Of women and social conditioning

By Jethu Abraham

We live in an age where women’s issues are getting an unprecedented amount of spotlight, perhaps, for the first time in media history – ever since the suffragettes earned their spot with their cries, “votes for women” in the early twentieth century, that would go on to later echo across the world. With the onset of the digital media especially, women’s issues today resonate much further than their geographical space – a reason why what happens even in digitally closeted countries almost instantaneously ends up becoming an issue of international interest.

Away from the noise and the distractions – we must not forget that in the digital world, news is news for just two seconds – so, once that fades away, are we truly capturing the essence of the issues faced by women worldwide? What is the reason behind women facing such obvious derision of their rights even now, despite the advancements, even in progressive countries? Are we conditioned to be a certain way?

Conditioning especially cultural conditioning is often strongly and mostly felt, by women, across societies. If we look at societies that function on the contemporary model or away from it, the social and cultural conditioning starts early for women – from the way they are supposed to eat, sit, talk, think and so on. As a society, we obviously need a certain level of conditioning to help smoothen the way for young ones to be able to live in societies or to be able to independently live out their lives in what may be viewed as appropriate behaviour, for the times we live in.

And since mothers or women often are primary caretakers in more ways than one, a lot of the social and cultural rights and wrongs fall on women. Add to that, we not only often train ourselves in that but having young ones means that we need to train others, little minds, to follow the cue on this well-travelled road.

However, since social or cultural conditioning and its impact, as with other behavioural sciences, cannot truly be measured, we may be unaware of how much of conditioning can actually help us to be able to survive and how much of it threatens our very existence as human beings? We are, after all, individuals with our own set of fingerprints, not moulded figurines, all looking the same, produced in a mass factory. As young daughters, chances are we have heard our moms or matriarchs tell us plainly, firmly and perhaps more than once, “This is how we are”, much to our annoyance then.

Yet, often with time and as we age, we do shed a lot of our conditioning, the realities of our existences speaking loudly to us, but by then it is already too late. Our bodies are no longer reliable, our minds jaded by the raw experiences we have had and so we do the safest thing we can think of – pass along the baton and tell our younger ones not to let it drop.

But, perhaps, just maybe, if we leave a little more room in our homes for young minds to develop themselves as individuals, away from all that they are naturally expected to do, we would not have to witness middle-aged women having to march with placards on the streets or cut their hair off in public, in absolute frustration of never having had a space where they simply could be themselves.

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