It is perceived, and perhaps correctly so, that women in the Northeast have more freedom as compared to some of the other states in India. However, there aren’t many women holding positions of power in the Assam of today. Why is it so? This question was asked while addressing a successful women entrepreneur in one of the meetings I attended today. She regretted that she had no answer and the quorum had no justifiable answer as well. I tried answering but I was terribly bad at expressing myself today. I was intervened. And I ended up being misunderstood.
Let me try and answer this question in writing, while alone and in a more relaxed environment. I am thinking of dividing my analysis into a few constructs. I have neither studied history, nor sociology to give a theoretical analysis. So my analysis would be based on my observations and experiences.
Parenting is a media that brings in traditional thoughts and actions into the future. It is also a process that builds attitudes and behavior traits into the mindset of the children. Traditionally, at least from the past few hundred years, the society sees the women performing a certain role in the family, and that can be broadly called ‘the housewife’. The family is the smallest unit of our society and that unit appreciates a woman if she nurtures the family, cooks, cleans and rears the children.
Parents, being the head of a family unit brings in these values into a girl child. She is supposed to bring a glass of water to the guest of the house, while the boy child gets to sit with the guest. She is supposed to cook, clean the utensils, and know the culture and traditions of rituals such as marriage and other festivals. She is not allowed to mingle with people outside the immediate family, and as a result she becomes shy and becomes comfortable about the works inside the comfortable confines of the family. She may even become the Lion - the power center of the family, but she is meek when it comes to the outside world.
She neither gets the opportunity, nor gets the time outside of her household responsibilities to think of a career outside of the family that may have got her into a decision making socio-political or economic role.
In the last decade or so, liberalization, access to media that brings the world into our drawing rooms and access to education have managed to change mindsets of the parents and therefore the girl child to a significant level. Parents, especially the mother of the house, realized that their daughter is as capable, perhaps more capable than any boy of the neighborhood, and that she should become independent unlike her, by being financially independent. The girl child growing in the environment of nuvo-parenting is not encouraged to do any cooking, cleaning and such traditional ‘women duties’ in a family. She is now getting educated to get financially independent, to get a job.
This trend had somehow left no choice to the girl children of such nuvo-parenting families, about the kind of life she had really wanted. They started feeling inferior if they weren’t earning like her many friends, or like her mother expected out of her to. Housewife became a skeptical; derogatory term for this set of nuvo-women.
Worse was the way the boy child was being raised in the same families. He was not brought up in the similar culture of accepting an earning life partner, where he had to share the household task of cooking, cleaning and rearing the child. He was ironically brought up to marry a ‘housewife’.
This gave rise to two new trends that had the potential of going against women becoming leaders having decision-making powers. Firstly, the women had started having dual roles. She started managing the house and work for a livelihood as well. The husband continued to be the primary earning member of the family. Secondly, the average marriage age of working women started increasing; leading to late pregnancies and longer child rearing cycles.
This, I feel, severely affected the probability of a woman become a leader with decision-making capabilities. She simply had too much to do in her prime years. Although, this started as a metro phenomenon, it percolated down to other cities, towns and villages faster than it should ideally needed to.
If the majority of the feminists in a society are women, it acts against the purpose of the movement of feminism. It only increases gender-divide. It tends to polarize the society. Gender equality is about equal respect and dignity. We as a society are confusing it with Gender Role Equality. The feminists are yet to take the men along with them in their fight for equal rights.
The fight for equal rights for women is not a fight against men. It is actually a fight against customs and a deep-rooted mindset within both the genders. The woman of the family is perhaps more subjudiced in her acceptance of her role as a housewife, or as a caretaker of the husband and her children. She perhaps takes pride in her role as a nurturer. Feminism is not about saying women are better. But it is about showing the relevance and benefit of women being in the role of leaders in decision-making capacity to both the genders and to the whole world without any age or other biases.
Feminism is also about paving a researched strategy for the women to do what they would really want to do. For instance, it is the universal truth that only women of the species can bear a child to take the species forward. If we accept that and encourage women to perhaps have children earlier in the lives to get free from maternal responsibilities, to do what she really wants to do, then it is possible that we may get more women leaders to guide the society into a better standard of living.