The ill effects of the patriarchy are well documented, but one of its worst aspects is how women have accepted and internalised it. As a result, many women have also become oppressors – which again allows men to reap the benefits and further assert their own dominance.
Growing up in a household running on this kind of toxicity, just like the homes of many people I know, I turned a blind eye to how the women in my family were taking part in oppressing other women despite having been oppressed their entire lives. One would expect them to understand and support other women, but does that happen? It becomes even more confusing to understand this cycle when the very women whose identities were snatched away – who were forced and subjugated into identities of mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and daughter-in-laws – do the same to their own daughters and women around them.
My parents expected me to get married soon after my masters and help my husband in his career instead of focusing on my own career – while being aware that my mother was married off when she wanted to study. Instead of me studying further, they expected me to learn all the household chores and be the perfect bahu/biwi material. They expected me to marry a man according to their choice when they themselves are not happy with their arranged marriage.
This reminds me of what Juliana Makuchi Nfah-Abbenyi, a professor and writer from Cameroon, writes in her book Gender in African Women’s Writing: Identity, Sexuality, and Difference:
“…women’s identities and subjectivities as not only shaped by male control but by women as well who take part in the control/oppression of other women…”
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To counter this deep-seated form of gender oppression, we must look inward. When we blame the wife or the “other woman” when a man cheats, when we shame a woman and call her “easy” or say she is wearing short clothes for attention – we are furthering internalised misogyny, which always holds the woman responsible for everything.
I mention these examples because we hear women say these things. An aunty once said to me, “Vo toh aadmi hai, aadmi aise hi hote hai. Lekin vo toh ek ma, hai (Men are like that, but how could a mother do it?)”, when two married adults were found to be cheating on their respective partners.
There’s many more such toxic one liners that have burrowed their way into society.
“Kaun shaadi karega, shakal aur shareer theek karo (Nobody will marry you with a face like that)”, “padhai karke dimaag kharab ho gaya hai (Education has made you lose your mind)”, “bina aadmi ke nahi reh paogi (Women cannot survive without a man)”, “bacche nahi toh aurat nahi (A woman has no value without a child)”, “aadmi hote hi aise hai, compromise karo (Men are like this, you will have to compromise)”, “umar nikal jayegi (Nobody wants an old woman)” and so on.
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I do not know a single woman who has never heard of any of these lines. I have been told by many women in my family that education is okay, but that nobody would marry me if I did not learn household chores and speak softly – because apparently “no man likes a loud girl”.
Is our value not more than just making round rotis, which is part of the labour women are not even paid for? My family would be more happy if I cooked instead of studying because “padhke kya hi kar logi? (What will you be able to do after studying?)”
When the women around me value other women’s child-bearing ability and submissiveness, how am I to fight the patriarchy?
“Solidarity is our weapon” was the slogan for the International Women’s Strike that happened on March 8, 2017 and should be the slogan for all of us, forever. Women cannot free the shackles of archaic patriarchal oppression till they unlearn the internalised misogyny and stand up for each other. The fight for women solidarity where women of all colour, castes, age, cultures and countries stand together, for each other, is as important as the fight against patriarchy.
A community of women where we support the fight against the need to fit into patriarchal tropes and identities created by men for their own benefits, where we claim our autonomy and where we are not defined by our relations with men, where we become “I” instead of just mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and daughter-in-laws because we are much more than that. We are individuals with equal rights to dreams and desires.
When the oppressed do not understand the oppressed, how can there be hope for the oppressor to understand and change?
The change starts from us.
Swetal Agrawal is a graduate in English from Delhi University. She believes that unlearning unhealthy behaviour should be normalised and she is against men who think they can get away with being fake feminists under the garb of woke behaviour. She writes poems, loves tea and sunsets. She tweets @bruhwal.
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