There is always this rhetoric about woman being the nurturer, even to the extent of saying she is creative, while man is destructive. This has basis, I assume, in the fact that women can give birth, and men cannot. Still, I like to think of man and woman as both being part of the process of creating human beings, although it is not always as simple as that.
As for nurturing, I do think we are biologically more capable of caring for children, but that doesn’t say much, either. My main issue is somewhat related to our notions of gender when it comes to children. I thought of this because of a story by Ambai (the pseudonym of CS Lakshmi) that we were reading in class today. It’s called ‘A Kitchen in the Corner of the House’ and describes the experiences of a young South Indian girl, Minakshi, who marries a man from Rajashthan and comes into his joint family household to be surprised by several regressive practices in place there. There is a very clear opposition between North and South India here. I should add that India is patriarchal even in the South, with a few, minor exceptions. In general, however, it is said that the North is more sexist, more “traditional”, more repressive than the South. This is, of course, a generalisation.
In this context, we have Minakshi, at the end of the story, in a rare moment of bonding with her Rajasthani mother-in-law, who is ill. Minakshi’s thoughts are as follows:
Had there not been those three hundred chapattis to cook every day, nor those fourteen children who once kicked in your womb
If your thoughts had not been confined to mutton pulao, masala, puri-alu, dhania powder, salt, sugar, milk, oil, ghee
If you had not had these constant cares: once every four days the wick to the stove has to be pulled up; whenever kerosene is available it has to be bought and stored; in the rainy season the rice has to be watched and the dal might be full of insects; pickles must be made in the mango season; when the fruit is ripe it will be time for sherbet, juice and jam; old clothes can be bartered for new pots and pans; once a fortnight the drainage area in the kitchen must be spread with lime; if one’s periods come it will be a worry; if they don’t come it will be a worry
If all this clutter had not filled up the drawers of your mind
Perhaps you too might have seen the apple fall; the steam gathering at the kettle’s spout; might have discovered new continents; written a poem while sitting upon Mount Kailasam. Might have painted upon the walls of caves. Might have flown. Might have made a world without wars, prisons, gallows, chemical warfare.
(Translated from the Tamil by Lakshmi Holmstrom)
The basic idea here is something I can agree with: if woman were not silenced and allowed to exist and act in only domestic spaces, she too would have been part of the dominant histories we study. This is not a new idea.
Also not a new idea: the idea that woman “[m]ight have made a world without wars, prisons, gallows, chemical warfare.” But this is what I want to question.
Why is it that we think woman is incapable of large-scale destruction? Is it merely because she has been suppressed and motherly all along? Do we like the mother-figure that much?
My question is this: if woman had been a greater (/more visible/more documented/etc) part of science, politics, philosophy — in short, of the production of knowledge — would we really have averted the creation and use of the atom bomb, various wars and holocausts, gross violations of human rights that continue today, ecological disasters…?
In some sense, this is an impossible question to ask. Our understanding of woman through the ages is a major part of our knowledge of the world. It is almost inconceivable to ask, “What if this never happened?” But I’ve asked it anyway.
I want to know why woman continues to be constructed as the more noble sex, the pacifist, the caregiver. And if that’s too easy, then I want to know whether these labels are “true”. Are we so noble as to not engage in war when we could profit from them?