Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

To My Sisters

Ask yourself these questions.

Have you noticed your tone changing depending on the “class” of person you are dealing with? Do you use the same tone for your maid, a stranger on the street and your secretary?

Do you feel threatened when a beautiful woman passes by, or joins your group?

Does your stomach turn sour when you see someone dressed better or showing off more jewelry or in a fancier car?

Do you still need to be assured by friends and family, husband or neighbours that they approve of you? Do you still think, before acting, “What will they say?”


In this very rapidly changing social world, I am trying to figure out what being free and liberated means to us Indian women. With so many subliminal levels of repression underlying the many open levels of suppression, oppression and gender bias, what does it mean to be empowered?


Recently in Kerala, I had women telling me of the additional burdens that economic freedom had brought them. Once upon not so long ago, they used to have to do all the household chores and bring up the kids – this could mean cooking and serving hot food at varying times to suit the convenience of different members of the family, getting the puja thali ready for different people as per their personal preferences etc. Today in 100% literate Kerala, in historically matrilineal Kerala, these women go out for jobs. So do the rest of the family decrease their demands? Of  course not. In fact, they have to do all this, and keep the job. This often means that in their lunch break they rush back home to do some of the things that need to be done – like cook again for a parent in law. And the women, when I asked them why they put up with it said, “Oh we have to. What will people think?”


In some senses, our feelings of insecurity, of being biased against, of being biased against women ourselves, are like the colonial mindset – it is more about us than about the colonizer. Think of it this way – even today, 60 years after we threw out white rule, we still continue measuring ourselves against the Whites, be it in looks, fashion, academics or whatever. In the way we dress and the way we behave, we are copying our perception of the way the white are. Similarly, we as women often behave the way men would, or at least the way we think men would. And thus become the witting or unwitting perpetrators of gender bias towards our own gender.


We look with such public outrage at families who kill off their daughters. And yet is our own mentality so very different? Have we really asked why so many women want sons and not daughters? So much money is poured into public messages to the masses to bachao the beti – yet it really boils down to two things – Am I producing a child only with the aim of getting her or him married, so much so, that the potentiality of having to pay a dowry makes me kill a foetus? And two, am I so insecure as a woman that I think having a husband at any cost is the only thing that will make me/my daughter a valid individual? If this was not the case, why do I not have the gumption  to refuse giving a dowry in my own case or in that of a daughter? Is remaining unmarried and happy worse than being married and tortured?

I think the time has come to ask ourselves some hard questions and to make some clear mindset changes. Have I the right to criticize or do I secretly indulge in the same thoughts? Do I give preference to male friends, children, colleagues, staff? Do I instinctively trust a man more? Am I OK being a woman/person? Or do I need to fall back on what is euphemistically and derogatorily called feminine wiles? Does my being rich and /or educated mean I have liberated my mind? How long can I pretend to myself?

Today I AM the person and I AM my own glass ceiling. I AM the woman and I AM the woman apologist. I AM my jail and I AM my own liberator.

Each of us has some way to go before the Colonization of a thousand years of patriarchy will disappear. So let’s move on. Now.

January 30th, 2011, DNA


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