Saturday, March 8, 2014
Thoughts occasioned by Women's Day
I set about reflecting on the significance of the day while taking a walk this morning amid quite a few middle-aged and elderly women in a park just four blocks away from my house. (In the initial years of my stay in the place, I used to wonder why the male of our species and young women didn’t come to the park for a walk, but, soon, I took it for granted that the park was not for them. Over the years, the women have grown tolerant towards both my company and my Telugu.)
The reflection was on women empowerment, and it wasn’t quite a walk in the park. Two thoughts about the empowerment of women in India crossed my mind. Both concerned urban working women – a category I am familiar with. One of the thoughts was about the role society has set for working women, and the other was about the role women themselves choose to play. While their acquiescence in the former doesn't seem to indicate to me empowerment of any significance, their performance in the latter shows that, in exercising their freedom of choice, they have adopted a model which can only enfeeble them rather than empower them.
Urban working women in India are better placed than their rural counterparts because education and employment have secured them a status in society. They are no longer mere housewives and mothers; their employment has enhanced their position. A large number of them have made noteworthy achievements in their professions, gaining recognition and prestige in society, and this has boosted their self-confidence. This is certainly empowerment.
But the picture will look different if you consider the role a working woman actually performs within her family. Her sharing her husband's traditional role as a breadwinner of the family doesn't seem to involve a corresponding change in her own traditional role as a homemaker. The husband's role continues to be more or less the same in the family, while the wife struggles to do justice to her domestic responsibilities on the one hand and her additional role as a working woman on the other. If societal values and familial expectations regard women's traditional role within the family as natural, working women themselves acquiesce in this unjust arrangement, thereby perpetuating inequality within the family. What seemed empowerment at first sight is thus little more than a glittering façade.
My second thought is related to what Mary Anne Dolan, former editor of The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, said about two-and-a-half decades ago in an insightful article entitled, 'Why Feminism Failed'. In her opinion, working women could have empowered themselves professionally if they had developed a culture different from that which characterized the male world; instead, they had simply followed the iconic male model. ‘Out of some ancient fear, like slaves who can't give up their masters, women with decision-making powers clung either to male bosses or male models,’ said Dolan.
What constitute the iconic male model, according to Dolan? Worship of power and money, ruthless pursuit of success, belief in coercion rather than cooperation, practice of the well-proven policy of divide-and-rule, bureaucratic attitude, faith in the so-called superior prowess of men against all evidence, and an utter lack of understanding of fellow women professional's problems and concerns. At The Herald, which had the first 50/50-male/female masthead in the
, Dolan only
found women in executive positions taking on "the worst aspects of the
stereotypical corporate ladder-climbing male." USA
Dolan said that in 1988. In the years that have followed, women have gained greater access to male worlds. But in their functioning, they have adopted man as the role model. Their essential creed continues to be an ancient one, the male one: Power first. This, in my opinion, acts as a limiting factor.