Feminist Conflict Theory Through the Movie Water

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Deepa Mehta’s Water focuses on widows in India in the year 1938, which was a time when men dominated society and did not accept women’s rights. Women were not allowed to make their own decisions. Many were married off at a young age to older men through arranged marriages. In Hindu Culture at that time, if women were widowed at a young age, the women were expected to throw their bodies on their husband’s funeral pyre and burn to death. This custom is known as sati. However, sati did not happen all the time. Sometimes women were given a choice, they were still outcasts but were allowed to live in very unfortunate circumstances. This alternative was a decision made by the in-laws and the parents to put their daughters in the Ashram (widow house). In this paper, it will be argued that feminist conflict theory can be used to understand changing attitudes toward widows in India, through the lens of Deepa Mehta’s, Water. Through feminist conflict theory, we can understand that the widows’ major problems are due to the patriarchal society. The goal of the feminist view is to eliminate male domination, so women can have equal attention in a patriarchal society. Things have slowly changed in India regarding widows, as women became more equal and less subordinate. Background on Sati:

Deepa Mehta’s Water briefly mentions the ritual of sati, in which women were burnt on pyres at their husband’s funeral. The word sati originated from Hindi Sanskrit religion. A goddess named Sati sacrificed her life because her parents did not accept Sati’s marriage to god Siva. Sati was not a victim. Her suicide was an act of rebellion and anger towards her controlling parents. Since the body portrays the relationship with her parents who created resentment, this caused her to sacrifice her body in order to take that pain away (Lashmi 2003: 84-85). This religious belief has transformed throughout time and people now have a different view of the sati. In pre-colonial days, India was a male dominated society. They pressured widows to follow the same tradition but with a different meaning. In India, sati was no longer a woman’s act of defiance but became an act of oppression where women became victims and had no choice about committing suicide because they had no value after their husband had died (Lashmi 2003: 87). The movie shows how women were given two choices: they either got immolated with their husband’s corpse or they had to accept widowhood and become an outcast from the society that no family member would be allowed to visit (Lashmi 2003: 88). The performance of sati was way to show that women did not have value and that men decide the fate of their women. The Feminist Conflict Theory through the movie Water:

Deepa Mehta’s movie, Water, tells the story an eight year old girl named Chuya who has been taken to the journey of widowhood. This young girl has no idea that she has become a widow. For an eight year old, the decision should be to take her home and be with her parents. Because of the patriarchal environment, her father will decide whether she will stay with the parents or go to a widow house. Now that Chuya become a widow, her life has no value in society and she as to go through suffering. Her parents decide to put their eight year old daughter in the widow house, as dictated by the patriarchal rules of the society. But even though Chuya did not realize that she has lost her the freedom, she always has hope that her parents will came and take her away from the widow house. She is keeping the false hope to keep herself alive. The feminist conflict theory focuses on the aspect of the patriarchy, where males dominate in society and females are subordinated and are considered less powerful (Brym 2007: 21-22). One belief of the feminist conflict theory is that it is better to eliminate gender inequality and also eliminate the patriarchal society (Brym 2007: 21). In order to better understand feminist conflict theory through the movie,...
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