• The Feminist Times

Womens’ Education, a Pathway to Societal Oppression?

The term ‘liberty’ according to the Oxford Dictionary stands out to be – ‘Freedom to live as you choose without too many restrictions from government or authority’. However, with the underlying thriving ideology of patriarchy may seem to disrupt the same for women. Patriarchy as an ideology can be recognized to be a burgeoning notion, irrespective of time, throughout the hierarchy of class, and caste. Moreover, to varying degrees from one country to another on a global level. I have learnt that with the onset of changes in the societal norms, the ideology somehow finds its way into our daily lives. One such domain seems to be that of ‘women education’

Few decades ago, when the concept of dowry was an acceptable norm, the marriage market needed brides who are submissive, acceptable to the fact of restricting themselves within the four walls of their houses, and ready to dedicate their whole life serving the in-law’s family. The concept of an employed bride was neither supported, nor considered morally acceptable to many people. However, as the time changed and many ‘all-women educational institutions’ were established as a step towards women empowerment, it surely opened the gates for women employment. The economy boomed and women started out as a major contributing element towards the same.

  • Did patriarchy play a role in this switch, and did women benefit from this?

Well, yes patriarchy played a major role, but it didn’t help women. The marriage market shifted from the need of ‘housewives’ to ‘employed women’. This change itself compelled many families to provide educational liberty to women so as to meet the ‘new marriage market standards’. This signified a positive step towards egalitarian gender roles in the domain of household income, however; there always remained a disruptive distribution of domestic roles in the household. Women started to bear an extra burden of taking care of the household chores, starting a new family, procreation of children, body transformation after pregnancy, and still contributing to the household income. Hence, patriarchy acted as a catalyst towards providing liberty for women to proceed along the path of higher education so as to achieve financial independence, but the end-goal wasn’t the overall independence and development of women. It was still governed by traditional norms where marriage is considered to be a mandatory institution. This, moreover, explains that marriage even in the most modern day approach acts as an instrument of women's oppression. Even today, marriage, or the decision of bearing a child is not a decision of the woman alone, but is a concern for the whole family. This way, a woman’s body, or personal choices stands void. This clearly justifies the fact that women education, and women employment serve little purpose to women’s overall development, and has merely anything to do with women’s overall independence.

  • Did the societal emphasis on employment had an effect on the women’s career-related decisions, and has the social environment facilitated the same?

For many years, women have been seen to be adroit in the domain of verbal ability, and men to be excellent in the math domain. One reason behind this highly flawed pre-conceived notion is that, non-STEM or social science related background has been reserved for women emphasizing them to pursue careers in the domain of academics. Not because it may or may not interest them, but the job of

being a teacher or professor is ‘safe’, ‘secure’, and manageable with the household chores on the other end. This very much explains that most of the top social science, or humanities dominated colleges under Delhi University are ‘all-women institutions’. On the other hand, in 2018, only 10% of the undergraduate students at I.I.T. Delhi were girls. This contradicts the whole concept of ‘egalitarian gender role’. Moreover, this compels women to lead a life not based on their own choices -marriage, the decision of having a kid, the choice of abortion, and even the type of work-life has never been a choice of their own, but that of the societal institutions, family, and even of the government.

Hence, the concept of liberty for women is a mere façade. The liberty to pursue higher education is absolutely meaningless unless women learn and feel empowered to make their own life-choices. It is extremely important to understand and use the privilege of education to question unreasonable and oppressive societal norms, question authority that dares to formulate laws on women bodies, and normalize and support the decision of single motherhood, and gender inclusivity.

- Appoorva Singh

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