In the 80s I was going around doing street theatre protesting against patriarchy and championing for the equal rights for women. I had decided in my mind that all women are friends and all men, the opposite of that in the patriarchal traditional society I lived in. Of course life is not as simplistic. . . I found at the time several men among actors in the play and viewers of the street theatre who were as passionate about equal rights. Later, as life went along I realized not everything is black and white. Truthfully, patriarchs could be well educated young men in cities who try to kidnap and rape, as it happened with Varnika Kundu. Or it can mean any male. And all too frequently, it can mean a woman, particularly an older woman.
And such anomalies pop up all the time. For instance, my son is a true feminist, my aunt is not. This shakes my belief that women will always support other women. I have found bonding and a united approach among women in their 20’s and 30’s. And every time I see it, I rejoice silently. It seems that I was right all my life in my belief. But then along comes an encounter with an older woman and I am shaken in my belief. Like my aunt when confronted by the Varnika Kundu news item quietly muttered, ‘she was asking for trouble for being out that late.’ Hence the Cinderella allegory. If one analyses the Cinderella story, good girls don’t fly in the face of male social order by staying out late wearing fairy clothes. Men make such comments as do women of a certain age. Ironically such older women may work in the sector of women’s study but are deeply antagonistic towards women on the whole. Particularly when it comes to younger women, such women may or may not admit they agree with the men in upholding the Cinderella allegory. By and large such older women say they are helping girls in general when they echo the male dictum – ‘don’t go to such and such localities, don’t stay out after dark, don’t wear this or that.’ The admonitions and bans by these women are in fact more extensive than those of the male counterparts. Ironically the same older women frequently make a study of gender issues.
Traditionally one hears of mother-in-law, sister-in-law confrontations with the new bride of the son of the family. This is borne out by TV serials and /or movies. Girls are permitted to wear tamer versions of the bad girl clothes, till they marry. Traditional clothes become their clothes of choice along with the traditional behavior patterns after marriage. And traditional domestic strife over the son of the family is a theme so common that it becomes a bore. This might be seen as the tussle for power in the family. The more traditional families may still subject themselves to such power plays but the bride is now fast becoming friends with the sisters–in-laws. However the mothers in the traditional families … they compete for the affection of the son by means fair and foul; such as preparing food that he prefers, shoving his baby pictures on to him and do such things to ensure she remains in her position. In nontraditional families, even if the two family units live apart, the psychological warfare between the older woman and the younger one continues in a subtle manner. This warfare is conducted more by the older woman than the younger one. This may consist of criticizing the bride for being not traditional enough or too traditional. I have heard a mother-in-law complain bitterly about how the son’s wife idolizes her own mother.
I have heard that women are their own enemies. Is it competition, such as trying to get the attention of a male – in a version of the male bar brawl? I think we have some years on the Feminism front to contain same sex aggression. And it is the younger women who are showing the path to a happier co-existence. In fact, why just women? Men too are marching to a different tune, at least the younger men. So, viva la difference and viva ‘I aint Cinderella’ movement.
Seventy years we are independent, but women are still treated as unequal citizens. But as I was saying just yesterday, despite politicians we Indians are beating a progressive path. At least young Indians are. Especially the young Indian.