My friend forwarded a ‘women and shopping’ joke on Women’s day. I lost it and I gave him a lecture on feminism. Now you might think that I was over reacting because somehow those jokes are everywhere and I should probably just get over it. I am not offended by them ( only because I have become immune to them), but I decided that I should explain the origins of and problems with these jokes. No doubt some of those jokes are funny and have a grain of truth in them. However, I have two problems with these jokes- Firstly, I belong to the group of women who don’t go crazy about shopping and secondly, what is so bad about shopping?
What people should realize is that there are historical reasons for almost everything including women and their preoccupation with their body. From the time humans settled into agricultural societies, women have been domesticated along with dogs, sheep etc. From then on, women have been dependent on men for their survival because he was in control of the food his family ate. The institution of marriage was also born out of this domestication. Marriage almost always referred to polygamy which meant a man could have multiple wives while a woman could never marry multiple men. When these women had to compete for their husband’s attention, physical attractiveness became the single demarcating feature or the yardstick to measure the worth of a woman. Women did not have education, money or status- she just possessed a body. Now, does it still seem strange that women are generally more conscious about their looks than men? If you say that women care about ‘superficial’ things in life, I would say that they were forced to.
One could argue that times have changed and women don’t have to be so conscious about their bodies anymore. But the practice of dowry brings back the yardstick of ‘beauty’ in full glory. Let me give you a very obvious example.
Recently, a book recommended for a reputed college in Bangalore, listed some advantages of dowry. One of them was as follows-
“The marriage of ugly girls, who otherwise would have gone without a partner, is made possible by offering a heavy amount of dowry”
For a moment there, I was speechless. But then, I realized that it was the truth. ‘Ugly’ would translate to being dark skinned or being on the heavy side. India is a land of contrasts- However fat or dark the guy is, he would still prefer and almost always marry a fair skinned girl. Apparently, over 90 percent of Indian women cite skin lightening as a high need area. Dark girls want to become fair and fair girls think they are not fair enough. It’s ridiculous and not so ridiculous that we have a problem with the skin we are born in.
So, girls in India, from their childhood, are prepared to be the perfect brides of tomorrow (reminds me of Broiler chicken!). Dark girls are encouraged to apply turmeric for better, fairer skin and the aunts who seem to have nothing else to do keep remarking, “Your colour has worsened or improved”. So I realized in the course of writing this post, that even though monogamy has become the rule in most communities, the historical reason that I mentioned earlier is an ongoing problem. In India it is almost a matter of survival, because unmarried women are shunned by Indian society.
Women are never allowed to forget that they are women, just like how people belonging to the lower castes can never forget their caste- someone or something constantly reminds them. So women and shopping are not jokes, they are remnants of a survival tactic to stay relevant.
Until little girls can grow up with Barbie dolls and family members that/who, don’t make them hate their own body, the situation will be no different. Also, not having financial independence takes women back to the beginning of agricultural society, minus the polygamy, I hope.