The last Valentine’s Day witnessed a women’s movement that brought global attention on certain important problems of women. Women were discriminated against in the past in a variety of ways. While discrimination seems to be on the wane today, violence against women is apparently mounting.
It is possible that the decrease in discrimination and the increase in violence are correlated. When women began to be more successful and more visible in the public, some of their male counterparts (who could not achieve proportionate success in life) reacted violently. As women continue to ascend the rungs of success, this problem is likely to be more accentuated. The problem, in this case, lies with the men; it is men who need treatment.
But it’s not fair to put the entire blame on men alone. True, patriarchy has been the dominating system in most parts of the world and men created the rules for women. It is a man who drew the Lakshman rekha for Sita; it is a man who kidnapped her; and, again, it is a man who abandoned her when other men cast aspersions on her chastity. It has been a man’s world hitherto.
Nevertheless, the blame cannot be put on men alone today. We live in a time which has already given much liberty to women and ample opportunities to forge her own destiny. Have women made proper use of that liberty and those opportunities?
In the middle of the 20th century, feminist Simone de Beauvoir wrote: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman; ... it is a civilisation as a whole that produces this creature.” The civilisation that De Beauvoir spoke about made woman a commodity, something that was “constructed” by man, by patriarchal systems.
Half a century later, we live in a substantially different world. We inhabit a civilisation that gives equal rights and liberty to women, in addition to many protective measures like reservation policies. In spite of that, about one billion women (a third of the entire women population in the world) feel insecure. There is something radically wrong somewhere.
I have already admitted above that there is something wrong with the men who inflict violence on women. I also raised a question whether it is only the men’s fault.
The women are responsible in many ways for defining themselves and the responsibility is ever more today when they have been given much liberty and rights.
One of the first things that women have to do today is to stop seeing themselves as commodities. If De Beauvoir lived in a time when the patriarchal systems commodified women, can today’s women admit that they are not also party to the process of their own commodification? We can accuse an Andrew Marvell of commodifying his Coy Mistress by virtually dismembering her identity into discrete sexual objects by focusing his gaze on her eyes, forehead, breasts, “the rest,” and “every part,” before raping her mentally with the bizarre threat that if she refuses him, “then worms shall try / That long preserved virginity.”
Marvell lived about five centuries ago. Has a woman’s situation in society changed much today? My focus, however, is not on that situation but on women’s responsibility in upholding that situation. Can women today claim that they are not equally culpable for the commodification of their species? Look at the advertisements and the movies. Don’t women allow themselves to be commodified, to be shown as objects of men’s sexual pleasures – overtly or covertly, sensually or vicariously? Consider the amount of jewellery sold all over the world every day – it’s in hundreds of kilograms. Why do women think that their bodies are objects to be decked with such jewellery? Consider the fashion industry, the cosmetics industry, the beauty industry... Can man sustain these industries without the woman’s cooperation? So, who is commodifying women today?
As long as women allow themselves to be perceived as commodities, there will be hordes of Marvells to admire the various parts of the commodity according to each one’s taste.
In 1975, a female socio-linguist, Robin Lakoff, wrote that women’s language was inferior since it contained patterns of “weakness” and “uncertainty”, focused on the “trivial”, the frivolous, the unserious, and stressed personal, emotional responses. If we replace the word ‘language’ with ‘attitudes’ or ‘perception’, Lakoff’s verdict would be correct even today.
The issue of women’s emancipation is too complex to be analysed in a few lines like these. I have merely looked at it from just one angle which, according to me, deserves serious consideration.