Are women their own worst enemies??

I am in a sour mood today. This usually happens when my day starts badly, or my daughter is in a god awful fussy mood or when one of my patients is not doing well. Today, the reason happens to be none of the above. Instead, it is because one of my patients told me very nonchalantly that she was pulling her daughter out of school. The girl in question was an 80 percenter, was so popular that her teachers apparently came home to beg her parents to let her continue on. But the parents were unmoved. The teachers went a step ahead and dangled a scholarship carrot which would reduce the financial burden. No difference. They explained that the college which would accept this girl was not co ed, wondering whether that was one of the parent’s concerns. No avail. Coolly, the mother tells me that she decided against it, because, hold your breath…. paying the city bus fare was not worth it!

This probably happens to many thousands of girls across India. But what pricked me most was the amount of carelessness that the mother displayed when she spoke about her daughter’s plight. She tells me that the girl cried for a while, stopped eating well and finally accepted her fate and is now working as a maid. The more I got flustered, the more calmer the mother seemed. My arguing on her behalf did not make one bit of difference. I asked her whether she did not want her daughter to be in a better financial, social position than she herself was in now?  She parrots that the matter is closed and she is happy now. I ask her how she would have felt in that place. She says she was never interested in studies. I wonder whether she did not feel some amount of pity when the girl cried. She coolly denies it. And THIS makes me so mad!

I have been party to many heated debates with my friends and relatives on the matter of whether women were in fact women’s worst enemies.  The topic itself used to drive me crazy. Outwardly calm, I would be fuming inside at anybody who would condescendingly support that statement. I would argue against it and sulk for the next few hours at least.

I am, I feel, slowly having to eat my own words. The amount of discrimination I see in my everyday practice is to put it mildly, is enormous. Over a period of time, I feel I have become over sensitive to it.

It creeps in so mildly, that its over before you think up a sarcastic retort that you hope will teach them a thing or two.

The wilt in the voice when they say, “ Oh, I have ONLY three daughters”, (no matter that they are all double graduates), or when they say” Please keep me healthy till I PUT my daughter into a good home” ( as if it a piece of furniture you want to sell). Or when a patient as old as my granny pats me on my head and says “ Hope you have a son who can follow your path”. Or when they proudly claim” He is my ONLY son” (after three daughters who were sired hoping for them to be sons). When relatives of mine think a hundred times before letting their daughters go to some hobby class far away from home, because “these times are soo bad”. One of my friends once told me that a patient of hers who was grateful for the care given, pulled her aside and thrust a hundred rupee note into her hand as a contribution towards her daughter’s future wedding. The implication being that it was a burden!

I am sure most of us have been through circumstances similar to these on a regular basis. And thinking back to most of these instances, the person who would have sighed the discomfort happen to be women.

Like the word BITCHING. Well accepted, commonly used and quite often by women, but so discriminatory. Somehow, it makes me feel small. Makes me feel ashamed to be a woman.

Like when I see photographs of female genital mutilation, and the people who restrain the victim are always women!

When I read reports in newspapers of mothers in law being held for dowry harassment. When I hear about two heroines having a “cat fight”. When women talk ill about other women and judge them as being characterless. Elderly women in the household who in the behest of upholding traditions of the yore, harass the younger ones. When working women are not cut any slack at home the way their spouses are. When younger women make specific demands of not wanting to live with or care for their in laws even before meeting and gauging them.

And somewhere subconsciously, it does seem as though women are the ones holding the others behind. In their defense, maybe, just maybe a few of the factors influenced their way of thinking:

  1. Women who are less educated, end up believing myths and misconceptions easily. And because they have no solid knowledge of why what is being done, they assert themselves, mainly in front of other younger women, for all the wrong reasons. That is probably the only way they can wield authority, which defines them.
  2. Women who marry so young that they have no idea what they are missing in their youth. The frustration shows through in their middle age, when they are angry with others who seem to have enjoyed more than they have. They end up judgmental- a classical case of sour grapes.
  3. Some others who have been brought up in the above two scenarios who think that it is the normal way of life and repeat the cycle.
  4. And though I seem to be repeating myself way too much, I have a serious grouse against the typecasting ways of the television soaps, which mouth dialogues like “ a girl’s place is always next to her husband” , “ Once married, only my dead body will go back to my maternal home” or “how will you ever live alone in this big bad world( and hence you need marriage asap!) and the like… I’m sure you get the thread. In most homes, people from all age groups between three to a hundred sit glued to watch these. Probably subconsciously start believing that this is the way the world thinks.

I agree these may be oversimplifications, but at least they may help us to start the rehab work.

The theory of women being women’s worst enemies may not actually be true. We hear stories of women having done great service to their fellow beings and the world in general. Women who brave the odds and manage to reach the top.Women who have helped out their children and displayed grit and determination in helping them reach great heights. I feel strongly that these are the stories that need to be venerated, celebrated and followed in media, kept as mandatory reading since primary school, as dinner table discussions in most homes, and as heroines of prime time tv. The social media network and the internet, still only reaches very few.

And then hopefully, this adage will die a fitful death!