One is not born a woman, one becomes one.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) The Second Sex (1949-1950)
This quotation made me think about the role of society in the making of a woman. True we are born as human beings but soon we are fine tuned by society and family into taking on roles and responsibilities as women. I do not want to start an argument about whether it was wrong or right on the part of society to do so or whether we should or should not allow it to do so. No. My take on the subject is different. Being a teacher of Botany I have tried to analyze the process of organic evolution. Nature has supported the division of labor even among unicellular organisms and the explanation given is the conservation of energy and proper utilization of available resources. Keeping this in mind I have tried to expand on the possible reasons for the role undertaken by women in society. If some of you prefer to think that this role was imposed upon women, I have no problem with that too. Either way women had a role to play and an important one at that. Let us never under estimate its importance.
The moment a girl child is born. a mother starts saving for her marriage expenses in most middle class homes. I remember the advice given by a co passenger - a retired IAS officer – when I was returning with my 3 month old daughter to Jamshedpur after having spent around 4 months at my mother’s place. “Start a Recurring Deposit in her name,” he said “Any small amount would do. It will come in handy at the time of her marriage.”
“People will give her gifts in cash and kind” added his wife. “Buy some silver ware or gold out of the money you get. Better you buy gold coins. You can make jewelry at a later date. Fashions keep changing.”
The couple meant well and they had probably done so for their daughter. My opinion in the matter was different. I had decided that I would rather invest in her education and let her buy gold or silver as per her choice when she started earning. Education was perhaps the best dowry I could ever give her. This brings up the next question. Why should the question of offering a handsome/decent dowry come up at all? Women are home makers and try as much as one may, it is going to take a few more generations for women to give up that role without feeling guilty about it.Is that not asset enough? But then a dowry given to the girl was perhaps her share in the ancestral property and the boys family had no control over it. With changing times dowry has become a status symbol to the affluent and a pain in the neck to the working class. That a girl would take charge of the family's well being was the main understanding in society. She'd become a part of her aquired family. This was a kind of division of labor accepted without a murmur till the first half of the 20th century. I was myself under the misconception that women went out to work because of financial strains and it was only when I started working that I realized that there is more to a career than the extra money that a job fetches. My husband tried to be helpful but I preferred to do most of the house hold chores myself. If he diced vegetables they were never done to my satisfaction. When he dried out clothes he either did not wring out the water properly or he did not spread them out without a crease and I did not like the way he folded them or stacked them in the wardrobe. He placed my saris over his shirts or mixed up my work clothes with party wear……..the list was never ending. Finally he gave up and let me remain, well - the WOMAN of the house. Despite this he has taken up certain chores and whipping butter from cream is one of them. Hats off to him! I find it a messy job and gladly let him take it up.
It is twenty six years since I started working and till my husband’s retirement I managed a lot of work outside the home. My college timings were such that I had time to go to the bank, attend PT meetings, pay the telephone bill etc. My husband had no problem there but why then do I have a problem when he offers to help? I wonder whether I was born a woman or became one. I remember my mother in law getting upset when my father in law suggested that I use up the brinjal or tomatoes first as they were likely to get spoilt fast.
“It is her household and she will cook whatever she wants to. Any suggestion will be made by me. You keep out of this. Whether she uses or throws out the vegetable is not your problem.”
I now wonder if it was her way of establishing her importance as the lady of the house or did she feel it was better that men stayed out of house keeping in keeping with tradition? With women taking up responsible jobs is it not advisable to restructure the role of women and arrive at a balance in the division of labor as required by the present days? If we started thinking on these lines there would be much less frustration and lot more happiness. Don’t you think so?