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Society’s Paradigm of an Ideal Woman

Special on International Women’s Day

The popular imagination that has firmly constructed a social and cultural context of what an ideal woman should be, is a contentious issue that cannot be assessed in a very definite and uniform term.

We need not go into the gendered discrimination going-ons expanded across this country on basis of diverse culture. Treatment of women in India has been sanctioned by tradition, religion, caste and class. It remained unquestioned until the late 18th century because it is scripture-based, acquired and retained in different traditional communities through centuries.

Traditions have been persistent and consistent in determining the roles and positions of women in the society. In India, the myth Ramayana has had the most significant and influential foundations that shaped the Indian culture and percolated into the fabric of Indian life.

Religious prescriptions impacted the lives of women in ways in which it inherently informed and instructed them for centuries. Swami Vivekananda talked about how an Indian woman “must grow and develop in the footprints of Sita, and that is the only way”. To him, Sita is “purer than purity itself, all patience, and all suffering…ever chaste and ever pure wife”. She combines the ideal of excellence with some endearing human traits that evoke a wide range of interest through the

 This religious ideal was transferred to real life mothers- in a predominantly Hindu culture. Goddess worship is a living tradition and is an integral part of India’s collective psyche. { Devi Ma(Mother Goddess), Ganga Mata).

Our modern Indian women is the epitome of selflessness, self-sacrifice, courageous, resilience, intelligent, smart and beautiful fitting into various roles so devotedly. Indian women are a product of multiple-mothering from all sides- mothers, aunties, elders, religious institutions and society, packed with cultural and moral attributes. Our women have raised themselves to the goals and purpose set for her, transcending the myth. She suppresses herself to adapt to being modern but by upholding traditions.

While heralding modernisation and bringing in westernization our urban Indian mothers are preserving tradition without essentially disturbing its ‘Indianness’. Modern mothers wish to lay claim on worldliness and universalization but they are clinging on to morally superior attitudes whose locus is the ‘womb’ and ‘mother’. This is so much reflected in popular cinema and TV serials and programmes.

The Indian households ensure that the mother’s roles continue to be constructed as that of the primary caregiver. Women continue to uphold to traditional family values- they are subordinate and submissive and they perform their primary responsibilities as expected.

‘Mother’ is such a privileged position in India that feminists have grappled with this notion if motherhood is the root of women’s oppression while there is the argument that the capacity to give birth is a woman’s greatest strength. The embodiment as mothers is a critical appraisal of motherhood in urban India.

The mother’s body and her child or children follow a pattern of behaviour that has been regulated through the centuries- perceived as the bedrock of culture and tradition. The mother-child relationship is the essential human relationship that forms the most fundamental human unit. Ipsos Global Trend Survey 2017 recorded India with 64% in thinking that the main job of women is to be good mothers and wives.

The Symbolisation of Biological Reproduction expressed through the terms like ‘seed’ and ‘earth’ gives a social definition to the woman’s body associated with motherhood.

 Our culture has emphasized the significance of the father’s role as essentially important for the child’s identity and survival. It is the mother who gives life to a child through the father’s blood. Her womb is the earth to the seed. She is responsible for nurturing and caring for herself for the growth and development of the foetus. Through centuries the existence of her body is undermined and passive. Narada Smriti said, “Women are created for offspring; a woman is a field and a man is the possessor of the seed; the field should be given to him who possesses the seed” Through centuries the ideology of seed and earth and the belief attached to it were firmly expressed and instilled into the Indian psyche. This reference to earth and seed were infused in the consciousness of people thus making them as powerful tools for socialising women. This symbolisation expresses the essentially unequal relationship and undermines women’s significant contribution.

The psychological connection between mother and child demands a moral obligation from her.

Psychological characteristics and social roles associated with women are derived from the capacity of procreating. The psychological characteristics are not biologically determined but are influenced by culture and tradition. Thus we see differences between women across cultures in our country as well as across the world. Motherhood is felt and lived through the body- not the natural body of biology but a body hat inhabits a particular personal and cultural world. These experiences are structured through customs, traditions, social and cultural impacts.

Modern women desire for paid work and independence. Most of them find their endless contribution towards domestic be oppressive so working is quite liberating. Most of them are happy managing household works and paid jobs as well. Even though our economy has witnessed the female labour and productive body as a sustainable source- a household with working mothers have not collapsed. Married women who are working are constantly on guard as they negotiate through time, labour and nature of work, her productive body and caring bodies in the domestic space, thus managing home and office( performing natural duties and moral obligations). The amount of physical strain and the burden of working long hours to manage both spaces leads to emotional and mental stress and sometimes ill health. These are invisible implications for female bodies. The social construction of motherhood and lived experience are of multiple consequences as wifehood and motherhood engages women in different cultures.

Another commonality shared by mothers across the urban, middle and upper classes, is their role as the key provider of children’s education- traditional Indian culture again, for both formal and nonformal- this includes moral, social and religious instruction (primary responsibility of the mother). This holds special significance for the sustenance of the family and of course patriarchy and collective community history. The insistence on the mother as the ‘natural’ source for the child’s formal as well as informal education places the burden of upholding religious and moral values on the mother. These privileged moralities are played through maternal roles.

Social perceptions about the process associated with motherhood demands for social massive change. Just as reproduction labour is invisible and neglected within the private space, so also is her domestic duties. Engaging women’s lives as wifehood, homemaking and motherhood, traditionally passed on and duly accepted from one generation to another has undergone some changes over the last few decades.

Modern Indian mothers are progressive and have embraced westernisation and western liberal values in notable respectable ways making it clear that private space at home cannot be transgressed at any cost.  The current state of the Indian middle class and upper-class urban woman is an important indicator. Increasing participation of men in childcare and parental responsibilities are all promising signs for the future. It is very encouraging to see that our menfolk is also slowly demolishing the walls of gendered roles. They are into cooking, washing, marketing and babysitting in a very joyful way. In fact, India again scored a higher percentage of 80% compared to other countries in believing that men have been taking on more domestic chores and sharing home duties. (Ipsos Global Trend Survey 2017). They not only support their female folk but they help them to negotiate rebelling against complete surrender to socially accepted and unjust norms and also adhering to tradition.

 Women seek a collective transcendence by resting on the understanding and support of their men. The collective narratives of women and mother continue to gear us to examine, analyse and develop critical awareness. There are forces which act together to construct specific representations of motherhood. This cannot be generalised and it certainly cannot position all Indian mothers,, but it can be used as a comparative or analysing model against which the situations of various categories of women and mothers can be examined domestic workers/Migrants/Single mothers/ widows/working mother).

There is a need to register our protest through critical interrogation. While we seek reconciliation and embrace tradition, we also acknowledge the changing positive trends. We are re-creating a different set of parameters where we want our women to envision their lives and define themselves as ‘women’ and ‘mothers’ in entirely new liberating ways- ways where we can keep our tradition alive without being psychologically and emotionally oppressed.

Ms. B.Rose Lyngdoh

Ms. B.Rose Lyngdoh Union Christian College Assistant Professor Coordinator of Women Cell Passionate worker(freelancer) of women issues and women's rights Resource Person on Gender Sensitisation and Women Violence  Double MA (English and Women and Gender Studies
Ms. B.Rose Lyngdoh
Union Christian College
Assistant Professor
Coordinator of Women Cell
Passionate worker(freelancer) of women issues and women’s rights
Resource Person on Gender Sensitisation and Women Violence
Double MA (English and Women and Gender Studies

Union Christian College

Assistant Professor

Coordinator of Women Cell

Passionate worker(freelancer) of women issues and women’s rights

Resource Person on Gender Sensitisation and Women Violence

Double MA (English and Women and Gender Studies

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