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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 mans lust. The remedy is more in her hands than mans. 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.
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 wifes 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 dont 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.
Not Weaker Sex
Had not man in his blind selfishness crushed womans 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
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 mans snares, rises to the full height and rebels against mans 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.
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 husbands hands. She has rights as well as duties. (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.
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)
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 others labours.
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 mans 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
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 others 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.
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 mans head for tempting or compelling his companion to desert her special calling. There is as much bravery in keeping ones 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.
Woman is naturally more self-suffering. Non-violence therefore comes more easily to her.
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.
Equality of Sexes
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.
Legislation has been mostly the handiwork of men; and man has not always been fair and discriminate in performing that selfappointed 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 mans 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 womens 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 womans strength and capacity for sacrifice and give her places of honour.
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)
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)
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.
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)