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THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. V - THE VOICE OF TRUTH > Part II- Section X : Social Ideas > The role and status of Woman
72. The role and status of Woman
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 and have the same feelings. Each is a complement of the other. The one cannot live without the otherís active lifeÖ.
But somehow or other man has dominated woman from ages past, and so woman has developed an inferiority complex. She has believed in the truth of manís 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. 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 included to forsake the 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 manís head for tempting or compelling his companion to desert her special calling. There is as much bravery in keeping oneís home in good order and condition as there is in defending it against attack from without. As I have watched millions of peasants in their natural surroundings and as I watch them daily in little Segaon, the natural division of spheres of work has forced itself on my attention. There are no women black-smiths and carpenters. But men and women work on the fields, the heaviest work being done by the males. The women keep and manage the homes. They supplement the meager resources of the family, but man remains the main bread-winner.
The division of the spheres of work being recognized, the general qualities and culture required are practically the same for both the sexes.
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, will shed inferiority complexÖ.
I have suggested in these columns 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 she ever was or can be the object of manís 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. She can become the leader in Satyagraha which does not require the learning that books give but require the stout heart that comes from suffering and faith.
My good nurse in the Sassoon Hospital, Poona, as I was lying on a sick-bed years ago, told me the story of a woman who refused to take chloroform because she would not risk the life of the babe she was carrying. She had to undergo a painful operation. The only anesthetic she had was her love for the babe, to save whom no suffering was too great. Let not women, who can count many such heroines among them, ever despise their sex or deplore that they were not born men. The contemplation of that heroine often makes me envy woman the status that is hers, if she only knew. There is as much reason for man to wish that he was born a woman as for woman to do otherwise. But the wish is fruitless. Let us be happy in the state to which we are born and do the duty for which nature has destined us.
Harijan, 24-2-40, pp. 13-14
As Nature has made men and women different, it is necessary to maintain a difference between the educations of the two. True, they are equals in life, but their functions differ. It is womanís right to rule the home. Man is master outside it. Man is the earner, woman saves and spends. Woman looks after the feeding of the child. She shapes its future. She is responsible for building its character. She is her childrenís educator, and hence, mother to the Nation. Man is not father (in that sense). After a certain period, a father ceases to influence his son; the mother never abdicates her place. The son, even after attaining manhood, will play with the mother even as the child does. He cannot do that with his father.
If this is the scheme of Nature, and it is just as it should be, woman should not have to earn her living. A state of affairs in which women have to work as telegraph clerks, typists or compositors can be, I think, no good, such a people must be bankrupt and living on their capital.
Hence just as, on the one hand, it is wrong to keep women in ignorance and under suppression ; so, on the other, it is a sign of decadence and it is tyrannical to burden them with work which is ordinarily done by men.
The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. XIV, p. 31
I do not need to be a girl to be wild over manís atrocities towards woman. I count the law of inheritance among the least in the list. The Sarda Bill deals with an evil far greater than one which the law of inheritance connotes. But I am uncompromising in the matter of womanís rights. In my opinion she should labour under no legal disability not suffered by man. I should treat the daughters and sons on a footing of perfect equality. As women being to realize their strength, as they must in proportion to realize their strength, as they must in proportion to the education they receive, they will naturally resent the glaring inequalities to which they are subjected. But to remove legal inequalities will be a mere palliative. The root of the evil lies much deeper than most people realize. It lies in manís greed of power and fame and deeper still in mutual lust. Man has always desired power. Ownership of property gives this power. Man hankers also after posthumous fame based on power. This cannot be had, if property is progressively cut up in pieces as it must be if all the posterity become equal co-shares. Hence the descent of property for the most part on the eldest male issue. Most women are married. And they are co-shares, in spite of the law being against them, in their husbandís power and privileges. They delight in being ladies-this and what not simply for the fact of being the wives of particular lords. Though therefore they may vote for radical reform in academic discussions over inequalities, when it comes to acting up to their vote, they will be found to be unwilling to part with the privileges.
Whilst therefore I would always advocate the repeal of all legal disqualifications, I should have the enlightened women of India to deal with the root cause. Woman is the embodiment of sacrifice and suffering, and her advent to public life should therefore result in purifying it, in restraining unbridled ambition and accumulation of property. Let them know that millions of men have no property to transmit to posterity. Let us learn from them that it is better for the few to have no ancestral property at all...
The privilege of the awakened women should be to spot and eradicate ago-long evils.
Young India, 17-10-29, p. 340
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 manís snares, rises to the full height and rebels against manís legislation and institutions designed by him, her rebellion, no doubt non-violent will be nonetheless effective.
Young India, 16-4-25, p. 133
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 hi s fall in the descent is easy.
Harijan, 25-1-36, p. 396
Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none to me, is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity, 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.
Young India, 15-9-21, p. 292
To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is manís 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, than woman is immeasurably manís superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with womanÖ. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?
Young India, 10-4-30, p. 121
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 man. 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.
Harijan, 27-2-37, p. 19
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 laboring 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.
Young India, 14-1-32, p. 19
Refuse to be the slaves of your own whims and fancies, and the slaves of men. Refuse to decorate yourselves, donít go in for scents and lavender waters; if you (women) 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 and bone of her bone. Come to your own and deliver your message again.
Young India, 8-12-27, p. 406
Woman must cease to consider herself the object of manís lust. The remedy is more in her hands than manís. 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.
Young India, 21-7-21, p. 229
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.
Harijan, 12-10-34, p. 277
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.
Harijan, 2-12-39, p. 359
I make no distinction between man and woman. Woman should feel just as independent as man. Bravery is not manís monopoly.
Harijan, 5-1-47,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 parentsí or their husbandsí behests. Realizing their dependence, they cry out for womenís rights. Instead of doing this, however, women workers should enroll women as voters, impart 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 womanís strength and capacity for sacrifice and give her places of honour.
Harijan, 21-4-46, p. 96
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.
Harijan, 23-3-47, p. 80
Women may not look for protection to men. They must rely on their own strength and purity of character and on God.
Harijan, 15-9-46, p. 312
Man should learn to give place to women and a community or country in which women are not honoured cannot be considered as civilized.
Harijan, 11-1-48, p. 508
Chastity is not a hot-house growth. It cannot be superimposed. It cannot be protected by the surrounding wall of the purdah-1. It must grow from within, and to be worth anything, it must be capable of withstanding every unsought temptation.
Young India, 3-2-27, p. 37
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.
Harijan, 25-3-33, p. 2
I do believe that it is womanís mission to exhibit Ahimsa at its highest and bestÖ For woman is more fitted than man to make explorations and take bolder action in AhimsaÖ 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.
Harijan, 5-11-38, p. 317