What is freedom for a twenty first century woman? Is it limited to freedom to make decisions and freedom to make and spend money? Is it limited to freedom to choose to be single or married, and to choose whom to get married to? Or does freedom end with one’s will to decide how much education to gather and what job to take? In a century when women’s power is visible much more than ever in the history of humankind, finding the limitlessness of women’s freedom would be an apt exercise.
In the outset, one must understand that this discussion is not misogynistic. The article tries to explore areas where women find themselves at home. The intention is not to find fault with history or to argue that everything in the past was anti-women. In the spirit of fairness, we analyse facts.
A Long History of Gender-Role Assignment
One must confess that the feminine gender was kept under visible and discreet control across cultures and nations throughout recorded history. There must have been just about a time during the evolution of our species, when the genders were equal. As humans became sophisticated, they somehow began to see the difference between genders. The difference in physical form, biological functions, psychological make up, etc. must have been noticed. Probably these factors have influenced the way gender roles were defined. Pregnancy and related feminine compilations must have had a definite influence on the early segregation of genders.
Anthropological studies have explained that gender roles were derived out of necessities of hunting and gathering, and the need to increase one’s tribe. When primary human occupation was hunting and gathering, number of people who could actually go, hunt and gather food was very important. Considering the fact that mortality rates of both infants and adults were high due to diseases, attacks (human and animal) and epidemics (like plagues), producing and maintaining healthy offspring was mandatory for survival.
The occasionally occurring epidemics were part of what is called the Malthusian cycles. Malthusian cycles are cycles of growth, maturation and destruction of civilizations. This deadly phenomenon occurred in all civilizations throughout the world.
Therefore, child bearers and caretakers were assigned the home task of bearing and rearing children. Over centuries of social and cultural conditioning, this role born out of necessity was thought of as a nature ordained one. And it continues!
There was a time when women in India were not allowed to gain education. Till a few decades ago, lower caste women in Kerala were not allowed to wear clothes on the upper torso. Till the fag end of previous century, women of most communities were not allowed to inherit wealth from their ancestors. Some communities don’t allow their women even today to go out of their homes unaccompanied. Freedoms was a pretty rare commodity!
A Way Out
When we consider the facts given above, we have a lot of freedom today. Today’s women ace most of the competitive examinations across the world along with or ahead of men. Some of the most powerful nations are ruled by women. There are many multinational corporations headed and led by women. The growing trend of women handling powerful positions show that the limits of women’s freedom is being expanded day by day.
What are the areas in which women’s freedom can be extended? Let us look at a few perspectives.
Freedom to Say NO
This author considers the freedom-to-say-no as the primary freedom that a person should have. This is very important and it extends to a variety of areas. This relates to one’s freedom to take a stand on issues related to oneself and others. There would be times when a woman is forced to comply to the decisions made by elders or family. Be it related to the colour of a dress or the model of a mobile phone, personal preferences matter. If what is suggested by ‘others’ is obviously against your tastes and sensitivities, you must say no. In more sensitive issues like marriage, education and health these decisions may have far reaching consequences. Therefore, the freedom-to-say-no is very important.
Imagine a situation where you said yes to a marriage which you didn’t like! Why should you spend your entire life with someone you don’t like? Similarly, in choosing your career you might want to be keep your individuality. Similar is the case of health issues. Never say yes to cosmetic surgeries for someone’s else’s sake. It is you who live in your body. Others may have opinions which you might consider. But you make the decision. Always have the freedom-to-say-no.
Freedom to Be Yourself
This might sound a little odd, but when you think about it, there is some logic in it. Do women compulsorily have to be part of the rat race we see today? Get a job and slog in corporate sector, be important and make important decisions? One must have the freedom to be oneself. If a woman decides to care for her family are remain at home, is that an exercise of her freedom? Yes, it is! Considering the fact that managing family is a full time job, the decision to be at home caring for children is part of freedom. If a woman doesn’t want to be out there working hard and at the same time being a home maker, it is her choice. There is nothing wrong about it.
But there is something I would like to add. There must be appreciation and gratitude. If a woman is ready to sacrifice her career, or dedicate her entire life for the family, the members of the same family should not take her for granted. Just as the breadwinner is appreciated, the home maker should also be appreciated. Everyone should understand that being a mother is not a cakewalk. This way, women should be more demanding in their own ways- ‘free’ in other words.
We are all born as equals. It is the society that makes us rich or poor, educated or illiterate, kind or cruel. But it is important to realize that we have freedom to be what we want. For a woman, her limitless freedom begins with being herself as a woman. We must always strive to live the way that suits us the best. For that we must exercise freedom- responsibly and maturely.
Read More: Education and Women