When We Define Women, We Stop Them From Deciding For Themselves

When you “define” a woman, you limit her; you limit her choices, rights, and, nevertheless, her agencies.

Literally, women have been defined, but the buck does not stop there. When they are “defined”, patriarchal statements like “women cannot be understood”, “women are a mystery”, or “women are complicated beings” subtly follow the social bandwagon of misogyny.

As definitions constitute words, how credible is it to qualify “her” with what others think about “her”? When we impede defining her, we hamper ourselves to decide for her. This ontological genre is rare amid the epoch of men-knowing-all.

As we see the so-called feminism movement gaining its crescendo in our society, Ms Ruchika Gupta, a professor of management studies based in New Delhi, tells me, “Women are indelibly suppressed in all strata of the society, whether it’s class structure, caste system, political sphere, financial houses, academic spaces, media outlets, and cultural movements.”

And yet, despite the land that religiously worships Goddesses, women are verily not feeling safe and secure.

Have those definitions of women really helped in liberating or controlling the flow of womanhood in our nation today? Ms Anandita* (name changed), a student of MA in sociology at TISS, Mumbai, identifying herself as a lesbian, reckons with my take on unschooling the definition of women.

“If we are defined, we are prone to get labeled. Being a woman is not about having a vagina; it’s about power, it’s about spirit.” She also culminates that “gender is a fluid concept”, and thus, it cannot be “defined” when there’s a difference between gender and sexuality.

Swonshuta Dash, aged 15, a trained Bharatnatyam dancer, recently authored a blog, “Dear ICSE, stop defining femininity for women”, in which she has made a crucial observation of a chapter in grade 10 Hindi textbook that has justified sexism.

She writes, “The story follows Anandi, the daughter of a rich landlord who is wedded into a simple rural Indian family. Anandi is the poster female for femininity and is decorated as the accommodating bahu. The story proceeds as Anandi gets into a feud over butter with her brother-in-law, who, maddened by hunger, throws a wooden shoe at her that causes a bloody gash on her arm.

“This is when her in-laws illustrate that they wish she had left behind her self-worth, safety and happiness. Anandi’s character is put on a metaphorical pedestal of pativratta dharma and waits for her husband to stand up for her.

“We also see a textbook example of self-victimisation by her brother-in-law. Finally, disregarding any repercussions on the victim, Premchand pens a heartfelt end where Anandi reunites the brothers by sacrificing her safety and jumping into the deep dark well of coercion and victimization disguised as the free will of the victim.

“This lesson demonstrates just some of the sanskaars that CISCE tries to instill in impressionable girls, other values being motherhood redeems women, etc. These stories make me want to regurgitate.

“Is this what the CISCE chooses to teach its female students? Do we need to teach girls that selflessness is synonymous with femininity and their only chance at a fulfilled life? Are we teaching girls to endure violent marriages?”

Fiercely, a young mind like her ratiocinates that only women should decide (not define) their own femininity, regardless of social or personal identities.

This article was first published in YKA



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A libertarian professor based in Mumbai, youtubing at times, and reading books all-the-time. I write too. Dhamma practitioner.