We were watching a women-oriented web series with G when something triggered inside me and I started writing this piece.
The misery of countless women is a result of their upbringing and conditioning powered by an oppressively patriarchal society. They have been brainwashed to put all their investment in building a happy family with a husband, offsprings and relatives. Such and such is an ideal life, so and so is an ideal husband, father, mother, etc. Women have been told they must be desirable and pretty to be accepted by the other sex. They must be dutiful, caring, faithful and selfless. Their primary identity is that of an object of pleasure. Period. In the Indian culture, the Goddesses with big breasts, rosy cheeks, long hair and heavy hips are the epitome of the ultimate male sexual fantasy. There are numerous temples dedicated to such idols and people don’t find it offensive. Centuries of such strongly enforced conditioning is now a part and parcel of the essential identity of women around the world. These images are jammed inside their heads. As soon as a little girl attains the age of 10 or 12, she starts picking up the cues from her environment and starts moulding herself accordingly. Dressing up, applying make-up to look pretty, believing that red or pink lips are more desirable, and that being fat is awful. Nobody has to force her, she picks up these ideas automatically as if the whole thing is running in an auto-pilot mode. She is impressionable and vulnerable and she wants to be accepted by her friends. Then gradually, she begins to get a taste of what we call “sorrow”, when what she desires to be doesn’t match with what she is.
Women struggle hard to match up to these ideals. The plastic surgery and cosmetic industry are open testimony to the fact that we can never accept ourselves as we are. Actually, we are taught the exact opposite. That we should be striving to change ourselves for the better all the time. What is “better”? Who defines it? We don’t question that. We neglect to look at what we are and inflict torture, both physical and psychological, on ourselves in an effort to become what we have been told we should become. More beautiful, more positive, more loving, more successful at home and work, a better mother, a better boss, a better friend. We want to go somewhere without knowing where we are now.
Women across different cultures continue to collectively fuel these illusory images and keep them going in their own communities. They inflict the same suffering on their sisters, girlfriends, mothers and daughters, of which they have been victims all their life. Anybody who doesn’t match these images are to be feared or forced into submission or trashed as a rebel. By the way, a rebel is no different from the one who conforms. The rebel takes pride in breaking away from norms and that becomes his or her primary identity. Then it is all about preserving that identity and projecting it to others. The rebels will be uneasy if their ideals are questioned. Just like a believer of God will be outraged if his or her faith is questioned. All of us knowingly or unknowingly seek approval from the society in some form. It is a bloody clash between what is real in us versus what has been imposed. The net result is we have surrendered to the demands of a society, that has no regard for the well-being of individuals, yet preaches about greater good. So, women want to feel desirable, want to be accepted, want to feel needed and loved. They want to please everybody. They crave for some kind of identity that will give them psychological security, whether it is of a mother, a wife, a lover, daughter or sister. The women’s magazines are filled with tips and mantras on how to make your man fall for you, how to please your partner, how to be positive 24X7, how to energize a relationship, how to raise children, etc. If any of these instructions really worked, why are we not problem-free, why do we still struggle? So, we keep shopping and keep reading and seeking advice from others. I feel all the feminist movements, irrespective of their country of origin, have only managed to repackage the old framework into a set of new goals, identities and modern ideas of perfection, that have done nothing to relieve women of the pressure to be and become. Whatever little rebellion they stir up from time-to-time, is like a small sandstorm in an endless desert. Everything settles down soon and the status quo continues.
The vicious cycle of unfulfillment has created in us an ever-increasing appetite for pleasure and entertainment. We are easily bored and rarely satisfied. Men are not free from this onslaught either. They are equally burdened. How can they not be? Men and women both cohabit the social space and influence and affect each other deeply. Whatever we impose on the other eventually comes back to bother us. We keep acting and reacting within the same predefined framework of roles, trying to dominate and change each other. Living has become a tangled mess. And we are addicted to misery like the drug addict, who despite knowing that heroin is harmful, cannot give it up. As women we are scared to ask ourselves, “Why do we want what we want?” We don’t seem to be able to reflect on the nature of the demands that drive us and shape our intentions. It is acutely difficult for us to come to terms with our own delusions, to realise that we suffer from enormous self-pity.
What can we do to free ourselves, not from anyone, but from our own image of what we should be? Who can answer this for us? Nobody. Charity begins at home. It is a personal discovery. It is not about sisterhood or greater good.