A woman is not a woman’s worst enemy. Patriarchy is.
This post began as a response to a comment on the last post, and in response to - ‘Can two women really become friends?’ and ‘Why women hate women?’
As little girls, women hear of the importance of things they have little control over. They hear about their skin colour, their physical beauty and even today, concerns about their happiness with their future in laws.
They are brought up to see marriage as the goal in their lives. Divorce or separation, staying unmarried or being widowed is seen as something they must avoid. This puts pressure on women to be ‘happily married’ or ‘happily in a relationship’, across cultures. And since much of this is not in their control – women have a lot to feel insecure about.
What’s more, Patriarchy is also responsible for why very little in this all-important relationship is in the control of those it involves.
Traditionally women’s partners are discouraged from seeing their marriages and their wives as important parts of their lives. It’s common for men to be shamed and taunted for showing they care for their wives or marriages. Jokes like ‘Shadi ke laddu, jo khaye wo pachtaye‘, or taunts like Joru ka gulaam are common. And this when women must move in among near strangers and depend on the spouse’s support to feel at home in a new environment.
Traditionally men’s partners are brought up to believe that finding a partner and ‘keeping him’ is their only goal in life. The education they receive, how they talk (softly), walk, look , respond to questions (always respectfully), the careers they choose (no jobs that require traveling) – everything is permitted keeping the comfort and approval of a future husband and his family in mind. Women are brought up to seek approval.
In Patriarchy, men are conditioned to fight for their egoes and ‘honor’. Jealousy in men is seen as manliness. Since the partner must depend on them, men might get away with being unfaithful.
Patriarchy also keeps women dependent on sons and brothers (Manusmriti is not very subtle about it) which makes them insecure about losing them to other women who depend on them, i.e. the women they marry. Basically the entire system puts women one against another.
In a Patriarchy – the partners women are made to fast, pray and work to one day find, are taught to remember that they must not become ‘joru ka gulaam’ or forget their priorities (their parents and birth-families) – so although they too want life partners – they are warned against giving as much as they expect to get.
The men expect to be the top priority in their spouse’s life but they are told she should not be their top priority or she might take them away from their parents. (But they are also told she must leave her parents, friends and family for them.) This naturally makes them take the women a little for granted. This makes the women insecure again.
In a traditional set up, the respect and awe for male members at home and the insecurity and lack of self worth in the female members at home passes on from one generation to another. Even when they know they need not depend on male approval, the conditioning remains. The husband is still being brought up not to forget his parents come before his wife, and women are still being told the spouse is their world.
We also know that unlike a man who can walk out on an unfaithful wife (or honor-kill or throw her out etc) a woman is more likely to be asked to stay and make her marriage/relationship work. And then there maybe financial dependence. So more insecurity.
Women don’t hate each other any more than the rest of the population does. It seems women bond even when there is so much insecurity and dependence.
Movies like ‘Mirch Masala‘ and ‘Delhi 6‘ and awe inspiring stories like ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ show how well women bond, even in unlikeliest of circumstances.
‘Sex and the City‘ is also about women bonding, supporting and being there for each other.
In real life and in the blogosphere, women are seen supporting, encouraging, taking out the time to counsel or just to listen to women.
Also consider, who exactly are women expected to get along with the most, but often don’t? Do they have a choice here? Often women are expected to get along with their spouses’ female relatives of all ages, backgrounds, expectations and attitudes. Traditionally, they are not encouraged to stay in touch with their friends. So they are deprived of the support system that friends could provide and are expected to get along with those who see respect (etc) from them as their right.
Patriarchy does not put the rest of the population under pressure to win the approval of their spouse’s relatives, so the rest of the population has little opportunity to find out just how unfair and dis-balanced the system is. [Read Desi Girl's take on this here and here]
And finally men do compete as much as women do – they have fought wars, fought duels, killed or got killed – but we ignore it as male aggression, male jealousy or machismo.
Patriarchy being a system that allows a few to control the lives of many, does not benefit most of those it controls, not men, not women. Not even those who it seems to benefit… but that’s another post.