Our generation grew up listening to our mothers, aunts and grandmothers that women these days are more privileged and have way more independence than women did a few decade ago. This always made me think that women of my generation would be able to pursue a career, marry the man of their choice , travel around the world independently, be passionate thinkers and revolutionists.
But the reality turned out to be far different, because as we progressed through our teens, we got to see many class mates, family friends , neighbours, maids getting caught up in the same cycle of women exploitation that women have fallen prey to over the course of many centuries . There are various reasons for this. One of the obvious ones is the lack of economic resources and financial security.
We may deny it as much as we want to but money contributes a lot towards female independence. A woman could still enjoy some independence even in the conservative 1940’s and 1950’s (such as, Amrita Pritam and Ismat Chughtai), as long as she had the earning power. In our part of the world, there have been some outstanding women who defied conventions and achieved a lot. Examples include: Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Shabana Azmi, Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah, Maliha Lodhi, Fatima Surayya Bajia, Asma Jehangir etc.
But sadly these women represent only a handful of the privileged women whereas literally millions remain oppressed in our region.
When we talk about the financial security of a woman, it does not refer to the money that a woman gets through her husband, father or inheritance. It is the money that she earns herself, owns herself and that comes with no strings attached whatsoever.
Many women in our society possess great calibre and have a vision about how they want to lead their life, but as they approach their early twenties, the society and their family expects them to discard their dreams and settle into the mold set out for them or be regarded as outcasts.
It’s both amusing and sad to observe that a sluggish man with no outlook or ambition towards life in general and career in particular, would see millions of rupees spent on his education, so that he can at least become capable of earning an average income to support his family. In contrast a woman of extraordinary caliber would be emotionally blackmailed to take up her traditional role and if she wants to prove her capability in some profession then she has to really fight hard just to get a chance.
Then there are also countless examples of women who are provided the best education from professional universities. But the same women are only allowed to pursue a career as a “hobby” until the “right proposal” comes along and then of course “her place is at home”. Wouldn’t it have been better to educate the poor soul in the “College of Home economics” instead?
There is also this “misconception” that a woman with a professional degree would be able to “support” herself provided a financial need arises in her life. A woman who has gotten married straight after graduating from a university with no professional experience cannot survive in the practical world for a single day. The degree is nothing but a piece of paper and if things get tough she will have to start from scratch.
One of the most effective ploys that people employ to make a woman submit to a conventional role is to either misuse religion or to objectify her as a showpiece. Many women are advised not to venture into the corporate sector , the armed forces , civil or petroleum engineering as all these are considered male dominated areas where she would not be able to excel. However, I have come to realize that a woman can demand respect in any field provided she works hard and is able to carry herself properly.
A very comic scenario that I have observed in recent years is that many women take up the medical profession to attract good marriage proposals. In my opinion this is nothing but usage of a profession only for the ultimate purpose of being caged in a house. I have come across many people of late who would like to marry a doctor and then restrain her from practicing as they think that her place is at home with the children. The doctor title attached to a woman adds to the prestige of her husband and is considered a sort of status symbol.
With respect to married women, I have observed two scenarios: women who are prohibited from choosing a life partner for themselves and women who, although succeed in choosing a life partner for themselves but end up scarifying their other dreams in the process.
The former case is commonplace in our society. A girl is brought up ( sometimes with relative freedom even) in many households until she hits her 20’s. As soon as she reaches marriageable age, she is expected to give up her dreams and get married through arranged marriage. She is also expected to adhere to whatever the norms of her would be in-laws are.
The second scenario is where a girl ends up choosing the guy of her dreams. Many a times the guy is at first attracted to her “unconventional” approach towards life but later forces her to conform her to certain set of rules he has laid out for her in the name of love. In certain scenarios men use the ploy of possessiveness to achieve this goal.
As a friend of mine rightly put it many years ago that men are attracted to outspoken women as they are like colorful butterflies. But then they want to capture them and put them in a glass jar where the butterfly by natural process is deprived of her color.
What our society needs to realize is that progress should encompass not only 50% of the humanity but all of the humanity. We need to develop a collective consciousness that women are as much human as men are ( because frankly we have been treating them as sub humans) and have the same aspirations. By expecting her to sacrifice every dream just for marriage, will actually undermine marriage itself as it should be a bond underpinned by willingness not coercion.
We all live once and life should not be spent according to someone else’s dictation. Life is way better lived pursuing one’s own passion despite the risks compared to mere mediocrity that promises a smooth ride and apparent protection.