Eleanor Roosevelt, American politician, diplomat, and activist, and the longest-serving first Lady of America during her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency from 1933 to 1945, had once made a short and sweet statement that should be inculcated in the minds of all women. She said, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.” It was US President Harry S. Truman President who later described her as the “First Lady of the World” in honour of her human rights achievements.
“Remember the dignity of your womanhood. Do not appeal, do not beg, and do not grovel; take courage…”
- Christobel Roseanne Barr
The centenary of the 1917 silent film, ‘The Hand that Rocks the Cradle’ falls this year. As the story line goes: ‘A doctor’s wife publishes and hands out literature on birth control at a time poor women are overburdened by too many pregnancies, growing families and limited income. The police forbid her to speak about the secret that was open only to the rich and closed to the poor. She is arrested, but convinces her husband and a judge of the reliability of her beliefs.’
One Hundred years on, the International theme for 2017 is, “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. A walk themed, ‘Awakening the [voice] of Women’ was also held in Colombo under the auspices of Prof. Maithree Wickremesinghe a few days ago.
The feminist movement, also known as ‘Women’s Liberation’ has been an ongoing encounter for the past 150 years. The UN established International Women’s Day [IWD], is celebrated on March 8 to highlight the role and achievements of women in the socio-political field and in global peace and security.
Women have travelled into space and fought beside men in combat over many decades, and achieved tremendous improvement in many areas of life, but progress has slowed in many places in the world reminding us that no global action can accelerate gender parity. Until 2016 leaders across the world agreed to take action as champions of gender parity with groups and individuals pledging their support -- not only for March 8, but for every day in the year. The beginning of the movement was in the 19th century, when a women’s suffrage movement was started under
A good Daughter is as Good as a good Son - Buddha
Buddha compared motherhood to ‘Buddhahood’ living in every household. During Buddha’s lifetime in India, King of Kosala, Pasenadi was informed that his queen gave birth to a daughter; the birth of a female child was considered to be a sign of misfortune. The King rushed to the Buddha and grieved. Buddha pacified him saying that, ‘a good daughter is as good as a good son’. However, no matter how much they agitate nobody gives them power; they have to grab it. Women were looked upon as mere objects that exist under the absolute whims and fancies of the husbands; performing domestic chores and bringing up families.
A myth was concocted that all women are born immoral and the only way to keep them out of mischief was to keep them totally occupied with the task of looking after children and concentrating on domestic duties. Yasodharavo, the former wife in his lay life refused to greet the Buddha on his first visit to the castle after enlightenment saying, “If he is concerned let him come to me”. Buddha, without hesitation walked into her chambers accompanied by his two chief disciples. A woman was considered a burden on the family. Buddhism does not consider women as being inferior to men, and the husband is admonished to consider the wife a friend, a companion, a partner. In family affairs the wife was expected to be a substitute for the husband when he happened to be indisposed. In fact, a wife was expected even to acquaint herself with the trade, business or industries in which the husband was engaged, so that she would be in a position to manage his affairs in his absence. This shows that in Buddhist society the wife occupied an equal position with the husband.
The Buddha was the first guru who gave women equal opportunities in the field of spiritual advancement by purifying their minds to realise the bliss of Nibbana. The testimonies of the Theris in the days of the Buddha speak abundantly of this fact. The Buddha realized the social and physiological distinctions that existed. Anguttara Nikaya contains some valuable advice which the Buddha offered to girls prior to their marriages. He realized that there was bound to be trouble with the in-laws, the girls were required to give every respect to them, serving as they would their own parents and to honour their husband’s relatives and friends, thus creating a pleasant and happy ambiance in their new homes. In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha says, under certain situations, women are considered more astute and wise than men. In the Sigalovada Sutta, the Buddha emphatically mentioned the duties of a husband towards the wife that a husband should be faithful, polite and not despising, and that he should hand over authority to the wife and provide her with adornments.
The ‘LIBS’, THEMES and WALKS are negative strategies; they create little or no impact. Women need to change their mindset, learning to appreciate values and recognize their potential energies and capabilities. Get over the myth that you are inferior, weak and second-rate. Loretta Young famously said, “A charming woman doesn’t follow the crowd. She is herself.” Women should learn how to tear down cruel ideas of a male-dominated society; shed light on men’s love-hate relationship with the women in their lives. She maintains a stable family, nurtures her children, and looks after the well-being of her husband. These roles are ingrained into each of us at an early age. She doesn’t know that she is the most important cog in the family wheel. As long as women struggle for equal rights thinking that they had been denied of their rights and always been thought of as having a second-class role in society, or that they are powerless and the property of men; the men will continue to impose their dominance on them. If she doesn’t get out of the box she has been raised in, she won’t understand how much bigger the world is.
Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady once said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”
Why women are termed the “Weaker Sex” and ancient beliefs
“I have an idea that the phrase ‘weaker sex’ was coined by some woman to disarm some man she was preparing to overwhelm.” –Anon.
Jesus Christ never approved of any kind of inferiority. Jesus treated women with grace, compassion, and dignity. Mary Magdalene is the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. Jesus wanted her to tell others of what she had seen, even though the evidence of a woman at that time was not considered as worth listening to.
Let Every Woman be a Queen or a Princess
Women are an intricate part of our working society. A woman’s role is just not in the house; it extends far beyond into the working world where women are even holding positions such as chief executive officers of Fortune 500 Companies. Since women have become increasingly important, the value of the male last name has decreased. The submissive role that many women assume in marriage is a familiar controversy among most societies; a role so common that it is often expected of a female to live ‘under the thumb’ of the husband.
In the western world in the early 1940’s the role of women changed dramatically with Congresswoman Edith Rodgers and Eleanor Roosevelt presented American society with a bill on May 28, 1941, in the hopes of establishing a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corporation. Virginia Wolf gave us a unique view into the changing minds of women and their role in society. She wrote of women who were more concerned with society and decision-making. Women constitute more than half of the global population today. Their contributions socially, economically, culturally, and politically are great yet; their efforts have been accepted at a much lower proportion than those of men though they have proven that they are every bit as competent and qualified as men.
‘Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good looking, good tempered, well groomed and un-aggressive.’
- Leslie M. Mclntyre