The current era has seen ample examples of women empowered and reaching zenith. The basic assumption which arises from the word ‘empowered women’ is that of a woman who is bold, a rebel, assertive, stubborn and non- adherence to the so-called norms and views. To bring it under a single label, ‘A strong woman’. Tackling the odds, the conflicts, the irritants of a set cultural society, the sorrows, the sacrifices, the taunts from close kith and kins, the society, the discouragements, the hesitation to get a ‘kudos dear lady’ so goes the travails of a ‘strong woman’.
Coming to the society in which resides, this ‘strong woman’, it’s entangled in its pre-set socio-economic and cultural settings. This society consists of a majority who are not ready to ‘let go’ traditions, philosophies, social norms, beliefs, values, customs and religion. Talking about change and actually letting it happen is frightening. Changes in its wake bring in limitations, frustrations and barriers which are very much individualised. Accepting changes in the Indian cultural set –up takes time.
This is so, as the Indian society is a diversely engulfed one. A country with loads of cultural, philosophical, religious customs, taboos and beliefs. The Indian mythologies have illustrations where a ’man and woman’ are considered equals. We showcase a ‘Lord Shiva with his consort Goddess Parvati’, ‘Lord Vishnu with Goddess Lakshmi’ as the better half and ‘Lord Brahma with his knowledgeable spouse Goddess Saraswathi’. The tales of bygone eras also mention how religious rituals practised were effective only when presided by the ‘male and the female’. Apart from a few sections in the society, namely ‘the Nairs’ of Kerala or a few tribes in Manipur, the general trend down the years was generally ‘male-dominated’. Society was too used to seeing the ’father, the uncles, the male siblings’ gain an upper position.
With the onset of good education and good governance to all, women in larger numbers slowly started to emerge out of their cocoon. The old adage ‘the women who rock the cradle, rules the world’ actually came into practice. Women started to gain footholds in almost all spheres of society, shattering the standard practices of thoughts on social norms, work, ethics and the existing standard of living. Women once cordoned off to the interiors of a home, starting peeping out, taking small but active and impactful steps, capturing domains which were gender-biased. The highlight was that women started to have a voice and role in society. Science, technology were factors initiating the change.
The once feeble voice and roles grew stronger with changes in fields of scientific, technological and cultural temperaments. Taboos and myths were squashed to the grounds. The tags like assertive, bold, a go-getter, ambitious got attached when defining women too. Men of our society had generally grown up seeing such tags attached to the male members in the society. Equality took on a new meaning and perspective. Our society, especially the Kerala society has reached a space where women have the freedom to seek their dreams, are educated and in reality breaking the ‘glass ceiling’.
Herein lies the core question which rises—Are our males- our husband, children, siblings so forth, empowered enough to really accept an ‘empowered woman’ (a mother, wife, sister or generally the women co-existing in the society)? In simple words, are the men ready to accept a ‘strong woman’ in a holistic manner as equals? How comfortable are the men in that respect? How comfortable are the people from all strata of the society in seeing women at par with men? Does such a comfort level set in irrespective of their religion, education and other socio-economic and cultural aspects? The men have grown up seeing a patriarchal society, family-oriented and female-centric household atmosphere. Watching your mother strongly assert her wishes, a wife openly talking of dreams and aspirations, a sister who resists the stereotype womanly role is confusing. The grandmother, the mother and others who have donned a nurturing role in their life had always groomed them towards a particular cultural mindset i.e. ‘man the provider and women the nurturer’.
When a woman starts donning the roles of both ‘the provider and the nurturer’, multitasks their life, it creates conflicts, ego and bruises within the family. The spillover gets passed on to society. To negate this it is very essential to groom the men. Grooming needs to start from childhood itself. A mother or a nurturer needs to educate the children to accept this change in gender equality. The real need is to groom the society to accept the ‘empowered female’. A changed mindset is the need of the hour. A society where dominance masked by religion, prejudices and attitudes gets shattered is the factual want. There has to be a ‘cultural returning and the ready acceptance of this cultural retuning’. An acceptance where a husband or a father or a brother is ready to don the pre-existing ‘feminine roles’ respectfully, while a woman considers it her right to be both a provider and a nurturer teaching her sons and daughters to be good and equal human beings with no gender conflicts. A ‘family’ as a solid foundation will stay intact. Empowerment becomes a reality. Society will be a better and safer place.
Written by Menon Prithi Raghavan,
Senior management at Rasayana Ayurveda Centre, Kerala
Digital paintings created by Afshan Waheed