“The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, “It’s a girl”. ” – Shirley Chisholm
Shirley Chisholm was an American politician, educator and author. She was the first black woman to be elected to Congress and she was also the first major-party black woman candidate for President of the United States. In 1982 Chisholm told the Associated Press: "I've always met more discrimination being a woman than being black. When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men."
Women have been one of the most disadvantaged groups; they are the only group in the world who have/has been idealized into powerlessness as Erica Jong puts it. This oppression might have found its roots in the physical vulnerability and inability to perform labor during pregnancy, lactation and menstruation. But, this inability restricted only to the period mentioned has been blown out of proportion. And the identity of women has been constructed around these physical aspects. Nursing, caring for children and management of the household became the role of women. The work, all by itself, is of great importance as what women do by assuming these roles is raise the future generation and care for humanity. But to women’s greatest dismay, men haven’t been able to recognize the importance of this role of women. Value was attached to income earning abilities of individuals and this meant women’s work is denied recognition and importance.
Ever since birth, the girl child is molded to do household work, to do work of “secondary” nature, to do “non-remunerative” work. This idealization of household works in the minds of women, throughout history, lead to the acceptance of the oppression of women by men and women.
It took many centuries, before this abusive societal order was questioned and consequently, changed, at least to a certain extent. The 18th century saw the base for the feminist movements take place in the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason, when intellectuals questioned the unequal distribution of power, in order to reform society and advance knowledge for the greater good. The theme was to propagate mankind equality, although women’s equality was not highlighted. The feminist movement, which arose later, is divided into three waves. The first wave, dealt with the fighting for suffrage of women (women’s voting rights). The second wave, involved campaigning for women’s equality in politics, culture and society. And the third wave has been criticized for being a mere continuation of the 2nd wave.
During the past three hundred years, the campaign for women’s equality in all aspects has brought about awareness and subsequently, changes in attitude towards women. Earlier, women were confined to household activities, banned from educational institutions in certain provinces, weren’t given suffrage, couldn’t initiate divorce, subject to foot binding (in China), subject to Hijab (in Muslim countries), subject to Sati (in India) and other gender stereotyping. But, now, women’s status has been elevated from class 2 citizen to that of class 1, they have been provided with suffrage, reservation of a certain number of seats has been made to ensure political participation, Sati and foot binding has been abolished, education for women is being promulgated, dowry has been abolished by law. The profile of an average woman has changed. Her rights have changed, her roles have changed, her position in the society has changed, and her aspirations for the future have changed. And these changes are only an overview. But, this doesn’t mean that the oppression of women is something part of history, there are still many women who suffer.
Over the course of the project, I have interviewed eight families and 24 women belonging to different economic strata, castes, region and level of education to observe the change in...