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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi South chapter.

The construction of femininity is a somewhat continuous, complex, and occasionally contradictory process. The seemingly evident differential values awarded to the male and female children are appalling to observe- even though we all have time and again gone through the same process while being brought up. The symbolic representations of “woman” translate them into socializing practices that establish normative norms and shape the “correct” behavior of women in a patriarchal society. For this purpose, I will refer to sociologist Leela Dube’s well-known essay, “On the Construction of Gender: Socialization of Hindu Girls in Patrilineal India” (2001). Dube identifies socialization practices within the interwoven systems of family, kinship, caste, and religion. Social Construction of gender is charged with meaning; they structure the relations between individuals, communities, and, of course, gender relations.

When we talk about girls in their formative years (i.e. their pre-pubertal stage of life), prescriptions regarding the ways in which they are supposed to act start to emerge. Right from the age of 10-12 children (particularly girls) are seen correcting the ways in which they sit- to always remember to cross their legs when they are around people, be wary of just how much femininity they can portray through the simple act of sitting. Kids often do not oppose or rebel against being told what to do during such an age. Their personalities and demeanor are raw, impressionable, and thus is shaped by what is reiterated to them more than twenty times a day. Traditionally, the onset of puberty is marked by various rituals in many parts of peninsular India. Some restrictions are imposed on the daily activities of the girl, such as menstruation is considered ‘polluting’ or ‘dirty’. The girl’s change in status places her in a very vulnerable position until she is ‘safely’ married and returned to her matrimonial home. The management of a girl’s sexuality is therefore linked to her becoming a wife and a mother. The desirability of having sons and undesirability of having more daughters is made explicit, often by outsiders: “Four daughters? Each one will take thousands of rupees and walk out of the house. Bringing up a daughter is like pouring water in the sand”‘ Parents who have only daughters are pitied. Their future is bleak for they will have no support or succor in old age. A Telugu expression conveys this effectively: “Bringing up a daughter is like watering a plant in another’s courtyard”. Considering the girl child as a liability since her birth is a shocking and horrendous feat.

Imagine your struggle with anxiety or any other mental illness gets reduced to the mere fact that “this is what girls do”. Feeling overwhelmed, bursting into tears, inability to cope with feelings- all symptoms that point towards one having issues with anxiety- is a cause of being born a woman. This makes as much sense as me hating romance novels. Leela Dube discusses how simple religious ceremonies such as Durga Puja in Bengal and Gauri puja in Karnataka, Maharashtra, and other regions convey the message that birthplace is only a temporary residence for the girl; her destination is in her husband’s house. The goddesses are joyfully welcomed into the birthplace of and sent away with tears and heavy hearts. The transfer of the bride into her husband’s home is also accompanied by a variety of wedding rituals in Purity as a value is of great importance. Pre-pubescent girls (Kanya) security as a value is of great importance. and the ritual feeding of virgin girls (Kanya puja) is widespread. The situation changes dramatically once puberty is reached.

The examples given by Dube are quite an accurate representation of what women and girls generally do go through in Hindu households, no matter how vivid the atrocities are. Regarding education and training, Dube notes that there is a sexual division of labor and training in skills and tasks in Indian households, regardless of socio-economic background and social status. He notes also that there is the inculcation of the value of “Sewa” or service among girls, especially about the service and distribution of food. Girls should learn to bear pain and deprivation, to eat anything that is given to them, and to acquire the quality of self-denial. This is a part of the training for the reality that they are likely to confront in the house of the mother-in-law. The social structures in which women are constantly engaged have emerged from normative texts and perhaps social norms such as endogamy and arranged marriage are seen as normative and appropriate structures to maintain the social order. However, this does not mean that women are totally inert or passive victims. “It is within these boundaries that women question their situation, express resentment, use manipulation strategies, use their skills, transform deprivation and self-sacrifice into sources of power and attempt to carve out space for themselves. of life” (Dubey, 2001, p. 113).

There are women who have reinterpreted traditions and created space for themselves. Gail Omvedt (1995), cites the case of Kishanin Sabha, a-man women’s front in Maharashtra who fought for women’s right to land, attacked men for polygamy; and argued that women should be respected even if they are not, they have children. Differentiated positions along the caste and class axes play an important role in determining the chances and opportunities available to women in life. women who work in fields and factories, sell their wares in rural and urban markets, assume the role of head of household when men emigrate in search of work would seem “liberated”. However, is subject to another kind of oppression, namely poverty, insecurity, and lack of support structures to get through difficult times. The wife “at home” who plays the traditional role is therefore seen as an occupant of a higher status than the working woman who must struggle to reconcile the two problems. This further reinforces the belief in “separate spheres” and the ideology of isolating women from the public domain.

The structuring of women as gendered subjects through various practices- be it religious practices or even the parenting styles of millennial parents in urban settings- is fundamentally implicated in the reproduction of a social system characterised by gender asymmetry and overall subordination of women. It is within these limits that women question their situations, express dismay and resentment, turn deprivation and the concepts of self-denial into sources of power and attempt to carve out a suitable living space.

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Preesha Choudhary

Delhi South '24

Just your average teenager who loves books, food and music. And then some. She is an English major, her life revolves around reading for college, reading to sleep, reading to procrastinate etc. If you are on her page, she already likes you. Be like her. Read a lot.