Women their own enemy


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Category: Women Date: 18 Nov 99

‘What makes women stop being curious? What makes them lose that bounce?’

‘I discovered, too, that the evolution of womankind is sabotaged by ourselves’

‘We always ask the abused woman: what did you do to make him beat you?’

‘Women must band together to fight every injustice, small or large, against our sex’

‘I would encourage our daughters to keep their maiden names when they marry’


At a Halloween party earlier this month I saw a sea of feminine faces. Most of them were unaccompanied by their husbands. They were the mothers of the little witches, ghosts, angels and monsters running around with sticky fingers and orange juice.


The women were for the most part well groomed: in linens, subtle shades of lipstick, good haircuts and leather shoes. Their ages ranged from early twenties to mid-forties. Some of them had stuck smiles on their faces as they chit-chatted with one another.


Others didn’t bother. Their eyes drooped with worry, the lines around their mouths (it was clear) were created more from tears and rage than from smiles. But I knew, if I got close enough to the ones with the glazed smiles, even their expensive perfume wouldn’t be strong enough to cut out the smells of disappointment and loneliness that emanated from so many of them.


I sat there in the dusty twilight with the almost sickly-sweet scent of the “lady of the night”, underneath a Samaan tree still dripping from earlier showers onto the damp earth, among screeching children and care-worn mothers, and thought about women.


What makes the corners of their mouths turn down, their eyes dull, their faces and bodies swell with food eaten not for nutrition but as an antidote to depression? What makes so many women lose that fight? What makes them stop being curious? What makes them lose that bounce and light? But the dark had swallowed them all up, and I went home with the memory of silhouettes of women’s hands holding a bit of their child’s clothing, a discarded lollipop, a sticky hand. Endearing images of love, transference of hopes and dreams, lives sacrificed, poured into those tiny hands.


Over the next few days I scanned women’s faces on a crowded downtown street, in an aerobics class, in malls and at birthday parties. I listened and watched carefully. These are the generation of women who have been sold the dream of Cinderella, who - no matter how harshly or unfairly they’ve been treated - stand by their man, believe, ultimately, that a man will save them, make them happy, take care of them.


And to my shock I, who have always considered myself a champion of women’s rights, discovered, too, that the evolution of womankind is sabotaged by ourselves. We scupper our growth firstly, by not taking responsibility for ourselves, whether we are well appointed housewives or women who decide to have children for four different men as a way of keeping them.


Secondly, although our capacity for supporting one another is huge, more often than not we pull one another down. Like a true underclass, we sell one another out so we can get short-term gains from the opposite sex, maintain a status quo, which is essentially dictated by men. No wonder they are contemptuous. If we set ourselves up to be victims, we become them.


Mothers and mothers-in-law, sisters and friends will tell the abused woman to go home and put up with a little lash here and there for the sake of the children or the home or the little bit of money. We don’t tell one another that each of us has options, that a little courage and untapped talent goes a long way. We don’t seek out divorced or widowed friends.


We’ll criticise members of our own sex who won’t conform by cooking or fussily cluck around children (thereby stunting and spoiling them). We’ll “shoo-shoo” about somebody who’s left a marriage, or found love outside it (while being understanding about the man who did it, saying he deserved a second chance and she was a bitch anyhow).


Instead of saying that physical or verbal violence is against the law, and that freedom from fear is a basic human right, we always ask the woman who has been abused: “What did you do to make him beat you?” The premise instead should be that nothing warrants physical abuse, which is a weak, cowardly, brutish and lawless response to a verbal confrontation, especially when the other party is physically weaker.

We bring up our boys to be brats and tormented abusers, either by allowing their fathers to beat them to a pulp when they are naughty, or by calling them sissies when they show emotion such as fear and insecurity, need and tears.


There are many good, gentle, honourable men who will never (no matter how provoked) hit a woman, who will cherish women in their weakness and revel in their independence. But for every good one out there, there are a dozens who dull the light in women’s eyes, batter them until there is loss of hope.


We don’t fully understand what produced these men. Could it be a combination of a need to maintain male power and authority dressed up as tradition, over-indulgent mothers, a cycle of abused boys who turn into abusing men? We can no longer go around blaming others. In the final analysis, women must stop setting themselves up as victims, and we must band together to do that by fighting every injustice, small or large, against our sex. It may be too late for the generation before us, and maybe even for some among our own generation. But our daughters can be spared. How?


Firstly, by educating them to the hilt. We must give our daughters the biggest gift of all - financial, social and intellectual independence, so that the bulk of their wealth is in their head and can be carried to any company in any country.


Secondly, by ingraining a sense of justice in them, so that they will never put up with any argument against them based on superior physical power, force or threats.


Thirdly, by giving them a strong sense of self, ensuring that they go into relationships with so much self-esteem they will not depend on men for money, social status, home, or hearth, which become the reasons they stay when abused.


I would encourage them to keep the light in their eyes until they die, by tapping into whatever talent they have, by having a parallel outer and inner life that belongs to them alone, a sense of individual destiny; alongside their responsibilities as wives, mothers and daughters.


And finally, I would encourage our daughters to keep their “maiden” names when they get married. Allowing themselves to be known by their husband’s name smacks of medieval days, when women were regarded as property, and sets them up to be treated as such.


Let them give and receive flowers not out of need, nor loss, nor as a balm to pain, but with love.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur