Society’s perception of woman

That men do cruel things to women is widely acknowledged and accepted. What is often concealed, not always in innocence, is that woman cruelty towards woman is no less compared to men’s cruelty to women. This is not to condone any sort of violence to anyone but to draw attention to a fact. It has been pointed out that most of the female fetus abandoned or killed in India are due maternal neglect. Moreover, those who persuade or force mother to abandon a girl child; the doctor or the dai who does these operations are usually woman. This is a weird but strong statement on women hostility towards womanhood. This is also a classic case of psychological defense mechanism in which the victim starts identifying with his or her aggressor and turned against himself or herself. It needs attention to the ways in which social institutes turn men and women against womanhood. And the purpose of this post to scratch the surface of this issue.

Feminists have given a new dimensions to issues related to women. Feminists are of great variety. There are many among them who are genuinely concerned with their misfortunes, some of them are driven by sheer misandry and they feel intoxicated by their own ideas when they find that these ideas resonate among masses.  The early days of feminism was shaped by some of the most remarkable women who fought for equal pay, better working conditions and what not. ‘I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is’, the writer Rebecca West remarked rather sardonically in 1913. ‘I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.’  [5] In India, feminist view has mostly been a human point of view : the rights of women are human rights. That too must say something about the problems of Indian women.To radical feminists, any issue between a man and a woman is an issue between men and women. ‘The cruelty done to woman’, they argue, that it is either done by men directly or by design. Their work are useful for the purpose comparing different point of view. There are more than enough evidences that men play prominent role in constant tutelage of women but it would be insincere to ignore that women do many self-derogatory thing to themselves.

In most of traditional patriarchal societies, woman are believed to have fickle and aggressive sexual nature. The belief had been, though the no one will speak implicitly in its favor, that they will have intercourse with someone if given half a change. Their mobility was restricted. This mindset makes itself visible on televisions, most vividly in men’s vest and perfumes ads. A few decades ago, some concerns were raised about objectification of women in media. One reason for this malaise was offered : media is controlled by men. Now we have many females executive and presenters in media houses and news rooms; can we say that objectification of women is reduced in newspapers and magazines? The point is simple, women in advantaged positions can collude with men, their so called oppressor, and turn against themselves.

Most of Indian women are of subservient nature and they are known to accept their place in society without any dissent. This is not to say they always accept their place by choice. Some women have recently started criticizing these patriarchal designs and have started breaking the traditional norms, including perhaps the good one. The whole society seems to be hostile towards these women. EPW, the keeper of nation’s conscience, sums the situation up in one of its editorial after the ‘horrific sexual assault on a teenage girl on the streets of Guwahati on 9 July’. The ‘assault will not be forgotten for a long time’, it says,

because of the nature of the crime, where the young woman was dragged away from the auto rickshaw which she was about to take and surrounded by a mob of more than 20 men who punched her, tore off her clothes, pulled her hair, groped her, burnt her with cigarette butts, called her a prostitute – everything short of a gang rape. Not only because of the shockingly slow response of the police located just one kilometre away. Not only because of the crass and callous indifference of dozens of citizens who drove past the girl as she ran down the street screaming for help. Not only because of the scandalous and unforgivable act of ­revealing the identity of the girl by the representative of the National Commission for Women, Alka Lamba. Or the equally mindless action of the Assam chief minister’s publicity department of sending to the media photographs of the girl with the chief minister.

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Violence towards women is common in all societies; although male violence towards woman is widely recorded by feminists in their respective societies. A psychologist reports ‘disturbing evidence’ form U.S. from various studies. ‘One-quarter of American women will experience a completed rape at some time in their lives, and nearly one half will be victims of attempted or completed rape. Since the age of 14, 27.5% of college women have experienced an attempted or completed rape.’ Each year, approximately ‘1.8 million American wives are beaten by their husbands and one-eighth of all murders involve husbands killing their wives.’ And situation is India is likely to be severe because patriarchy is much deeply rooted and incidence or rape or domestic violence are hugely under-reported due to one social pressure or other.Studies by anthropologists have concluded that men violence towards woman is a universal feature of humanity. Although the prevalence of male violence against women varies from place to place, ‘cross-cultural surveys show that societies in which men rarely attack or rape women are the exception, not the norm’. It is said the ‘male sexual jealousy is the most common trigger for wife beating.’ I think this is what Freud called ‘penis envy’ although ‘The Little Magazine’differs.Higher gender-inequality encourage violence against the weaker gender. Where women do not have access to property or income, she is more like to suffer in silence, or more likely to use methods to survive which undermines her dignity and self-esteem as a human being. Gender inequality is not an easy thing to define or elaborate. There are measurable inequality attached to it such as distribution of property, illiteracy, access to food and nutrition, marriage age etc.; on the other hand there are many immeasurable yet important inequalities such as self-esteem, access to legal institutes, and dignity etc.

At the most basis level there is evolutionary tension : male tries to benefit by mating with any female whereas female do not benefit mating with every male comes her way. This tension is becomes very severe in those primates where male do not provide any parental care. Among mammals, a gender which invest heavily in its offspring tends to be more choosy. Usually females invest more and therefore they are more choosy. Males either compete for them or mate with them forcibly. For a detailed commentary on ‘male aggression towards women’ among primates can be found in [1]. Many social arrangements must have been constructed in response to this evolutionary tension.

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Gregory Zilboorg famous paper suggests something similar. Male oppression of women emanates from his attempts to deny his deepest anxiety. ‘The most socially valued attribute of the male’, Zilborg argues, is a ‘result of natural selection imposed upon him by the female’s original power; which is to sense which male is biologically fitter for her offspring’. According to Steven Pinker, human females prefer ‘dark and dashing heroes’ (for better genes for their offspring) for short term affairs while ‘caring and nurturing one’ (for better resources and nourishment for their offspring) for long term relation. It is likely that caring and nurturing ‘dad’ who is no less prone to fall in love with a woman, develops a feeling of hate towards women when he faces rejection for a dark and dashing ‘clad’. How a woman evaluates such attributes in a male is altogether different matter. In society like us, women often prefer males who can provide better security and status in her society. Those who rely heavily on self-assessment, may pick someone with high IQ or EQ or other skills which they value, even though they are not high in status or profitable in markets.

Women dominate in mate-selection process and this supremacy of women arouse a feeling of jealousy and hostility towards women [3]. In certain western countries where males were reduced to a very small number due to world war, women have to learn to compete for better men. In India, however, situation has always been different. It is the male who is in excess and it is the male who often tries to woo a better (read beautiful) woman. Indians women usually don’t like to take the first step for the fear of considered ‘immoral’ or ‘cheaply available’. Girls who are beautiful and attractive often attracts a great deal of unwanted attention and jealously which is best noticed in the comments passed by a group of boys when they see a girl with some other boy :  such as ‘aajkal is laudiye’ (Girls these days ….’). What stands out in this often passed comment is that they insinuate something about whole gender after seeing a girl which does not fit to their image of proper girl.

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Most of our intellectuals, whether Left wing or Right wing, agree on one thing while discussing why Indian cities, and perhaps even villages, have become insecure for our women : it is an outcome of modernity. Modernity may have consolidated hatred and angers towards [some type of] women; it has not created those feelings.

Modernity is a new phenomenon in India. And when an old system is being changed by a new one, it is not going to be a painless process. We are an agriculture society and an agriculture society have a love-hate relationship with nature and such societies tends to emphasize ‘feminine principle in nature, to see nature as mother who is irascible and unpredictable, pro-pitiable only through a variety of rites and rituals’ [2]. In our past, nature played a dominant part in the man-nature dyad and continues to do so; ‘important themes in folklore and religious text are often speak of the fecundity and bounty of nature as well as her frequent denial of sustenance to men who have poor means of controlling the fickle mother and are totally dependent upon her for survival.’ Thus woman dominated symbolically in ancient India although this dominance was limited by Brahminic tradition by limiting her role in the social functioning and controlling her sexual liberty (or laxity depending on the point of view). This point can be seen clearly when one notices the matrifocal culture where femininity is linked with ‘prakriti’, or nature, and prakriti with leela, or activity. Similarly the concept of ‘adya shakti’, primal or original power, is entirely feminine in India. [2]

Some of the cruelest custom existed in India such as Sati, child sacrifice at Sagra Sangam, infanticide to ensure longevity of dams and buildings were all centered on some goddess. Some of most marginal groups in ancient India sought meaning as social being by being devotee of one ‘Black’ goddess or another, that is, speaking metaphorically, ‘by identifying and being identified with an aggressive, treacherous, annihilating mother. In other words, as Ashis Nandy puts it, ‘the ultimate authority in Indian male has always been feminine’ [2].

Studies of child rearing in orthodox Indian families reveals that a woman (usually mother) has free emotional attachment to her [male] child. On one hand, child is dependent on her mother to an unusual degree and second and to others Indian child has distance relationship which is fragmentary and context based. Even the father acts as as outsider, who rarely come into the picture even to punish or reward the child. ‘It is only with respect to his mother that Indian child is his whole self and recognizable as an individual.’ The child sees his father more as a son of another woman than a husband of his mother.

For the Indian mother, on the other hand, the son is major medium of self-expression. Her status in society is fixed by the status of her husband but her status in her house depends on the status of her sons. It is motherhood that traditional Indian family respects; her role as a wife is devalued and debased. Thus a woman self-respect in India family depends heavily on the status of her sons and for that matter she invests in them heavily. It is through his sons, she exercise her authority and defends her influence on her sons by all means possible. In traditional joint families, it is still a major source of tension between his newly wed-bride and his mother : a wife tries to claim her husband at the cost of a mothers’ claim over her son.

Associated with this in the son is a deep feeling of ambivalence towards her mother who is both controlling and discontinuous. The son tries to revolt yet he is helpless. He often sees her as a treacherous betrayer for not letting him out of her grip; controlling him by her always present nurture. One of our psychologists has noted that the India’s fantasy life is to a great extent organized around the image of an angry, in-corporative, fickle mother, against whom his anger is directed and from whom through a process of projection, counter aggression is feared [5]. This ambivalence towards mother takes a form of ambivalence towards womanhood. In passing, it is worth noting that all major social reformists targeted the traditional concepts of woman and womanhood. On the other hand, the idea of mother was always invoked against the modern Western encroachments on Indian society ; and it is still invoked against cultural corruption. And so the woman as a symbol e.g. motherland, mother-tongue, are greatly praised in our society.

It all may inculcates in a woman serious self-doubt. She starts undervaluing herself. She has to carry this added burden of ‘greatness’ which may not be at all compatible with her human nature. Majority of women, who never had access to ‘modern or western thoughts’ which advocate equality of gender, can be made to feel guilty whenever she tries to break the traditional norms of ‘womanhood’ by asserting her real self. This has changed in cities, although not to an extent to which many feminists wish. In cities, and even in towns, young women are coming out in open against such unwarranted demand of being devi or flag-bearers of their culture. This is a major source of irritation and anger of orthodox section of our society.


The ambivalence towards woman in Western male is slightly different from that of Indian male. Western male fears the universal fear with Zilboorg speaks in his paper. In India society, leaving some strong martial cultures of Ganges plane, the man’s fear is not that he will lapse in womanliness and thus loose is masculinity or potency. Indian males don’t strive for potency as such. Unlike west, it is his ability to abstain from sex rather than hedonist display of sexual desires which is considered sign of sexual potency. The discomfort with and criticism of Nehru and Lady Mountbatten affair make one feels that great man are not suppose to get an erection in India. The masculinity fear here is that a man may fall foul of the cosmic feminine principle, that woman will betray, aggress, pollute, or at least fail to protect. The demand of motherly protection of man by his wife is best displayed in the story of Savitri where she saves her husband from death itself. Woman who failed to protect her husband from death were severely punished as widows, sometimes even burned as Sati. Now one can find an explanation why there is a common word ‘randi’ or ‘rand’  used in Hindustani to describe both prostitutes and widows. There is a great deal of abhorrence for both : one pollutes their culture while other fails to protect. Although on our campuses this word heavily used by young boys and girls is more close to its English slang ‘bitch’.

Indian males are most likely to see a woman as women; a collective symbol and not an individual entity. There is an image of ‘ideal or proper woman’ in his mind. When he sees a woman different from this image, he is more prone to criticize the whole gender, and speak of its debasement. And in turn, more likely to demand a punishment, if he is caught in moral outrage. Even he is not into ‘moral policing’, he starts maintaining a safe psychological distance, and he tolerates other men cruelty towards women.

I have sympathy for Indian male in general for it is not entirely his fault for letting women take part of his mind and identity. Indian fathers do not play a significant part in emotional development of the child; and her mother — whom the child also sees as a woman — is given a free emotional ride over him. Deep emotional attachments (as well as partial identities) are known to extract heavy price from those who live with them.

No doubt that Indian woman have paid terribly and continue to pay for Indian male insensitivities, but they have also extracted a heavy toll from society by permanently residing in its psyche. Indian man has yet not learned to live with all aspect of womanhood which have always been much more different from the ‘ideal image’ of it in his head. And Indian women are confused if traditional roles assigned to them are good or bad; or incompatible with their modern aspirations.

Violence is a doubly edge sword. Those who tortured and killed people in wars also do violence to their familiesand themselves. A country which invades other countries also suffer from shooting spree at home. A fact which Gandhi understood very well. ‘Modern psychology consolidates such belief’, argues Nandy, that ‘no marauder can hope to be a marauder without being a prey and no prey can not be a prey without being a marauder’.

END NOTES : [1] Male aggression against women, An evolutionary perspective; Barbara Smuts. [2] For an analysis of woman’s identification with the aggressive male and her hostility towards womanhood see Karl Menninger, ‘Love against Hate’. And ‘Woman vs Womanliness in India’, Ashis Nandy. [3] Gregory also claims that male is a ‘parasitic’ fertilizer. I find it hard to believe. Human male also invest in his offspring. He is much more than a parasitic fertilizer. Human male is also choosy, perhaps more so in modern times than they were older times. [4] See ‘Sati – a Nineteenth century tale of women, violence and protest.’, Ashis Nandy [5] See Leela Dubey, ‘On the construction of gender : Hindu girls in patrilineal India’ where she explores ‘the mechanisms through which women acquire the cultural ideas and values which-shape their images of themselves and inform the visions they have of the future.’ She comments on ‘the processes by which women are produced as gendered subjects in the patrilineal, patrivirilocal milieu of Indian society.’ This article also examines the process of ‘socialisation of Hindu girls through rituals and ceremonies, the use of language, and practices within and in relation to the family.’. EPW, April 30, 1988.

[6][Indian male psyche, society and sexuality](http://india-seminar.com/semframe.html "http://india-seminar.com/2013/642/642_comment.htm"), Seminar.

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

3 thoughts on “Society’s perception of woman”

  1. WOMEN DIN'T EVOLVE PSYCHOLOGICALLY WITH SAME PACE AS MEN.this applies all over world.what could be the reason?male domination and women inferior thinking capability.you don't find THINKERS in women in numbers when compared to men in past or present.reason is simple,their physical build up makes them weak aka vulnerable.if you take behavior of women and men when comfort is denied,you find women more irritated and major shift in their behavior.people argue that men and women are equal for the sake of it.i never saw a wise woman who can think better than a wise guy.a person becomes wise when he/she participates seriously/actively in the issues of society.lets take example of day to day life.there was a forum IIT-B AGAINST CORRUPTION on facebook,how many girl students participated or did post some stuff on this forum?YOU HARDLY FIND ANY.this happens in most of serious aspects of society with women.women like comfort and thinking strains a person comfort when things or people are not ideal around you.indian culture is totally distorted over generations and it doesn't exist in pure form. so a distorted culture brings violence aka abusive behavior .atrocities on women is a result of failed and superstitious culture.incidents like assam molestation is a case of sex deprived society where people think sex is a sin.when a girl goes out in india,most of guys keep staring at her cuz our society suppresses one's natural instinct of sex from teenage.the reason is poverty and false principles aka taboo.even so called highly educated lack clarity over culture aka civilisation so the discrimination of gender survives.lets explain the concept of marriage.marriage is a medieval custom to keep society in order and stable.in ancient india ,opposite genders din't had scope to socialise so to keep future generations intact and to flourish they introduced a custom called marriage.marriage happens between two strangers and the marriage is a commitment to be responsible for the rest of life.so they intoduced rituals ,astrology,all stuff around marriage to create stable society.in modern world ,opposite genders have many occassions from schooling to public places to gather,meet and understand.why do we need a medieval custom called marriage which was meant for strangers to keep together. its very funny when people opt for marriage in modern world,marriage is belief of a coward with a weak commitment cuz they don't feel secure without a concept called marriage. people debate on freedom of genders over what to speak or what to wear .being civilised means knowing what has to be public and private with clarity without disturbing the stability of ideal society.hmm these are definitions from pure culture which doesn't exist today and people can't comprehend.i never read books on culture or other stuff apart my subject books.all the above stuff is written with my experiences and interaction with society from my childhood.

  2. There is debate among experts whether woman have evolved differently. See this video http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/debate05/debate05_index.html . Your observations that woman are less capable of thinking may be true on empirical basis. But then, if present day data used to build all theories, then, would you say that Indians can not think because they have not won so many Nobel prize or they are not capable of playing games because they have not won medals in Olympics. Although I agree that best among men has outperformed best among women in almost all intellectual activities. That is the point Steven Pinker is trying to make in the above link which is debated by Spelke. I can not comment on culture or culture here. It would take me way too far. It is great to hold on to your experiences, but I would never recommend not to read good books.

  3. i had to google who pinker and spelke are,hmm harvard psychologists.PSYCHOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY ARE BASIS OF HUMAN EVOLUTION.psychology and philosophy are an integral part of human mind.if you have lived life that is naturally human with basic education,then you need not go through psychology and philosophy books.its just analysing things around you. harvard guys do it as part of academics to which their livelihood is attatched .its like technically comparing a ferrari car and bugatti veyron in lab without knowing the traffic and quality of road where you market.real life/situations/circumstances is different from what you analyse at harvard academics.americans did this so called harvard kinda analysis on war on terror and ended up with 15 trillion dollar defcit being ignorant of ground situation. a wise man never debates to criticise or to analyse which gender is better.he just speaks truth to bring equilibrium in society.harvard psychologists analysis is unending and purely academics.i find it funny when people pursue psychology or philosophy as their major.do we need psychologists and philosophers in profession?it means humans are not using their own minds to their potential. ("would you say that Indians can not think because they have not won so many Nobel prize or they are not capable of playing games because they have not won medals in Olympics") IF INDIANS CAN THINK,you might have had better roads ,traffic sense and you may not quote or refer foreigner in most of aspects. when i was in 5th grade,my school teachers used to give notes after explaining particular lesson/chapter and students used to by heart/mug up same notes to answer questions in semester exams.later we got a new science teacher called salma james who denied giving notes after teaching lesson.she asked us to read textbook and understand to answer questions in exams.that time 3/4th of students in my class failed in science exam and remaining got just above pass marks.guess who stood first in that exam?when my principal came to know ,he called mrs james and asked her to stick to old method of giving notes to students.with this kinda approach and attitude i don't expect thinkers or innovations/inventions in india.its not about me or my school,its indian approach towards life from childhood.thinking doesn't improve in a day or by reading books.its approach towards life with resources available to you.life has two aspects ,personal and professional.if am a medical student, i do read books for my livelihood and being passionate about it i can introduce a new surgical procedure to contribute for my subject.there ends life which is based on me and others thoughts.when it comes to personal life which is not related to my profession,whatever i speak/behave is from my own thoughts. we need not live in others quotes/notes/thoughts.everyone is gifted with a mind to think and analyse life around you.quoting freud/einstein/plato/socrates/vivekanada/gandhi rtc etc sounds absurd.it means you are killing your individuality for comfort that you get from others thoughts.i don't like hurting others ego or criticising for the sake of it,i like speaking straight whatever it is.

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