In today’s political climate it is very rare to find someone who doesn’t advocate women empowerment. Every political manifesto promises it, every corporation claims to work for it and every educational institution encourages it. Different people have different ideas of what women empowerment and gender equality mean. It is true that women have come far yet they are far from equal.
For centuries, women have been treated as being inferior to men. Nature did not create these differences, rather they were a creation of the society. For a very long time, women were seen as the property of the men in their life. They had no individual identity. A child could not inherit the caste and last name of its mother. Even in religion, women were accorded a lower place. In Hindu tradition, the daughter is given away to her husband’s family, and the son is entrusted with continuing the family line. Menstruating women are excluded from religious practice. Islamic women can not be a part of community prayers or legal affairs, neither can they become priests. Buddhist monks are considered to be superior to their female counterparts. The birth of a girl was considered a curse. She was considered a burden to her family, and any money spent on her was a wasteful expenditure. A woman was tortured from the cradle to the grave. She was to be obedient and servile. Her experiences and expectations did not find a place in the minds of the public. This was not an endemic phenomenon. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the famous philosopher, compares women to decoration pieces. He advocates equality among men, but sees women as the weaker sex and not deserving of equality.
Today it would be a huge outrage if someone were to openly call women the weaker sex. Women today are leaders and innovators. They are independent and in-charge of their lives. There now stands the modern woman, who has fought against all odds and come out on top. But under the banner of women empowerment, we, unfortunately, made women’s already hard lives even more difficult. They struggle to keep up as their role has become idealized in the name of modernization. They are expected to be the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect employee and the perfect home-maker. If they stumble even once, they are subjected to harsh criticism.
The role of women in society is dependent on abstract concepts like cultural norms and social expectations. Compared to technological advancement and a rise in the standard of living, these ideas change at a very slow pace. While women have been encouraged to join the work, their husbands still expect them to be responsible for all the housework. The girl child grows up shouldering all the responsibilities of her mother. She is expected to not just perform exceptionally in academics but also assist her mother’s daily chores. Her brothers, meanwhile, are not held to any such standard. The same behaviour that young boys are allowed to continue well into adulthood, girls are berated for. The idea of a young girl in a pretty dress being asked not to mess-up her clothes while playing reinforces her belief that her appearance matters more than her enjoyment. Even the toys that these children play with end up subconsciously emphasising traditional gender roles.
This impacts women not just socially but also academically. There is a clear divide in the subjects that men and women opt to study. There is a glaringly obvious lack of women in STEM subjects, while men rarely opt for soft skill industries. While there has been a sharper rise in women’s literacy rates, it is because their literacy levels were lower, to begin with. When the British began promoting the English language and western education among Indians, there was no focus on women’s education. And there still exists a large gap between the literacy levels of men and women. Girls may be overtaking boys when it comes to educational achievements but their employment rates are still lagging far behind. Much of the work a woman does is unpaid and unappreciated. She works not just at the office but also at home. At home, her work is taken for granted and at the office, she is paid less. Young women have a harder time finding jobs as recruiters don’t want to invest in an employee who may later leave the office after marriage or childbirth. It is very rare to see women in positions of power. Even when there are woman leaders, they are seen as being in that position not by merit but by the virtue of their male relations. Any woman quickly ascending the corporate ladder is seen in a suspicious light, with people raising questions about her character.
In the name of women empowerment, those in power are pushing their own agendas. Modern-day feminism is a mockery. It is not intersectional and does not account of the needs of underprivileged women. Different women have different needs and dreams. While an educated woman from a well off family in an urban city may consider her empowerment as being given the same opportunities and freedom as her brother, for an illiterate woman in a rural household empowerment may be being able to give her children nutritious food and send them to good schools. It is essential that the feminist focuses not just on the privileged but also the less fortunate. What suits one section of the society may not suit the needs of the other and should not be forced upon them. There should be no fixed idea of who an empowered woman should be. Women empowerment should be left up to a woman’s personal wishes and individual desires. Only then can a woman be truly empowered
Today it has become difficult to determine what gender discrimination is and who are its victims. It is harmful not just for women but also for men. Within the patriarchal ideas of behaviour, the men are not able to express themselves freely. Their mental health suffers as they feel pressurized to behave in stereotypically masculine ways. They are mocked for showing vulnerability and emotions. Instances of male domestic abuse and sexual assault are dismissed on the grounds of the victims being men. It is incredibly essential that men are brought into the conversation about gender equality.
Our society cannot be truly equal any time in the near future. Gender roles and identities are so deeply ingrained in our society that it is nearly impossible to shatter them, let alone overnight. It is a slow, gradual process that requires the breakdown of centuries-old bias and values. This starts with people being given free choice. Everyone, irrespective of their sex, should have the choice to freely choose how to behave, how to work, who to love. These decisions should be theirs and theirs alone. Only when given this freedom of choice could men and women ever be equal.
Edited by Ojaswi Gupta
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje