“I’m not like other girls.” “Stop being such a girl.” “Man up!” Why is it that even today, in the 21st century, women tend to hide their feminine traits in order to be taken seriously? Why is it that being “girly” is considered an insult?
For centuries now, men have enjoyed supremacy over women. The first evidences to support this supremacy in India were found in the manusmriti. Apart from dealing with topics related to conduct, virtues, duties, rights and laws; the controversial text had many inconsistent views on women. It goes so far and even prescribes the number of lashings to be meted out and the length of the stick with which it must be administered in case of misconduct by a women. The text preached that a woman must obey and worship her father, brothers, husband and son as “a woman must never seek to live independently” (Olivelle, 2005). It greatly influenced the structure and functioning of our society and its affects can be seen even today. Women’s rights in the British era were based off of the text and thus the manusmriti had a role in the regressive laws against women, some of which are followed to date. It is in this way that the manusmriti played a role in limiting the rights of women and their oppression.
Men have always been idolised and considered superior to women. In some societies, women are considered a burden even today. Empress Razia Sultana felt the need to hide her femininity in order to be taken seriously just because she wasn’t born of the correct sex. Despite her many achievements and commitment to her kingdom, she is known today mostly for her romantic affairs. She assumed the title of “Sultan” which was given to male rulers and not “sultana” which was used for princesses. Her appointment to the throne saw a lot of resistance from the public including her immediate family in spite of her being a much more capable ruler compared to her brothers. She was trained in warfare and had good knowledge of administrative functions, but these were imparted to her in order for her to merely become a good queen to a king and not a ruler herself because everyone believed a woman could never be capable enough to rule a kingdom herself. Razia needed to constantly prove herself and the public was especially critical of her because of her sex. A woman becoming a ruler was an insult to the male rulers and she was killed in the conflicts that followed. In a bid to convince her kingdom that her sex was not a barrier in her abilities, she ended up hiding her feminine qualities.
Men and society have been putting us down for so long. Texts like the manusmriti made us believe that we are the inferior sex and that men are to be worshipped by us. They made us believe that we were equivalent to mere ornaments; easily replaceable. That we are not capable of much without the men in our lives. That we consistently need to seek the protection of a man. That they are the ideal beings- strong, robust and tall. Lately, even women have started putting each other down and pitting us against each other. We subconsciously contribute to our own oppression. People like Razia Sultana and Joan of Arc, unknowingly put our sex down by hiding their femininity; showing that they themselves didn’t believe women were capable enough. By assuming male titles and dressing up in male attire, they gave in to the idea of male supremacy in a way. Only when we start accepting “you’re such a girl” as a compliment and take pride in it will phrases like “I’m not like the other girls” be heard lesser and replaced with “I am like the other girls.”
- Patrick Olivelle (2005), Manu’s Code of Law, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195171464, pages 190-207, 746-809