Essence of Womanhood
After all what constitutes the essence of womanhood? Maharshi Annasaheb Karve happened to visit Japan when that country was beginning to educate its women. Maharshi Karve being one of the greatest pioneers and protagonists of women's education, had gone there to study the Japanese system of women's education.
The Japanese had defined three specific objectives of women's education:
- To educate women as women.
- To educate women as citizens.
- To educate women as human beings.
In effect, there is no particular difference between these three objectives. As a matter of fact, they cannot be mutually exclusive, in as much as a woman is not only a woman but also a citizen and a human being at the same time. So education may be said, in one word, to be the harmonious development of all three aspects of a woman's life.
But what has happened is that women have so far been educated merely as women. The other two dimensions of her life have been neglected. Therefore, I have been wondering what really is the essence of womanhood, what distinguishes a woman from a man? It is believed that there is more love and compassion in a woman. That however is not my experience. A girl is usually weak. A feeble mind is incapable of containing either love or compassion. Her mind is a frail vessel which may break at the touch of true love and compassion. What she does have in an ample measure is loyalty and fidelity, but loyalty or fidelity is not love. She is loyal to her man, loyal to the last breath. This is loyalty, not love. Sita and Taramati were the very embodiments of such conjugal loyalty. All the great women, who were canonized for their glorious womanhood, had more than their share of this loyalty. They could lay down their lives for their illustrious consorts. All honour to them for their devotion. But this is not love. There can be no love without liberty. Even slaves have been known to sacrifice their lives for their masters. The great Panna, when the wet-nurse, a Dhi of a prince, sacrificed the life of her own son to save the prince. This is loyalty. A woman can burn herself on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband. But this is not love. Even such idealists as Ananda K. Kumaraswamy have written in praise of 'Sati', extolling it as the very acme of love. In my view, however, this is not the height of love, but the height of loyalty. When Harishchandra prepared himself to sell Taramati for the fulfillment of his vow, Harischandra was really loyal to truth but Taramati was loyal to her husband.
Woman has so far surrendered herself for the fulfillment of her husband's vow, whether that woman is Sita, Taramati or our own Kasturba. A woman's life was not her own. A man who sacrificed his life for loyalty to his wife will be called effeminate, the world would not honour him. The man who is loyal to his wife is generally scoffed at as being henpecked. But a woman's loyalty to her man is extolled as fidelity and faithfulness. There are thus two different standards of measurement for man and woman.
Life of Togetherness
Could you change these values? Unless these values are changed, man and woman can never live together in the real sense. They may live under the same roof; to all appearance they may seem to live together, but in reality there is no togetherness or companionship.
Once a father took his little son to a Zoo promising to show the little child how the lamb was sleeping with the lion. The boy saw only the lion in his cage and wondered where the lamb could be. The father explained that the lamb was inside the lion. There are two ways in which one can identify oneself with another. One is the way of Alexander, the way of the imperialist. The whole empire is contained in one capacious maw. The other is the way of Jesus, the way of the saviours of mankind. They do not seek to contain the whole of mankind in their inflated ego but seek to enter the heart of mankind. Till now man and woman have lived together much in the fashion of the lion and the lamb. Until we change this situation the advent of true religion in human society must remain an empty dream. There is no morality in the co-existence of the lion and the lamb, where the lamb exists only inside the lion.
So, with all the earnestness that I can command, I beseech every girl to live with the boy she likes, love him with all her heart and all her soul. But on no account should she depend on him. The chief defect of the woman's life is her utter dependence on man. Education has not been able, so far to emancipate her from this abject dependence. Therefore both her citizenship and her education are only ornamental, they are useless baubles. And you know that the more ornaments a woman wears the greater is the danger to her safety and thus greater the need for protection. Illiterate women working in the fields and in factories do not need protection to that extent. Today's educated blue-stockings are more cowardly than the illiterate woman of yesterday, And the pity of it is that: cowardice: and timidity have been regarded a woman's special virtues. Today women have been given liberty but it is a protected liberty; and protected liberty is counterfeit liberty. The result is that there is only one client in a girl's life the quest of a suitable boy. In a man's life there is the quest for love, the quest for adventure and the quest for freedom. But a woman's life is devoid of all these noble quests.
Jayaprakashji has been asking us time and again to fight the pernicious custom of dowry. But so long as a girl needs a boy to guard her liberty and her honour the boy is bound to exact his fee; and you cannot blame him for that. There is no injustice in this. If I appoint a watch-man to guard my house I pay him his salary. How then can we blame the man who guards the honour of a woman all his life, all the twenty-four hours a day. Unfortunately the girls do not understand the ugliness of their situation and compel their fathers to go on All-India tours in search of an eligible groom. What is the way out? The basis of the relationship between man and man should be mutual affection and not fear or greed. Friendship has remained underdeveloped in the life of a woman. Mainly because she does not belong to herself. In friendship there is neither selfishness nor sensuality.
Vinoba has called this devotion between friends (Sakhya Bhakti' or devotion of friendship. The tradition and symbol of this 'Sakhya Bhakti' is the relationship of Krishna and Arjun which we might call 'Krishnarjun Yoga'. There is another symbol of friendship uncontaminated by fear or lust between man and woman. This is symbolized in the relationship between Krishna and Draupadi. Draupadi is also known as Krishna. So we my call it 'Krishnaa-Krishnaa Yoga'.
This symbol of Krishna-Draupadi relationship must be translated into our social life. So long as this does not happen woman will never reach the status of a human being which ought to be her birth-right. As a mother she is worshipped as a Goddess, but never will she be treated as a human-being. She will remain either a Goddess or a property of a man. She will never attain the dignity of a human being. She attains motherhood but in actual she can never become a mother unless she first becomes a wife.
The concept of motherhood without wifehood is one of the noblest cultural concepts. The word for pregnancy is conception. To conceive also means to entertain an idea in this mind. In Sanskrit the word is 'Bhavan' or 'Abhibhaavan' which also means to protect or to bring up. Therefore the word 'Abhibhaavak' has also come to mean a guardian or a protector. But today woman is not the protector has been reduced to the position of a seeker of protection. Seeking protection and enjoyment and freedom can never go together. A woman has to seek protection because she regards physical power as the ultimate force. As a matter of fact, physical force has never been the final arbiter of human destiny. Man excels not by physical power but by his superiority in the qualities of head and heart. Women will have to accept the maxim that their honour and purity are not violated by rape. But this does not solve the problem. Motherhood can be imposed on a woman against her will. But we are living in the age of scientific discoveries. Human ingenuity will have to discover some method of avoiding unwanted motherhood.
The concept of the Cosmic Mother is really unique. The cosmic mother is not the unmarried mother. She has no male spouse and thus has no sexual relationship with any man. In this sense the Cosmic Mother is really God-the mother. The Fatherhood of God is absolute. He is no woman's husband or lover. All women are his daughter's because he is the father of all creation. So is the Cosmic Mother-the Mother of all creation, the mother of all men. It may sound paradoxical but it is none the less true Mother is the Mother of all fathers just as God is the father of all mothers. This concept of the Cosmic Mother is not biological but cultural and it thus the crowning glory of womanhood. In this sense every Brahmacharini can aspire to Cosmic Motherhood.
What makes a woman different from a man?
Education is the harmonious development of all our faculties. What is the distinguishing characteristic of woman which may be regarded as her prerogative? Obviously motherhood. There is no question about motherhood being the zenith of womanhood. But only that motherhood which is voluntary. Motherhood has been a curse in the case of women who have been violated during the last war in Bangladesh. This kind of motherhood is in all conscience not a benediction but a curse. The aspiration for motherhood will cease to be one of the reasons of woman's slavery to men only when 'Brahmacharya' has the same value in a woman's life as it has in the life of a man. Motherhood, of course, shall continue to be her prerogative but it should not in any way impair her liberty. When this happens motherhood and fatherhood will become equally cherished social values.
Several years ago a very important conference of eminent social workers was held at Sevagram. One of our most respected women members had a very high regard for our national traditions. In the course of her speech she happened to remark that a woman's life was of no value unless she became a mother. Premabai Kantak was also present at the conference. As you know Premabai has never married. Naturally she is not a mother. She could not tolerate the delimitation tacitly implied in the previous speaker's remarks. She retorted indignantly, "Vinoba has never become a father, why has his life not been regarded as having no significance? Bhishma, the grand old man of the 'Mahabharata' also did not marry, was his life worthless? Ramdas and Hanuman also belonged to that category. A man is revered and honoured if he does not marry or become a father. Why should not a woman also be revered and honoured for refusing to marry?" The crux of the matter is that a woman depends on some man for her status and freedom. She has to depend on either her father, brother, son or husband. Her freedom is secure only under the protection of a man's umbrella. Women have to challenge this state of things, specially young women. I do not expect such a revolutionary attitude on the part of old women. But if old women are not capable of facing this revolutionary challenge let them persuade their daughters and daughters-in-law to show that revolutionary spirit. If they organize they shall surely conquer.
Life is Relationship
We have a much talked of "Women's Lib Movement" in the West. But this is the child of reaction. Reaction is not revolution. If your doctor says that sugar is mainly responsible for your ill health you abjure sugar. This is not sugar. This is not reaction. But the women's Lib Movement has gone to the extent of boycotting men. What does this signify? Do they mean to say that they will make a world which will have no men in it? We have already two spheres of the globe. Shall we again divide the world into two more spheres, the male sphere and the female sphere? Will such a life have any joy in it? There is no life without togetherness. There is no life in isolation. Life is relationship. This is the distinctive characteristic of human life.
Fortunately for the future of humanity, the movement for the liberation of women has reached a stage where it cannot be carried on any longer , specifically a women's movement alone. It will now have to be carried on both by men and women together. Otherwise neither men nor women will be able to make any cultural advance. As we have seen all advance means approach; that is to say both men and women have to come close to each other in fraternity to work for the progress of the human race.
There can be no life in isolation. Man needs to live with others. This togetherness is man's distinctive characteristic. That is why sociologists have called man a 'Social Animal'. Aristotle has called man a 'political animal'. The word' political' here has nothing to do with politics, but comes from the word 'polis' which means 'city' or a human community.
Someone asked Vinobaji whether there should be co-education, whether boys and girls should be allowed to study together. Vinobaji answered, "Your question has been answered by God Himself. Both the boy and the girl are born of the parent. Moreover a boy and girl both are born in the same family. If God had wanted them to be separate, he would have had women bear only female children and men bear only male children. The Creator who could make such a marvelous universe could have easily made such an arrangement if He had so desired.
Neither the man nor the woman can live alone. Then why this dependence of woman on man? That is because women are afraid of freedom. I have met women who are not afraid of wild animals, not even of ghosts, but I have yet to meet a woman who is not afraid of men. This means that to a woman, man is more ferocious than wild animals and ghosts.
Women's' Asset: Beauty?
A man is also afraid of woman but for different reasons. He is afraid of being enticed. He knows of mythological stories where women like Urvashi and Menka were used to distract holy men engrossed in meditation. This is a slur on the integrity of women. To believe that a woman could be used to tempt man from the path of virtue or to distract him from the search for truth is a grievous disgrace. This is like comparing woman to intoxicants like alcohol and charas which make man forget himself.
The unfortunate part of it is that women themselves consider their beauty of form as their asset. For a man character and intellect are more important. If a girl is not good-looking, arranging her marriage becomes a problem. I agree that good-looks are important. Ramchandra was handsome as was Lord Krishna. Even Jawaharlal Nehru was a very handsome man. There are many good-looking men but why should a woman be afraid simply because she has an attractive figure? Only she should not exploit her looks as her fortune.
This reminds me of a poem which I learnt in my school days. A truant asks a milkmaid, "Where are you going to, my pretty maid?" "I am going a milking Sir, she said, Sir she said, Sir she said, I am going a-milking Sir, she said". "What is your fortune, my pretty maid?" "My face is my fortune Sir, she said, Sir, she said, Sir, she said."
This is a spurious role assigned to woman. I want to point out to you that education has stopped short of its goal. It only gives information: and information is not education. It is more than that. Education should develop women as individuals.
During the outbreak of a war, the first concern of every Nation is the safety of its women even if the belligerents are two communist countries. Men are abducted for money but women are not kidnapped for money alone. There is a vast difference between the two. In fact, incidents like Lord Krishna kidnapping Rukmini are glorified in our mythology. I can understand men admiring such acts, but what surprises me is that women too, glorify such acts.
This sort of cringing attitude on the part of woman surpasses understanding. I admire their capacity to endure and suffer, much as one would admire the fortitude of a slave. The soldier also endures hardship but there is no comparison between the two. If woman does not develop herself as an individual then a time will come, sooner than later, when she will once again have to confine herself within the four walls of her home and go back to pots and pans. And women themselves will make this demand, just as the majority of teachers are demanding that their salaries be paid directly from Government treasury. Women will declare that they are fed up with their independence.
Stop the Brainwashing
Time and again little girls are admonished for imitating boys. They are told to behave themselves; since someday they have to go to their husband's home. In other words a girl's activities are circumscribed to conform to the prevailing norms. She is conditioned to think in this fashion from her very infancy. We have to 'decondition' her; and to that extent the role of education is negative. But unfortunately we seem to insist on perpetuating the present order of things. That is why education has not succeeded in changing woman's role. Our present system of education only perpetuates traditional values.
Girls are told that it is pot possible for them to live their lives alone. This indoctrination has to go. The ideals we place before them are those of Seeta and Savitri, or at best, the Rani of Jhansi. Had the Rani of Jhansi not been a widow, she would not have attained the serene heights of glory and valour that she did. Had her husband been alive she would have been compelled to remain his loyal consort. History has shown that unmarried women and widows have for the most part accomplished great feats and golden deeds. I think however, that women who are married can also do great things.
A long time ago one girl came to me for an autographed message. I wrote on her book, 'Give up the aspiration for Saubhagya' (or eternal wifehood )': Her parents were furious, they came to remonstrate with me and asked me what the: hell did I mean? The whole issue was discussed in news papers. Another girl came to me and I told her to give up the aspiration to motherhood. Now these are delicate subjects and would offend the sensibility of anyone. May be, if some one had told my daughter the same thing, I too would have been perturbed.
Have the boys ever aspired or prayed for 'Saubhagya' or the perpetual protection of their wives? It is frightening how this kind of brain-washing goes on. Kasturba is considered a great woman because she followed in the foot-steps of her husband. She is considered a disciple, a follower, not a co-worker of her husband.
When a younger brother of mine got married after my father's death, I asked my mother why she could not perform the religious rites of the ceremony as my father would have done had he been a widower. I was told that the Vedas have given only limited rights to women. During my father's lifetime when he performed any ceremony mother would just touch my father's hand to indicate her participation without actually performing the rites. Symbolically this meant that she played the second fiddle. All the girls should rise in revolt and demand that their mothers get the same rights as their fathers. They should fight stoutly against the discrimination made by the scriptures.
Women have now been given all the fundamental rights which were until recently restricted to men. Thus, so far as the constitutional status is concerned women are the equal of men. But the woman's dejure status has not yet become her defector status. The law can only confer a right, but it is powerless to endow an individual with the ability to avail himself or here self of that right. So the law and the Constitution have their limitations. As they say, one can take the horse to the water, but cannot make him drink. Unless women develop the power to make these rights a reality in their lives, these rights will remain only shibboleths. This problem of developing woman's competence for the enjoyment of their constitutional rights will have to be tackled by men and women together. Therefore, a joint effort is the supreme need of the situation.
The will to live together is the vital breath of all corporate life. What is the impediment? On the part of man, the greatest obstacle is his desire to possess woman. He is enamored of her physical body and tries to kidnap her or violate her body. On the part of woman, the obstacle is that she is afraid of men in general. The result is that men usually succeed in
wining her by using threats or temptation. The body of woman has been so framed by nature that every sexual intercourse leaves its permanent mark on her constitution. She loses her virginity and, not seldom, becomes a mother inspite of her will. That is why she is more afraid of man than the most ferocious wolf.
Co-Existence, not Dependence
Luckily the natural relationship between man and woman is not one of enmity. This is borne out by the fact that neither can be born without the other. Even artificial insemination or tube babies require their mutual co-operation. Some women belonging to the Women's Lib Movement have recently declared that they would lead a life in which man will have no share. This kind of defiant attitude is not only arrogant but against a happy and rich human existence. The consummation of all human life is in relationship which means living together. So, what we need is the living together of man and woman on the basis of love and freedom and not mutual distrust.
The very nature of woman's problem is complex. It is further complicated by a contradiction which has become almost her second nature. She is afraid of man and at the same time she needs the protection of mart. Is this possible? One of the major solutions is that man should be able to get the better of his fatuous attraction for women in general. No woman's body should be capable of being violated that is, of being used without her consent. This is 'brahmacharya' as a social value. So long as this value is not incorporated in the conduct of man, woman will not be able to shed the fear of man and feel secure in his company. 'This is the first condition of their enjoying together a free and fearless life.
On her part the woman will have to develop a spirit of fearlessness. She should shed all fear of man's superior physical strength. Because this attitude breeds a tendency to regard mere physical vegetation as the essence of life. A woman should cease to look upon her charms as her best asset. She should start with the conviction that violation of the body does not mean defilement or pollution. Enforced motherhood does not render her socially impure. This conviction must be firmly fixed in the minds of both men and women, more particularly in the minds of women. After this emotional revolution, women will not feel helpless before the exhibition of man's physical might.
Man is not only a gregarious animal but a social animal which means that his relationships are for the most part as much voluntary as they are spontaneous. That is why a man's power over his fellowmen does not depend on the power of his muscles. It is different with the other animals. In their case the physically strongest animal becomes the leader or the king without being voted to power. But in the society of men the physically strongest is rarely the leader or the guide. There is some mysterious power in man by dint of which he can tame even tigers and elephants; and this mysterious power woman possesses in an equal measure. Nature has been not less bountiful to them in this respect. Gandhi perhaps was the most magnificent example of this distinctive power of man. This prerogative belongs to woman as much as to man. What she needs is the strength of character to make her freedom a reality. Thus alone can she make good the deficiency of physical strength. Where there is lack of physical strength, there is all the greater need for this other superior human force.
This will make it clear that all oar plans and schemes for the amelioration of woman's condition must be devised by the combined ingeniousness of man and woman. Thus alone the future harmonious and integrated human being will be born. In all revolutionary groups in history we find one splendid, distinctive feature. 'The revolutionary boys never looked upon the revolutionary girls as objects of their lust. And revolutionary girls were never nervous in the presence of their men companions. They worked together in comradeship for the advent of revolution. This is what is meant by making 'brahmacharya' a revolutionary value. 'This is the only road to the promised land for both man and woman. This is the challenge to both young men and young women to launch the glorious venture to "Total Revolution".
The Glory of Lord Shiva
In our country there is a special glory attached to the personality of Lord Shiva. He is at the same time very popular. The unique distinction of Lord Shiva is that He is half woman. A complete individual is one who has both the excellences of man and woman. A man should have the excellences of woman in him and a woman should have the excellences of man in her. Then alone is either of them an integrated individual. As a matter of fact the two are not two separate halves but rather a harmonious whole. Man's power of destroying evil and woman's genius of creativity should be combined into a harmonious individuality.
The present environment in India is conducive to the development of individual freedom both for man and woman. The present times challenge a woman's womanhood (Satva). That is why Gandhi experimented with non-violence here. The present situation is a challenge to the development of her self-confidence and will-power. This is the age of science and in this age the power of the intellect must excel and there is no reason why woman should be inferior to man in this regard. Physical power including the power of armaments has ceased to be the supreme force. Mall has been able to prove the supremacy of the power of his intelligence and of the qualities of his heart. Why should woman lag behind under these circumstances?
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q: Why is it in the society that the girl has to make adjustments?
Ans: Where is this Society about which we are never tired of talking? Is it the aggregate of individuals or a mere concept? Is it not more or a less sociological myth? Whom do we refer to when we talk about society? That is to say society means our neighborhood, which again means relationship. So it boils down to this that you represent society for me and I represent society for you. Just imagine what the first girl who went to school must have endured. And also think of the first woman who had the temerity to put on shoes. Those who take the first step are first scoffed at, ridiculed and ostracized and then opposed. Those who have the moral courage to face all this, ultimately triumph. That is the process of social change.
Q: How can she remove fear?
Ans: Now is the time for girls to make the best of the opportunities available. We are not living in a world dominated by the sword any longer. Gandhiji therefore sought to develop powers that were stronger than the sword. Women should also develop these latent powers which will be mightier than the atom bomb. Gandhiji's strength lay in his casting away the fear of the sword. Women have to go a step further! They have to overcome the fear of man's physical might. The day she stops being afraid of man, she will start loving him. Today her love has been stifled by fear. How can one love what one fears?
Q: We fear God and at the same time we love Him?
Ans: That is not true. We don't love God. In reality, we are afraid of Yamraj-the God of death who will sit in judgement over us; and not God. We fear Yamraj and do not love God. In fact when I was young I used to be so scared of God that I wished He were dead.