Equality of the Sexes: Past, Present. And Future?

In response to a post by one of my fellow bloggers, I felt compelled to write a few lines about my views on the concept of ‘equality of the sexes’.

In his post, my friend has mentioned a certain politician wanting to burn down the Ramayana and the Bhagwad Gita (both are noted Hindu Scriptures) because they contain statements that ‘besmirch women’. Likewise, another Hindu scripture, the Manu Smriti has also been quoted.

The post also mentions in an excerpt, that it is also important to note the social conditions prevailing at the time when these scriptures were written down.

The post also goes on to mention other religions and their ‘detrimental’ treatment of women.

That is the background of this post.

In my view, Men and Women are created to be the ‘pooraka’s of each other – that is to say, that each is ‘completed’ by the other. Creation myths in several cultures will outline how “God” made man and woman. This post is not about those creation myths.

I agree with my friend on several points. I personally feel that burning scriptures is not the answer, and that it is very important to analyze the social conditions prevalent at the time of these scriptures being written.

A woman is always revered as the “Mother” and perhaps that is the reason for why most religions give Women a very 50-50 status: on one hand they say that women are to be given the utmost respect and on the other hand they put several limitations on the women so that they don’t ‘stray’. Men, are meanwhile, allowed several freedoms, which emerge from a different logic.

This makes me want to go back and analyze the mind set of the people who came up with these ideas – to go way back into the primitive stage of man’s development.

The whole idea of man’s existence back then was survival and procreation. Man is the only animal who does not have a specific ‘mating season’. Besides which, when primitive man existed on the planet, animals were the dominant party. Today, the tables have been turned. The simple reason behind this is that man learnt that the only way he could dominate the animals is by creating more and more of his own species.

By and by, lineage and blood lines came to have an importance in history. For several reasons, it was important to have a clear bloodline of a family. In the end, since women are the only means of acquiring children, and since there was no DNA testing back then, it was extremely important to ensure the ‘purity’ of the woman.

At no point was the woman supposed to create a doubt in her man’s mind regarding the purity of the bloodline that she generated with him. Most of the rules that exist in these scriptures are there to ensure that such doubts do not emerge.

While respecting a woman for being the “Womb”, she became the subject of several limits placed on her so that her purity and the purity of the lineage she bore, was created. In that vein, she was not to entice or lure ‘other’ men towards her, either intentionally or unintentionally. She had to be clad in dresses which hid her ‘beauty’. At the same time, she could not move about either in society or on the roads, without proper ‘protection’. Her sanctity meant the sanctity of the bloodline.

Human beings interpreted the scriptures to mean what they felt was right at the time. This is true in the case of all cultures and all religions, all over the world.

In ancient Hindu culture, this meant that girls would be married when they hit puberty, or sometimes as soon as they were born. The reasons for this could be rooted in the social conditions of the time where there was less money to care for the girl child. And then these ‘rules’ took on a monstrous form of their own.

Another interesting thing I want to mention here, in the context of other societies that I know of, is this:

In the USA (which is supposed to be the most democratic and progressive country around), at the time when the slaves were legally given their freedom, women (either black or white) still did not have the right to vote. They got that right after many years of struggle.

Now, let’s come back to the Ramayana. In the scripture, which is an epic poem, Sita’s purity became questionable at some point. Ram, being the ‘Model King’ had to take a decision as a king and not as a husband. It was therefore beside the point if Ravan had actually touched her, or if she walked through the trial by fire without being scorched. Her purity was questioned, and as a king, he had to resolve this issue. He had to set an example and ensure that such things did not become rampant in his kingdom.

It is a matter of interest to me personally, that despite being the villain in the story, and despite having kidnapped Sita, Ravan did not touch her without her consent. He was also a very high-level follower of Shiva, and was quite a powerful person by himself. Yet, he waited for her consent. He kept her prisoner in a garden, and guarded it with women soldiers. And kept waiting for her consent.

Another ancient myth I want to talk about here, is of King Arthur. With all the stuff going around in that story, there came a point where Lady Guinevere’s character was in question. And since he was the king, Arthur himself could not champion her. He could not act as her husband, but had to take a decision as a king. Of course, we all know what happened to that story.

To come back to the original question from my friend’s post, burning down a scripture will not cause the eradication of incorrect thought processes within the human mind. It is us who have created the mess, and it is us who have to solve it. Until we remove this inequality from our minds, it will never be gone.

Cut to the present scenario in urban India, where women are supposedly ‘equal’ to men: We still want the woman to cook and work without creating doubts about her ‘character’. Meanwhile, when a woman goes out with a man for dinner, she still wants him to pay the bill.

We still can’t do it, can we?

To Quote from my reply to my friend’s post:

Empowerment of women is something we all need to work on – sure! But apart from men, women need to work on it too! In my experience, most of the times, it is a woman who is responsible for another woman’s social problems. More than men, women need to remove the ‘inferiority complex’ from their minds.

Blaming men for their lot is a damn easy way out for all women.

Why don’t women do something about their own situation in the first place? Why do women put themselves in such a position? After they become capable of taking care of themselves, why don’t they actually do that?