By Sadia Hashmi
“I know enough women who are totally patriarchal, who are totally anti-woman; who do nasty things to other women, and I have known men who have worked for women’s rights for their whole life. Feminism is not biological: feminism is an ideology.”– Kamla Bhasin
These days we come across news, mostly from Bollywood, that some of the actors, producers or filmmakers have opted for surrogacy and few of them have decided to move on as a single parent. An idea popped in my subconscious: why not surrogacy be taken as an option by a larger section of our patriarchal society, where the identity of a woman is limited only to her motherhood, and as a result many spouses have to suffer a great deal after entering the institution of marriage? No matter at what stage or position you are in as a woman in your life. If you are married and have no children, you add one more identity to yourself as an “infertile/issue less” person, apart from being a Woman (a minority group). And undoubtedly one suffers more if one chooses to be a homemaker and is not a mother.
The society sets a barrier especially for women in almost everything, like at certain age she must get married; before she turns 30 she must have a baby, and it is obscene to bear a child in her late forties (a recent Bollywood movie Badhai Ho portrays it well). If spouses plan to have a baby after certain years of their marriage, and in other cases if the couple suffer from medical problem of conceiving, it becomes the talk of the town – budhape me ab kya hoga! (What will come up in the old age?). It is our society that limits the identity of a woman up to her motherhood.
The saga starts when the parents of their beloved son start looking for a perfect bahu rani (bride). The customary notion of searching for a perfect bride has not changed much till date. The search begins this way: the girl should be convent-educated; if not, she must be fluent in English. She should be tall, slim, fair, well-spoken, polite, able to multi-task and, as per one’s religious view, she should be muhazzab or sanskari (well-mannered). One cannot empathize enough with the psychic and emotional sufferings of a girl who has to face dozens of people in her life time, who not only come to judge her but also give a strange gaze. What type of gaze is this? Well, it’s like an eagle’s eye looking for Aladdin’s genie, which completes the task in one click.
Once the search is over and the perfect bride is welcomed to the house, the countdown begins for welcoming a new-born. It’s a normal trend in society that once you are married they will come with the pet question: “Any good news??” But what if a woman just doesn’t want to be a mother by her own choice? Shouldn’t motherhood be an optional thing? Whenever I discussed this with the friends or people around, I have been often told: “It is the way of the world, such questions or statements are quite normal.”
It is the patriarchal woman who makes other women suffer, too. Those patriarchal women are the ones who have the same mind-set that of patriarchal men. They give priority to male chauvinists. All they demand from woman by the means of affinity is to give them a baby; even today boy-child is very much preferred. At the same time, the daughter-in-law is expected to manage all the household chores, worldly affairs and so forth like a perfect bahu (daughter-in-law) shown in the Indian soap operas. Of late Ekta Kapoor is in news for becoming a surrogate mother of a baby and following the trend of single-parenting. However, Ms. Kapoor (who proudly vouches for her success and opportunities in life) sadly fails to show sufferings of women in her serials. Her serials have only proliferated the insignificant concept of an ideal daughter-in-law, who is responsible for everything taking place in the family and when required she becomes an object of question too. Those daughters-in-law are given all the responsibilities but no freedom. The concepts of the ideal bahu through these serials have left a larger-than-life impact on generations.
In many families, a daughter-in-law’s position is no better than that of a maid. The only difference is that a daughter-in-law is permitted to share bed with her husband (must be for childbearing). Some of the in-laws demand for more babies so that their progeny may flourish; some people who are blessed with baby-girls consecutively, keep on conceiving until it’s a baby boy, not considering the health of the woman. Women’s body is considered only as a commodity. One comes to know about such petty and scary stories almost every day. As I approached some of the ladies talking on the subject of motherhood, they shared with me many horrifying experiences. A girl was paralyzed just after a month of her delivery. However, her in-laws asked the doctors to wait for a day or two so that the baby may get delivered normally. Right after she was discharged from the hospital giving birth to a baby girl, she continued with the rituals of everyday life. The tug-of-war is a common thing between the relatives of the expecting-mother and gynecologists regarding c-section and vaginal delivery. The patriarchal demand of the family makes some of the men suffer too.
Women often give up or compromise with their career for bringing up their kids. There is no doubt that they suffer emotionally, socially, psychologically and health-wise. The notion of motherhood is such that every girl thinks of coming across a common room that is an operation theater (OT). There is a certain kind of phobia of crossing that door, the fear of going into the maternity room and never coming back. Some women are afraid of the consequences of giving birth to a baby girl contradicting the demand of her in-laws.
Although surrogacy is controversial around the world because of difficult moral, social and legal issues around it, shouldn’t it a better option for those to whom a woman is nothing but a child productive machine? Don’t they have a better option of hiring a servant at home and let their so-called vansh/ khandaan (genealogy) flourish via surrogacy? Why not chances be given to people who want to live as a single parent? Shouldn’t motherhood or parenthood be one’s choice? If not surrogacy, why not make adoption a priority? Is it the end of the world for people who are infertile or who are not interested in carrying on with the lineage system?
One must ponder over the above questions and must not stop dreaming of a just society that talks of equality and justice for all. Let us keep our hope alive with the powerful words of Maya Angelou:
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Sadia Hashmi is a student of literature. Writing poetry and other creative pieces keep her going. She has contributed some of her poems and writings in different online magazines, journals, and newspapers. Her areas of interest are issues related to women, society, and education.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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