Celebrating Women Or Reinforcing Stereotypes?
Sudipta Shaw – Research Assistant, Kautilya
On 8th March 2022, just like any other morning, I was going through the WhatsApp statuses of my contacts. Everyone was celebrating Women’s Day; quotes were shared, the importance of women in life was acknowledged, images of women who inspire were put up – Women as the superhero, the goddess with multiple hands, the backbone of our life, the multiple bonds and relationships shared were all cherished. These WhatsApp statuses celebrated Women’s Day but I couldn’t stop myself from feeling a sense of helplessness. I am hence penning down my thoughts here in the hope that my thoughts can travel beyond my head.
I shall begin by asking a question that I want you to ponder.
What is a woman?
I googled this question. According to Google sources, a woman is an adult female human being. Notice that Google also displays a picture of Michelle Obama. Google aptly draws the contour of a woman by hinting at the age and sex determined at birth by society. Nevertheless, the definition overlooked the roles, responsibilities, and expectations assigned to the gender being called women whose agency as an adult is limited by the same social roles, responsibilities, and expectations.
From birth, women are conditioned to behave and act in a certain way. They are constantly reminded of the roles and responsibilities that need to be fulfilled to be a good daughter, good sister, good wife, good daughter-in-law, good mother. Let us take note of the word ‘good,’ which demands care work from women. As ‘adults,’ (drawing from Google’s definition mentioned above), their agency is limited by this conditioning, forcing them to live a reality created by society. These norms and expectations come to govern their lives; their experiences, in turn, are measured against these norms (Geetha, 2007). A reality where they need to maintain a balance between their work and home, a balance between their parents and in-laws, a balance between them and their husbands; the list is never-ending.
The outbreak of covid and the subsequent lockdowns disproportionately impacted genders adding more stress and exhaustion for women. With children and family members spending more time at home, implied increased household chores for women.
Woman as a noun becomes a verb dictating the way of doing (West and Zimmerman, 1987). Failing to do this, they also fail to qualify as a woman.
By labeling women as our backbones and responsible for our success, we might be acknowledging their care work and support, but are we recognizing how much they endure? Is one day of acknowledgment enough?
Women’s Day was supposed to be a celebration of their struggles toward making a gender-equal society. Albeit we are unconsciously perhaps reinforcing certain conditionings and stereotypes that are making the gender-equal vision a dream far from reality.
The feminine virtues of a woman are glorified hiding their sufferings and exploitation. The glorification further reinforces the stereotypical roles and responsibilities. These virtues discipline their lives, restricting their true independence. This is not to say that women don’t have choices, but their choices are heavily pre-determined by the traditional gender roles. Their food choices, health choices, sexual choices, and reproductive choices are all constrained by the invisible threads that were tied to them just after their birth. Thinking for own self is considered taboo and labeled as being selfish.
I narrated the problem that was stuck in my head. Is there any solution to this? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. One might argue that in recent times we all are aware about the gendered role and to mitigate the gap we all are helping at home. But the question that remains unanswered is to what extent? And is that enough?
We need to revisit our thoughts, words, and actions, constantly asking ourselves – Are we glorifying and taking the women in our lives for granted or acknowledging their struggle and putting an effort to realize their vision for a gender-neutral world?
And amidst all these, guess who is the society?
Don’t worry! You do not have to google that; The answer is me, you, and us.
Food for Thought: Why do you think the image of Michelle Obama popped up when I searched ‘what is a woman’ in Google?