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PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Woman's status and role in Society

 

Woman's Status And Role In Society

OF ALL the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity to me, the female sex, not the weaker sex. It is the nobler of the two, for it is even today the embodiment of sacrifice, silent suffering, humility, faith and knowledge. (YI, 15-9-1921, p. 292)


Woman must cease to consider herself the object of man’s lust. The remedy is more in her hands than man’s. She must refuse to adorn herself for men, including her husband, if she will be an equal partner with man. I cannot imagine Sita even wasting a single moment on pleasing Rama by physical charms.
(YI, 21-7-1921, p. 229)


If I was born a woman, I would rise in rebellion against any pretension on the part of man that woman is born to be his plaything. I have mentally become a woman in order to steal into her heart. I could not steal into my wife’s heart until I decided to treat her differently than I used to do, and so I restored to her all her rights by dispossessing myself of all my so-called rights as her husband. And you see her today as simple as myself.

You find no necklaces, no fineries on her. I want you to be like that. Refuse to be the slaves of your own whims and fancies, and the slaves of men. Refuse to decorate yourselves, and don’t go in for scents and lavender waters; if you [woman] want to give out the proper scent, it must come out of your heart, and then you will captivate not man, but humanity. It is your birth-right. Man is born of woman, he is flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. Come to your own and deliver your message again.
(YI, 8-12-1927, p. 406)

Not Weaker Sex
To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman… Who can make a more effective appeal to he heart than woman? (YI, 10-4-1930, p. 121)


Had not man in his blind selfishness crushed woman’s soul as he has done or had she not succumbed to ‘the enjoyments’ she would have given the world an exhibition of the infinite strength that is latent in her. The world shall see it in all its wonder and glory when woman has secured an equal opportunity for herself with man and fully developed her powers of mutual aid and combination. (YI, 7-5-1931, p. 96)


Woman, I hold, is the personification of self-sacrifice, but unfortunately today she does not realize what a tremendous advantage she has over man. As Tolstoy used to say, they are labouring under the hypnotic influence of man. If they would realize the strength of non-violence they would not consent to be called the weaker sex. (YI, 14-1-1932, p. 19)

Perversion of Place
Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in very minutest detail in the activities of man and she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him.

She is entitled to a supreme place in her own sphere of activity as man is in his. This ought to be the natural condition of things and not as a result only of learning to read and write.

By sheer force of a vicious custom, even the most ignorant and worthless men have been enjoying a superiority over woman which they do not deserve and ought not to have. Many of our movements stop half way because of the condition of our women. (SW, p. 425)


Man the law-giver will have to pay a dreadful penalty for the degradation he has imposed upon the so-called weaker sex. When woman, freed from man’s snares, rises to the full height and rebels against man’s legislation and institutions designed by him, her rebellion, no doubt non-violent, will be none the less effective. (YI, 16-4-1925, p. 133)


Woman has circumvented man in a variety of ways in her unconsciously subtle ways, as man has vainly and equally unconsciously struggled to thwart woman in gaining ascendancy over him. The result is a stalemate. Thus viewed, it is a serious problem the enlightened daughters of Bharat Mata are called upon to solve. They may not ape the manner of the West, which may be suited to its environment. They must apply methods suited to the Indian genius and Indian environment. Theirs must be the strong, controlling, purifying, steadying hand, conserving what is best in our culture and unhesitatingly rejecting what is base and degrading. This is the work of Sitas, Draupadis, Savitris, and Damayantis, not of amazons and prudes. (YI, 17-10-1929, p. 340)


Man has regarded woman as his tool. She has learnt to be his tool, and in the end found it easy and pleasurable to be such because when one drags another in his fall the descent is easy.
(H, 25-1-1936, p. 396)


I hold that the right education in this country is to teach woman the art of saying ‘no’ even to her husband, to teach her that it is no part of her duty to become a mere tool or a doll in her husband’s hands. She has rights as well as duties. (H, 2-5-1936, p. 93)

Right Education
I believe in the proper education of woman. But I do believe that woman will not make her contribution to the world by mimicking or running a race with men. She can run the race, but she will not rise to the great heights she is capable of by mimicking man. She has to be the complement of man. (H, 27-2-1937, p. 19)

Self-protection
Those who see in Sita a willing slave under Rama do not realize the loftiness of either her independence or Rama’s consideration for her in everything. Sita was no helpless, weak woman incapable of protecting herself or her honour. (H, 2-5-1936, p. 93)


I have a fear that the modern girl loves to be Juliet to half a dozen Romeos. She loves adventure… The modern girl dresses not to protect herself from wind, rain and sun, but to attract attention. She improves upon nature by painting herself and looking extraordinary. The non-violent way is not for such girls.
(H, 31-12-1938, p. 409)


Woman may not look for protection to men. They must rely on their own strength and purity of character and on God as did Draupadi of old. (H, 15-9-1946, p. 312)

Rightful Place
Women are special custodians of all that is pure and religious in life. Conservative by nature, if they are slow to shed superstitious habits, they are also slow to give up all that is pure and noble in life.
(H, 25-3-1933, p. 2)


I do not envisage the wife, as a rule, following an avocation independently of her husband. The care of the children, and the upkeep of the household are quite enough to fully engage all her energy.

In a well-ordered society, the additional burden of maintaining the family ought not to fall on her. The man should look to the maintenance of the family, the woman to house-hold management, the two thus supplementing and complementing each other’s labours.
Nor do I see in this any invasion of woman’s rights or suppression of her freedom…. The epithets used in our literatures to describe a wife are Ardhangana, ‘the better half’ and sahadharmini, ‘the helpmate’. The husband addressing the wife as devi or goddess does not show any disparagement.

… The woman who knows and fulfils her duty realizes her dignified status. She is the queen, not the slave, of the household over which she presides. (H, 12-10-1934, pp. 267-7)


But some how or other man has dominated woman from ages past, and so woman has developed an inferiority complex. She has believed in the truth of man’s interested teaching that she is inferior to him. But the seers among men have recognized her equal status.

Nevertheless there is no doubt that at some point there is bifurcation. Whilst both are fundamentally one, it is also equally true that in the form there is a vital difference between the two. Hence the vocations of the two must also be different. (H, 24-2-1940, p. 13)

Woman and Ahimsa
I do believe that it is woman’s mission to exhibit ahimsa at its highest and best…For woman is more fitted than man to make explorations and take bolder action in ahimsa… For the courage of self-sacrifice woman is any- day superior to man, as I believe man is to woman for the courage of the brute.
(H, 5-11-1938, p. 317)


My own opinion is that, just as fundamentally man and woman are one, their problem must be one in essence. The soul in both is the same. The two live the same life, have the same feelings. Each is a complement of the other. The one cannot live without the other’s active help. (H, 24-2-1940, p. 13)


I have suggested…that woman is the incarnation of ahimsa. Ahimsa means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering. Who but woman, the mother of man, shows this capacity in the largest measure? She shows it as she carries the infant and feeds it during nine months and derives joy in the suffering involved. What can beat the suffering caused by the pangs of labour? But she forgets them in the joy of creation.
Who, again, suffers daily so that her babe may wax from day to day? Let her transfer that love to the whole of humanity, let her forget that she ever was or can be the object of man’s lust. And she will occupy her proud position by the side of man as his mother, maker and silent leader. It is given to her to teach the art of peace to the warring world thirsting for that nectar. (ibid, pp. 13-14)

Special Mission
The duty of motherhood, which the vast majority of women will always undertake, requires qualities which man need not possess. She is passive, he is active. She is essentially mistress of the house. He is the bread-winner, she is the keeper and distributor of the bread. She is the care-taker in every sense of the term. The art of bringing up the infants of the race is her special and sole prerogative. Without her care the race must become extinct.

In my opinion, it is degrading both for man and woman that woman should be called upon or induced to forsake hearth and shoulder the rifle for the protection of that hearth. It is a reversion to barbarity and the beginning of the end. In trying to ride the horse that man rides, she brings herself and him down.

The sin will be on man’s head for tempting or compelling his companion to desert her special calling. There is as much bravery in keeping one’s home in good order and condition as there is fin defending it against attack from without…

My contribution to the great problem lies in my presenting for acceptance truth and ahimsa in every walk of life, whether for individuals or nations. I have hugged the hope that in this woman will be the unquestioned leader and, having thus found her place in human evolution, she will shed her inferiority complex.
If she is able to do this successfully, she must resolutely refuse to believe in the modern teaching that everything is determined and regulated by the sex impulse ... (ibid, p. 13)


Woman is naturally more self-suffering. Non-violence therefore comes more easily to her.
(H, 5-5-1946, p. 118)


I expect love and toleration in a higher degree from women than from men. I wonder where they are drifting and what women will or can teach their children if their hearts are permeated with hate.
(H, 18-5-1947, p. 155)

Equality of Sexes
I am uncompromising in the matter of women’s rights. In my opinion, she should labour under no legal disability not suffered by men. I should treat the daughters and sons on a footing or perfect equality.
(H, 17-10-1929, p. 340)


Equality of sexes does not mean equality of occupations. There may be no legal bar against a woman hunting or wielding a lance. But she instinctively recoils from a function that belongs to man, nature has created sexes as complements of each other. Their functions are defined as are their forms.
(H, 2-12-1939, p. 359)


Legislation has been mostly the handiwork of men; and man has not always been fair and discriminate in performing that self–appointed task. The largest part of our effort in promoting the regeneration of women should be directed towards removing those blemishes which are represented in our Shastras as the necessary and ingrained characteristics of women. Who will attempt this and how?

In my humble opinion, in order to make the attempt, we will have to produce women, pure , firm and self-controlled as Sita, Damayanti and Draupadi. If we do produce them, such modern sisters will receive the same homage from Hindu society as is being paid to their prototypes of yore. Their words will have the same authority as the Shastras. We will feel ashamed of the stray reflections on them in our Smritis, and will soon forget them. Such revolutions have occurred in Hinduism in the past, and will still take place in the future, leading to the stability of our faith. (SW, p. 424)


I make no distinction between man and woman. Woman should feel just as independent as men. Bravery is not man’s monopoly. (H, 5-1-1947, p. 478)


Today few women take part in politics and most of these do not do independent thinking. They are content to carry out their parents’ or their husbands’ behests. Realizing their dependence, they cry out for women’s rights. Instead of doing this, however, women worker should enroll women as voters, impart or have import or have imparted to them practical education, teach them to think independently, release them from the chains of caste that bind them, so as to bring about a change in them which will compel men to realize woman’s strength and capacity for sacrifice and give her places of honour.
(H, 21-4-1946, p. 96)


There is no occasion for women to consider themselves subordinate or inferior to men. Languages proclaim that woman is half of man and, by parity of reasoning, man is half of woman. They are not two separate entities, but halves of one. The English language goes further and calls woman the better half of man.

Therefore, I advise women to resort to civil rebellion against all undesirable and unworthy restraints. All restraints to be beneficial must be voluntary. There is no possibility of harm resulting from civil rebellion. It presupposes purity and reasoned resistance. (H, 23-3-1947, p. 80)


Man should learn to give place to woman and a country or community in which women are not honoured can not be considered as civilized. (YI, 25-11-1926, p. 415)

The Purdah
And why is there all this morbid anxiety about female purity? Have women any say in the matter of male purity? We hear nothing of women’s anxiety about men’s chastity. Why should men arrogate to themselves the right to regulate female purity? It cannot be superimposed from without. It is a matter of evolution from within and, therefore, of individual self-effort. (YI, 3-2-1927, p. 37)


Chastity is not a hot-house growth. It cannot be protected by the surrounding wall of the purdah. It must grow from within and, to be worth anything, it must be capable of withstanding every unsought temptation. (H,23-5-1936, p. 117)

Dowry System
The system has to go. Marriage must cease to be a matter of arrangement made by parents for money. The system is intimately connected with caste. So long as the choice is restricted to a few hundred young men or young women of a particular caste, the system will persist no matter what is said against it. The girls or boys or their parents will have to break the bonds of caste if the evil is to be eradicated. All this means education of a character that will revolutionize the mentality of the youth of the nation. (YI, 21-6-1929, p.207)


Any young man who makes dowry a condition of marriage discredits his education and his country and dishonours womanhood.

…..A strong public opinion should be created in condemnation of the degrading practice of dowry and young men who soil their fingers with such ill-gotten gold should be ex-communicated from society. Parents of girls should cease to be dazzled by English degrees and should not hesitate to travel outside their little castes and provinces to secure true gallant young men for their daughters.

Widow Re-marriage
Voluntary widowhood consciously adopted by woman who has felt the affection of a partner adds grace and dignity to life, sanctifies the home and uplifts religion itself. Widowhood imposed by religion or custom is an unbearable yoke and defiles the home by secret vice and degrades religion.

If we would be pure, if we would save Hinduism, we must rid ourselves of this poison of enforced widowhood. The reform must begin by those who have girl-widows taking courage in both their hands and seeing that the child-widows in their charge are duly and well married-not remarried. They were never really married. (YI, 5-8-1926, p. 276)

Divorce
Marriage confirms the right of union between two partners to the exclusion of all the others when, in their joint opinion, they consider such union to be desirable, but it confers no right upon one partner to demand obedience of the other to one’s wish for union. What should be done when one partner on moral or other grounds cannot conform to the wishes of the other is a separate question. Personally, if divorce was the only alternative, I should not hesitate to accept it, rather than interrupt my moral progress, assuming that I want to restrain myself on purely moral grounds. (YI, 8-10-1925, p. 346)