an allusion to choice

wrote this in term 1, actually; but something came up in a Cinema class that prompted me to revisit this essay — it perhaps reflects my lack of research or understanding at that point in time; or lack of thoroughness at that point in time; but i reckon i still subscribe to a large part of my analysis in this, and am so putting it up in its original form…

choice here has absolutely no relation to abortion or the pro-life or pro-choice debate; but was at that point in time used in place of, say, liberty or freedom across a broader canvas…

Women and the question of Choice

„Der Mensch erkennt sich nur im Menschen, nur
Das Leben lehret jedem was er sei“
– Goethe[1]

Through the past Ages, women have been the victims of many atrocities, and their subjugation but a part of life for them. There are Stereotypes and Archetypes—the ideal mother, the ideal sister, the ideal wife, the ideal friend; and the not so ideal forms. Indeed, the very ability to express themselves as individuals has been (and in many cases, to this day is) forfeit.

The question then, is; how much choice do women actually have, in accepting the roles placed upon them? What is the expectation of Society on them? (as parts of the Society; and in terms of individual expression.) What choice do they have; between doing what they want to do, and what they are expected to do.

We see this suppression in our day-to-day lives—on TV, on the Radio, in Newspapers, in our Country, and all around the world, in one form of the other.

Perhaps at the heart of this debate lies the very definition (and variants thereof) of “Gender Roles” in our society. Now, generally speaking; to have a “society”, there needs to be a structure—a hierarchy. From ancient times; the hierarchy would be loosely similar to modern-day society (largely), vis-à-vis, the male bread-winner, and the woman-mother/wife. (The operative terms here—“male” versus “woman- mother / wife / companion”—i.e. with the woman being given a definitive societal/familial role—which is again, partly obvious, as women are the child-bearers, and hence required to play this role.)

The matter of Choice

To go to a more global scope, we come to the idea of the “illusion of Choice”. Do we, as members of a free (or not, if you’re communist!) society have that many occasions to make a choice? A lot of what we think, feel, say, or do, is based on predispositions, predilections, and prejudices we hold towards society—with these gained through the looking glass that is our own society in our local context.

With women; this is a problem magnified. As mentioned earlier; the traditional (pre-historic—modern) representation would place the onus on (and so provide for in terms of power) a hierarchical arrangement tipped in favor of Men. Choice, then; is available/handed down to (used to be available/handed down to) women as a second-hand commodity.

The matter of Control

According to Sigmund Freud, society evolves, with the individual growing at conflict with society; with the overall dynamics of Society depending upon the result of the struggle between the individual’s sense of Identity, and the Society’s expectations off the Individual. In the case of women (already having more restrictions placed on them) this ability to oppose, to be in conflict is itself restricted. Perhaps society itself allows some groups lesser restrictions and some groups more, in order to maintain an overall Social Fabric. Women are one of these subjugated groups.

Historical/Religious Subordination of Women, examples…

Today the heirs to the Bible in America—Jews and Christians—have formalized biblical biases in laws and ceremonies and thereby elevated folk-lore and religious truths. Among Orthodox Jews, for example, discrimination against women is so blatant that they are forced to sit segregated behind a curtain or in a balcony. The rationale is that women will distract men from their prayers. It is no wonder that men thank God every morning in their ritual prayer “that Thou has not made me a woman.”

The majority of Jews have modified most traditional formalities, but in­dependent female expression is still discouraged if outside the confines of the home or not channeled through husband and children.

A Jewish wife is less subservient to her husband than a gentile wife; so say comparative studies on the subject. That’s somewhat understandable since Christianity owes much to a prominent classical heritage that held the second sex in even lower esteem. Utopia for the male chauvinist is Demosthenes’ description of Hellenic male-female arrangements: “We have hetairae for the pleasure of the spirit, concubines for sensual pleasure, and wives to bear our sons.”

Aristotle’s definition of femininity was “a certain lack of qualities; we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.” And his disciple Saint Thomas Aquinas echoed him religiously: “. . . a female is something deficient and by chance.”

Contempt for women helps explain why they can’t become Catholic priests, and why theologians, religious education courses, and Catholic marriage manuals highlight the supposedly inferior and passive qualities of women, who “naturally” subordinate themselves to men.

Traditional Protestant marriage services also perpetuate the attitude that the female is a second-class human being. Like a piece of property, the bride is “given” by her father to the groom, whom she promises to “obey.” (Although formally removed from the liturgy, this vow still persists in the popular image of the wedding ceremony.) The clergyman reminds her of her proper place when he says, “I pronounce that they are man and wife.” Not husband and wife. Not man and woman. The man keeps his status, while she takes on a new one. Her identity vanishes when she sheds her maiden name for his identification. (Blackstone’s Commentaries on the law strips a married woman of her rights altogether as she legally dies on her wedding day and becomes “incorporated and consolidate with her husband.” Accordingly, “A man cannot grant anything to his wife for the grant would be to suppose her separate existence.”)”

This excerpt, taken from an essay by author Paula Stern (The Womanly Image—Character Assassination through the ages) provides a very good example, of this subjugation of women (by some notable thinkers, as well…)

It also demonstrates the near-misogynic discourses, which have been preached to a large part of the global population, over the last many centuries—indeed, throughout history itself; through the most powerful societal-binding factor—Religion.

The Balance of Power

It is perhaps this—the Balance of Power—that is the final piece to the puzzle. It is (or would seem obvious) that those in power rarely relinquish it. The social hierarchy prevalent today is essentially a great structure, stratified by way of the power allotted to the various members of our Society; in which Women have a lowly role. It is not they are given no respect/esteem. Those are perhaps provided for, in today’s open Societies—what is not always guaranteed though, is equality, equal treatment, and the treatment of women as equals. So while there can be times where Women are in positions of power, they are far and few in between; and are (as often) in the hope of Political Correctness, and/or plausibility and acceptability of certain ideas; as they are for Women who actually rise (or are allowed to) to the highest levels.

As an illustration of the level to which power is unbalanced, Paula Stern writes:

America‘s twentieth-century gospel is the work of Freud. Although Freud supposedly bas altered the entire course of Western intellectual history, many of his ideas about women are simply male chauvinism. Letters he wrote his fiancée reveal that he, too, wanted his woman kept relatively docile and ignorant so she couldn’t compete with him.

The choices Women make

Women themselves propagate the myths of expectations, that so become reality by their very actions, for themselves, and for future generations. Older generations serve as role-models to younger ones, and any changes in the general power-base/ideology of the groups is dependent upon different/radical thought, that (toned down) gains credibility within that group, and later amongst external groups, and so allows for change.

Another interesting excerpt is that of the magazines targeted at girls of various age groups… (Within the American context)

The spuriously Freudian vision of a truly “feminine” female serves the purposes of admen who woo women to spend millions on c1othesand cosmetics in vain pursuit of their “real nature.” To sell a new product industry need only simultaneously make the product and manufacture anxiety in gals, pressing them to consume or be consumed in a female identity crisis. For example, fea­tured in every women’s magazine, including those for teenagers, are the latest advertising campaigns for vaginal deodorants, a “female necessity.” One called Cupid’s Quiver comes in four flavors—Orange Blossom, Raspberry, Champagne, or Jasmine. Madison Avenue courts the female, even seducing minors. Teenform, Inc., manufacturers of bras for teen-agers, estimates that Nine-year-olds spend $2 million on bras annually.

Ingenue magazine pushes teen-agers into adult posturing. The format is peppered with advertisements for engagement rings, pictures of desirable adolescent boys, and occasionally a plan of attack such as dinners for two. The ads for cosmetics and clothes arc practically identical to those in magazines designed for their mothers. Typical of women’s magazines, Ingenue includes at least one psychologically centered article. Recent1y it explained in “The Hardest Thing About Growing Up” that inevitably, relationships with boys affect relationships with girls.” It condoned the statement, “I don’t trust other girls in the same way anymore. They become rivals.” This is how girls learn the platitudes: women can’t work with other women when men are around, and never work for a woman.

If a girl manages to survive Ingenue without succumbing to marriage,

Glamour picks her up. (“How Five Groovy Men Would Make You Over Into Their Dream Girls”) Where the boys are is where it’s at for the reader who is shunted from high school to col1ege to career to marriage to mother­hood—“Find Your New Look. College Into Career Make-over. Job Into Mother Make-over.”

The lucky gal who’s made the grade by landing a man is promoted to Modern Bride, which induces her to buy “utterly feminine” wedding gowns, bride-and-groom matching wedding rings, silver, china, furniture, ad nauseam. The wedding itself is big business; Wediquette International, Inc., offers total planning—the place, time, invitations, gown, caterers, florist, photogra­pher . . . .

Ah, then conjugal bliss—and of course, a magazine for mothers. Redbook boasts its biggest year because it knows “Young Mamas Spend More Than Big Daddies” and so talks “to that 18-34 year old the way she wants to be talked to,” which means in baby talk or kitchen chatter.

McCall’s claims 16 million matrons who “buy more than the readers of any other woman’s service magazine” Its reader “buys more cosmetics and toiletries, more prepared foods, owns more life insurance, more automo­biles,…”

Although Cosmopolitan says its reader is the career woman who desires success in her own right, it is pitched to the gal who missed the marriage boat the first time around. Female passivity is still the accepted mode of be­havior. She can be assertive in the office but when man-hunting after five, she must be seductively submissive. Who knows? She might hook a divorced manor married man looking for an affair.

A Question of Choice

There are many questions of choice—questions of rights—facing women today—whether it is the level of Education they achieve; the level of Social Freedom they can get; a greater amount of dignity and respect; the right to be treated equally, and to be treated as equals.

Acceptance of a status quo helps, as does the education of women, and creating awareness of their rights as individuals—to be individuals.

The Role of Media

The media plays a very important role in the propagation of Gender-Roles, and the consequent power-relations between groups.

These concepts will be explained in further detail during the presentation themselves. They will deal with Television, the Print Media; and their portrayal of (and consequent effects on) Women, the roles expected off them within Society; and the effects of this on them.

Some are listed below:

For example, various TV shows (Indian) portray women as powerful and deft manipulators, and ones with the real power; while still (superficially) fulfilling the roles that society expects of them—(this is in stark contrast with reality, where it would not be possible to be deftly manipulating empires, while not going to work,)—but it is in general, the lifestyle (family life, etc) that would reach the audience better than the successes or failures of the characters on the TV shows; largely because they endorse that it is still possible to have both.

Also, we have TV ads, and matrimonial columns working hand-in-hand… (In India) the most common being the product: Fair and Lovely, guaranteeing greater (fairer) skin color; and so (in the advertisements) success and/or marriage. (Of course, the relation of the matrimonial columns is the demand for girls of fair skin—or those using Fair and Lovely—or both!)


(1) Paula Stern, The Womanly Image: Character Assassination through the Ages

(2) CH Cooley (Looking Glass Self)

(3) References, concepts from Lectures

(4) TV Serials, Advertisements, and Newspapers.

[1] Man/mankind learns about himself through himself, and through the collective self (society).
It is life that teaches one what he is.

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