Nothing in the world has been spared the agony of politicisation needless to speak of its optimum exploitation of biological differences - so very relevant to ‘Women’s Day.’ As a result, gender has come to stay. If history is the study of the past so that we may locate ourselves in the present and see the future, a historical recollection is needed for the present predicament of women. Never was women’s reproductive capacity valued and politicised so vehemently as in 17th century Britain following the onset of the industrial revolution that changed the world’s socio/ political/ economic layout. Women began to be seen as child-bearing machines for the unending number of labour units needed to churn the wheels of industries to keep going the newly found political economy with its monetised base.
What’s more, the strength for these labour units came from women relegated to the kitchen’s confines. Child bearing and cooking became their imposed forte. To this day the status quo continues with a few modifications. Some men having shed their roles do share domestic chores yet cooking and all kitchen related activities per se revolve around women and man’s entry in there considered infra - dig- a reflection of male chauvinism. This writer recalls how during her post-graduate days at the Colombo university, sociologist Dr. Subangi Herath making an astute observation on male dominance said laughingly ,’’Women perform the most difficult of tasks, yet, when such tasks were mechanised, men took over the machines!!. ‘’
‘’ In the scorching noonday sun women break quarry, yet, come machinery, it’s the man that sits at the wheel. At childbirth, labour pains are unbearable yet women are expected to go through this because they are women,’’ she said.
Her message being, women despite their enduring capacity to go through life’s rigours, are considered far too weak to handle mechanised equipment.
Even the toys that girls and boys are given are intended to facilitate them into their future gender based roles. Guns, cars, pistols, cadetting in schools groom boys into masculinity while girls - intended to be the epitome of feminine charm are encouraged to playing with dolls, tiny pots, pans, learn cookery and sewing in school - anticipating the best in motherhood and housekeeping.
Britain’s Victorian era stands out in the highly feminine portrayal of women. Soft spoken, dainty, coy, gentle were the typical characteristics expected of a Victorian woman. Yet some in the Royal family became trend setters in dismantling certain lines in the marital oath. ‘I obey ‘ ceased to be.
Noteworthy are women striving hard to shed their restricted self. Yet future challenges mock them in the face - a glaring example being the woman migrant worker in the Middle East. Rizana Nafeek had her head struck off at the altar of poverty. Too many ended up beaten and nailed. Some others challenged death jumping off high rise buildings. The lack of professional skills, the absence of a missionary type of service-bearing sincerity, commitment and dedication to the cause of humanity inter - alia among those responsible for their well-being have compelled these women into greater hovels of misery with their families marooned for life. All this, while they keep filling the country’s exchequer!
Sharing of labour within domestic confines has not changed though in the urbanised areas some men help their womenfolk. There have been instances in the village when men with bloated egos proclaim that they do not even fetch a bucket of water for their women.
‘’I dashed a couple of plates on the ground and now she cooks tasty food,’’ said another. The woman’s face turned similar to salted lime.
I have even heard in Muslim domain where some mothers upholding male chauvinism say,’’ even though crestfallen, a male is a male, ‘’ overlooking female intellect not found in the sons.
Significantly the Vedic times saw women enjoying unparalleled equality and freedom. Many of these Hindu women saints went unknown except in local regions and vernacular literature. Very many were poetesses and princesses. Saint Gargi even challenged her husband on ephemeral wisdom. Maitreyi, Aditi,- Indrani, Karaikal Ammair Shantala Devi, Meera Bai, Moyi Ma, Sarada Devi ,and Awwayar were among the Indian saints reputed for their quick wit and sharp intellect.
Among the numerous Christian saints are Isabel - daughter of King Louis and St. Louis’s sister, St. Olympias, born to wealthy and noble Constantinople family who refused even emperor Theodosius’ hand in marriage, Christ’s mother Lady Mary and Mary Magdalene.
The Buddhist women Arahats include Lord Buddha’s mother Lady Maha Maya , his wife Yasodhara , Maha Prajapathi Gotami, Tibet’s Shugseb Jetsun, Rin Poche, Cheng Yen and Jenzin Palmo who lived in a Himalayan cave not to forget Nova Scotia’s Pema Chodron
The Muslim world owes a well of gratitude to British scholar Dr. Margaret Smith if not for whom women saints in Islam would have been buried history. Among them are Nafeesathul Misriya, Maimoonathul Badawiya and Rabiyathul Adawiya of Basra. Meccan saint Fathima Nishapuri the wife of 9th century Sufi Al - Hakeem, Persia’s (Iran) Shawaana, Moghul Emperor Sha Jahan’s daughter Jahan - Ara, Aisha of Damascus, Ankara’s Zainab Haroon and Hayati Kermani among others. All this proves the heightening of gender based roles for women as the centuries passed that undermined her potential. Notwithstanding the system’s weakening of them, women themselves have yielded by adopting the roles expected of them that destroys their hidden capabilities unlike those illustrious women referred to earlier on who bore nobility of purpose.
The world’s beauty pageants where women are paraded like cattle in heightened sensual outfits and modern clothing that sexually outlines her biological assets have contributed immensely to her body consciousness as she painstakingly pampers every part of it. Arguably it’s her right, yet, when she misses out on the purpose for which she was created by yielding to a system that demands the role expected of her, she undeniably loses her inner self. Women contribute in no small measure to up keep huge business conglomerates that fatten their wallets by exploiting her very private biological domain.
Under the modern systemic layout she is kept busy with her external appearances and has ended up nothing more than a sexual plaything. The numerous roles expected of her have put her through much stress. As a result her moral, intellectual and spiritual growth is stunted making a mockery of herself.
There have been instances when male envy of women’s intellect evident. When this is so within marital confines even the children are discouraged from talking to the mother. The man views her as stupid and even insane. An attempt into demoralising her becomes obvious as he is traumatised by an inferiority complex. This emerging trend is not necessarily within the institution of marriage but outside as well.
Far removed from this scenario has been men of supposedly uncivilised times sitting at the feet of women saints and absorbing their profound sermons. Such was the high esteem of women during a never-to-return glorious era of freedom and equality.