She is a great Mom, keeps a tight check on the kitchen, stays just so in his shadow and is respectful towards his family. He works hard to provide for the unit, is a loyal husband and an indulgent father.
A perfect family portrait but for one latent difference; his portfolio stems from himself and hers from those around her. He is the centre of his own universe; the world around her is the axis she circumvents. His self-esteem comes from his personal capability and application in the arena outside home, her sense of self-worth depends upon approval from those she is related to. He is the doer, she is the pleaser. He has expectations, for her are mostly the adjustments. Marriage embellishes the life he already leads; it transforms her existence beyond recognition, shifting the very centre of her gravity with a fundamental change in the reason of her being.
And no, neither of them is the villain. They are products of a self-perpetuating social order that is so deep and time tested, it is taken as the given. Yes, there have been major shifts in gender based roles but the foundation stands, only the sheen has dulled and very nervously!
At the core of how we conduct the business of living our lives is the assumption that humans exist primarily for each other. There is no cultural recognition of individual autonomy and accountability for developing one’s own potential in our tradition. Salvation has been spoken of mostly in relation to masculine seekers of truth. The women have either not bothered or have been content to be a ‘Mata’ or a “Devi’ with supplementary and augmentative functions. There is no folk thread of a woman needing to or deserving to validate her personal evolution as a better, larger, wiser human being. Yes, there is an active encouragement towards getting an education and acquiring skills but only until she ties the knot. Thereafter, we can tolerate light weight hobbies but heavy duty notions like ‘wanting to make a difference’ or ‘realizing her own potential’ become ridiculous and offensively ambitious phrases in her lexicon. Of course, she will have to pitch in with her hard work and drive outside the four walls but only when the family needs it. For the most part, her role-book includes being a caretaker of her family in return for a secure home and socially acceptable status.
Nothing can be a greater sin for a woman than to want to authenticate herself. Who does she think she is, wanting to prove the point of her existence? Why, she ought to get all the meaning and fulfilment she needs from her family and the extended network. What more can there be to her?
That’s right. Women have come a long way. But until the day they begin to stop feeling apologetic for their existence, it is not far enough. The world will be a cleaner, more transparent, wholesome and happier place when it gives its permission and acceptance for self-realization to those who hold up half the sky.