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 USA, Dolan only found women in executive positions taking on "the worst aspects of the stereotypical corporate ladder-climbing male."

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.


  1. Sir, I remember having to answer a Question imagining these thoughts (especially the fourth paragraph) in one of my exams; unfortunately the question was in a different direction and i took quite another :-())

  2. I expected women to respond to my thoughts. I'm glad at least a man has responded.

  3. Well analyzed sir. While breaking the male-dominated world, the women are following the men rather than creating a new model and continue to remain handling the familial task alone.

  4. I'm afraid I must correct the computer clock. I published this post at 10.00 am this morning, but look at the date at the top: March 7. Even the first of the two comments are dated March 7. The third one must have been made this afternoon, but the time is shown at 12.37 this morning.

    1. I have just corrected the date and time of my post.

  5. There were meetings, celebrations, interviews and competitions in the name of March 8th everywhere. I was at Hyd and came today, opened my mail only to see what had been perturbing my mind these two days! Such a solace came by reading your article. Sir, you confirmed very interestingly the entire feminine dilemma. Your writing this itself is a support extended to women who like to change.
    I taught MPhil MTWU classes on Sundays for a couple of years and I came across and studied Feminist Literature. There were 6 women candidates pursuing this course and all working and my reading helped me not only to go with teacher’s everyday ritual of completing the syllabus in given slots – miserably, to one’s own satisfaction or to the students satisfaction - but to throw some challenge and heated (really) discussions as working women themselves are not clear of the role that you need to play at home and work place. All of them showed Maa in law or some other in law as the sole cause of the trouble that they had identified instantly in that class room. If not the poor husband was any how there. Next father or brother was targeted. Mother for not giving equal opportunities with Indian traditional mindset, they would come out. I used to continue the discussion and the entire three hours would revolve around all apprehensions and two ‘M’s were targeted - ‘M’aa in law or ‘M’ale and they got tired of complaints/ verbal attacks and no new point would be added. Meanwhile the lady for sign to lock my name against my name would enter and there was nothing to write under topic except the faces smiling with everything came out and feel light which I couldnt record of course. I used to sign writing Introduction : Feminism telling them keep all this stuff you told now in a recycle bin and tell me the reason for women empowerment still unachieved. Feminist critics like Elaine Showalter, Simone de Beauvoir never suggested looking at your counterpart and empowering. Gender Studies never suggest seeing the world through/ with /like male. Men do not look at women but may take support. They are already well trained to go with their business if that support is not there. Majority of female still depend on the male and do not know even simple things related to their profession. They are dependents in the name of support. This dependency needs to be streamlined but so much messy in the society prevailed. A cleansing process must be done but all wh words plus how challenge us. Let coming years take such an initiative.

  6. Your thoughts are so true sir. Most of us think woman empowerment is to be successful in their professions (like men). The rest remains same at home and in families. But what we need to realise is the real empowerment is to create a true identity that is uniquely ours. Though I am glad that this revolution of thoughts in woman has begun,which will create an identity of their true self from within.