It is said that women are the backbone of any society. There is a saying in Marathi painted on the back of quite a few autorickshaws “Mulgi Shikli Pragati Zhali”, which roughly means “educate your girl, ensure progress”. The evidence of this maxim being followed is laughable at the best. We live in a dichotomous society. On one hand, women are financially independent and, theoretically at least, free to make choices. On the other, we face discrimination at home and work, there is a rise in crimes against women, not counting those of repression. Incidents of female infanticide and foeticide are on the rise in spite of stringent laws against them. The same woman who is expected to go out and earn is also forced to kill a female fetus in her womb, the woman who is free to make the choice of having a career also faces domestic violence or is treated as a commodity and molested or raped.
Empowerment, equal status, more rights, stricter laws, better safeguards are all things that are being demanded by women’s rights lobbyists and feminists. But will that really solve the problem? Yes, we do need stricter laws and we do need to be treated as equals, but some change needs to come from within. I would go as far as to say that women are more responsible for their current state of affairs than men.
Women today have grown up with the ingrained idea that they are weak: the weaker sex, the ones that need protection. This also leads them to believe that they need to be made stronger, empowered. But then, what if we think of it this way: we are stronger. Our entire perspective of the world changes, doesn’t it? Women shoulder the weight of being the paradigms of virtue in society and are judged by other women. It is a woman who can help another woman succeed and a woman who can bring another woman down.
Mothers need to teach their daughters to dream of Independence and security the same way they would their son. Girls need to be taught to be strong-minded and it is only the mother who can inculcate the values of equality right from childhood. The continuing of archaic practices and thought processes in the name of tradition can only be challenged and changed by women. The girls in society carry upon their shoulders the brunt of being the moral compass of society. Mothers should teach their sons to bear the same weight.
I have seen women who work being frowned upon by stay-at-home moms for their choices and vice versa. I have seen a mother put another mother down for her parenting decisions. A woman should, respect another woman’s choice to lead her life, whatever it may be. It is only a woman who can understand the problems of another and help her ease them. A woman treating her daughter-in-law badly because she herself went through the same thing at the hands of her mother-in-law is as regressive as a man thinking of woman as his property. A lady being forced to abort a female fetus by her mother-in-law is worse than her being discriminated against at a place of worship.
The only way a woman can be equal to a man is to realise that only she can help herself and other women. She has to remind herself that she does not need to depend on others, she is not a damsel in distress. She needs to be her own strength, her own help, and her own survival. As women we need to remember not to judge, and to try to understand every woman, and if not, at least respect her for the choices she makes as an individual. We need to remember to be equal, not to anyone else but to our own potential. When we learn to be a woman first and everything else later, we will create true impact, reach our true potential and tap into real strength. That is when the people around us will realise the folly of trying to empower what is already strong.
Madeline Albright said in a TED talk, “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” I agree. Next time, when you as a woman decide to pass judgement on the choices or the character of another woman, stop and think: “Wait, she is a woman too!” That will be true feminism.