

  12. Lavs Says:

    A very well written post, Ushaji. I have posted my views in my blog. Do drop in.

  13. Usha Says:

    Hipran: many of them do not even know that they have a right to happiness - they consider it a sin like the young rajastani girl in the film DOR. It is centuries of indoctrination and conditioning.

    Fuzzy: The only hope is when young women like you question these and reject these ideas.

    Lavs: Will check out your post.

  14. Altoid Says:

    Hey Usha,

    Yes I wrote it, and when you can email me at You can peek into the script, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

  15. Artnavy Says:

    did u read my take on this?

  16. Usha Says:

    Altoid:Got the links thank you. Will read and comment.

    Art: Did and commented now.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Great post, and I like the no - nonsense way you've stated things. Why be apologetic about standing up for oneself!

  18. Anonymous Says:

    And, I've added it to the list here...

  19. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Usha,

    About me - a Computer science engg currently in US with husband, was a target of dowry harrasment, beaten and treated like a doormat by husband and in laws.

    I am alive and doing well today because of an angel i found in my life, she had a different perspective of being women, leading her life on her own terms.

    I have completely experieced how fatal a women can be to another women and how life saving can be a women to another women.

    Before men its our fellow gender mates that make each others life a hell.