Thursday, January 3, 2019

Patriarchy and learned helplessness

Being a woman in (most parts of)India (based on conversations with many women) - Uber and Ola have changed a lot of things from when this post was written (2012), during a trip to India

Every time I return to India, as a visitor, to my middle class moorings I have the experience of stepping into a box. You see my activities are constrained as a result of my role as a daughter/daughter in law who must live by norms that I would scoff at, back in Canada. An important reason for this is the lack of access to a car for me to drive around in. The other is curfew established by safety wary relatives of how long a respectable woman can stay out on her own. Add to this my own guilt over any self indulgence - a deviation from the "self sacrificing woman" that I and all women here are expected to be. Even at home, sleeping-in is out of question, as is an early morning walk on my own before the sun comes up. Reading the paper, when I should be helping in the kitchen, is frowned upon and indulging in pastimes other than plain old TV watching or other forms of domesticity does not endear one to relatives. I am a visitor and I forbear, even though it means I have to temper my expectations of what I can do during my vacation here due to overprotective family members looking out for me at all times.."you don't know about this city - call me when you get to your destination and let me know how long you will be gone"

For those middle and lower middle class women living here, a career offers a legitimate reason for bucking their traditional role as purveyors of home and hearth but it is only accepted if it is financially necessary. If it is not perceived as being so, then her life can be made difficult with expectations that she fulfill her role in the home as nurturer and be there for her children as the attentive parent, tending to their every need, while holding down her full-time job. With life being as difficult as it is with infrastructural and transportation challenges most women live circumscribed within a limited sphere of existence and come to accept their lot in a state of learned helplessness. The systems of patriarchy and of the real material bases of their lives conspire together to keep them there. It is only within this sphere is she validated. Even when she has a chance to venture out, she hesitates knowing that the censure and related consequences will dire be enough for it to not be worth her while.

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