My sister has a very important observation about the most commonly heard statement that women are their worst enemy. The mother-in-law v. daughter-in-law war in which the son is passed off as the victim at best or bystander at worst. Her observation opens up so many potential research area actually, I would be taking them up sometime soon. She writes,
You have talked about crab feminism before to denote the reaction of feminists that dismisses other women’s achievement or points of view as not being feminist enough. I feel this is symptomatic of an inherent women nature that of competing with other women. This is an area that really deserves attention. Women really are each others worst enemy. When a woman is mistreated by her husband and in laws deep down she thinks my husband is not so bad, it is my MIL (Mother in law) who provokes him against me. Similarly if a mother is mistreated by her son she thinks my daughter in law is inciting my son against me. Women solidarity is rare. Feminism explains this as conditioning done by patriarchal society but I feel women’s psychology has not been probed properly.
She wrote this in the context of my often expressed disappointment with the lack of solidarity in the Indian feminist movement. And I completely agree with her observation about women’s psychology, that they are jealous, possessive and extremely competitive. In that feeling of competition sometimes some women try to dismiss each other, pull each other down and collectively hold back the entire group. But why this psychology? Where does this psychology come from? And who is a woman even?
Being woman is a gender performance, psychology is not free of bias:
These questions need to be probed, but before that what we mean by ‘women’ and ‘psychology’ that itself needs to be questioned and redefined. This psychology doesn’t come out of the blue independent of the social conditions and gender biases. Psychology is not so much of an innocent science. Neither is ‘woman’ a fixed gender. Psychology is shaped by a number of social political factors and a person with female genitals, hormones and XX chromosome thinks she has to do her gender performance in a certain way so that she can be a woman. (Judith Butler has observed that Gender is a performance, sex and gender are true only to the extent we perform them as per the society’s expectations, we are what we perform to be)
Social conditioning starts from the moment a baby is born with a vagina. She’s told that she has got this one chance at life, in youth grab a man and keep him. For old age, beget a son and keep him. While the men are told that the whole world is at their feet, they are free to conquer the world, go out there discover, explore, invent, build, destroy…the world is your canvas. But the women are told this house and its people is your world, you live or die here, and you have this single throne that you have to hold on to. Geography is small, position is just one, means of survival limited, competition becomes high. The subconscious immediately starts to build a defense and survival mechanism which is always trying to cancel out any other woman competing for the throne. And this is happening for thousands of years.
This psychology can be seen among working women in professional field also, how does that happen? Because they carry the same psychology in their genes and it gets reflected in professional fields. Few days of counseling, few years even, won’t make a difference. Couple of generations of gender equal socialization might.
Feminism, women solidarity needs to be taught as part of human history:
But these are just theories, I am not a big fan of theory. I always ask “so how do we put it in practice, what do we do?” We already know the answers,
We need to treat girls and boys equally, like absolutely equally.
We need to give the girls a calling other than marriage and motherhood. We need to tell the girls that there is always something else to look forward to in life, even if the marriage department doesn’t work out well.
We need to the tell the girls that motherhood is just a biological fact, that doesn’t define our very purpose on earth, doesn’t make or break our worth in the society. You have sex you get pregnant that’s motherhood. All the frills and glory attached to it is social construct.
Financial empowerment – By making them free from the bondage of marriage and motherhood we should let them chose their life’s calling without prejudice, let them be financially independent and allow them to take their own financial decisions and support them in their endeavors.
And lastly inform them about history of gender based oppression, women’s movement against it and the achievements. And although I mention it in the end, this should begin at the earliest stage of a child’s intellectual growth. Women and Gender Studies should become part of school syllabus from VIth standards. Just like we are taught about world and human history, how the earth was created by a big bang, how from monkeys we became humans, how we progressed from kings and czars to democracy, how from being colonies we gained independence – similarly children at school MUST be told about how from being unequal and oppressed women gained equality, voting rights, education rights, and what are the present challenges.
Just like nation, nationalism and patriotism are human constructs instilled in our minds by stories and signs, female solidarity have to be created and nurtured the same way.
Solidarity is built by telling stories of courage, revolution, struggle and sacrifices for a cause. Sadly, all stories of human history is man’s story. The French Revolution for example completely left the woman out of the so called ‘liberty and equality.’ Post revolution, ‘democracy’ arrived, but French women didn’t get voting rights, only men did. Their declaration of independence didn’t include women. When we teach political history at school, do we teach the children about this flawed democracy? This gross injustice, this utter disregard for half of the world’s people?
Future generation of women need to know about these gaps in history, they should know stories of women’s oppression, revolution, struggle and sacrifices, only then they will know that women are meant to be equal and together they are meant to lead the world – they are the universal, not the other.