We Indians have a weird way of going about things. We destroy the very things we pretend to revere. I’m referring, of course, to our practice of worshipping goddesses and treating women in real life like crap.
We pray to Goddess Lakshmi for wealth and prosperity; Goddess Saraswati for knowledge; Goddess Durga for power and strength and so on and so forth. How we treat our goddesses however, is very different from how we treat our women in real life. In real life, women are socially inferior creatures who are confined to the house. It is their duty to act as a helpmate to their husbands, and not as their companions or equals. In real life, in india, therefore, the position of women is very different from the one accorded to their goddesses.
This is not just an Indian phenomenon though. The ancient Greeks were guilty of this folly too. The goddesses in their culture received way more respect and reverence than the women in their society, who held a very inferior socio-economic position and were confined to the oikos or the household. Such a trend seems to suggest that men assuage their guilt about mistreating women by worshipping female deities. It also promotes the false idea that inequality in real life is all right as long as goddesses are pleased and prayed to.
Why am I raising a tirade against this? For the simple reason that we need to accord real women the respect that they deserve instead of praying to female deities. Furthermore,my point is that we should stop campaigns that put women on a pedestal and tell men to worship them as they worship their goddesses. That only breeds more and more inequality amongst the sexes. The men, for their part, tend to deify women on a couple of days or festivals like kanjak where pre-pubescent young girls are worshipped, and walk all over them the rest of the time.
The idea that deification of women propagates is that women need to be as perfect, as flawless as goddesses if they want to be respected. A real life women with her own set of flaws and follies, like any male, is told that she is not worthy of being respected. Men should respect women for who they are, and not because they are goddesses.
Patriarchal mindsets in India have always demanded that a woman be perfect, a very reincarnation of the goddesses that Hindu culture holds so dear. She should be knowledgeable, strong, a backbone for the family, a support system for her husband, an ideal wife, a perfect mother, dainty, courageous, beautiful, feminine and more. Anything less and the woman is ‘not really a woman’ and deserves to be relegated to the domain of the socially inferior. Campaigns that put forward the notion that women are goddesses and therefore they should not be beaten up by their husbands and respected by the male members of their family lose sight of the fact that women are people. And people are never perfect.
Feminism is the movement which wants equality between the sexes. It does not want to put women on a pedestal where they can be worshipped by their male counterparts. It does not want men to revere women as something divine. It only wants that men and women be treated as equals, without any one sex having precedence over the other. When we deify women, we message we seem to convey is that women are great because they are goddesses.
Like I have said before, this is problematic because of two things- one, it creates inequality where the objective is equality. Women are deified and worshipped on one or two festivals and men feel that their duty is done. Two, it seems to demand perfection from women, as if they can be worshipped only and only when they are goddesses.
A woman should be respected as a person. And every person has some flaws or the other. Demanding perfection is not just wrong, it is also illogical. In the same way, a woman in india is supposed to worship her husband as pati parmeshvar. Years of patriarchy, however, have ensured that a man is worshipped and deified and all his faults in real life ignored. Women, on the other hand, do not have time and matriarchy on their side. They need to be feminine, brave, courageous, beautiful, knowledgeable, smart and strong and nothing less if they want to have any respect.
Many argue that deification of women is needed in a country like ours where people understand only and only religion. It seems, really, to be the opium of the masses. If putting women on a pedestal earns them some respect in the household then there is nothing wrong with it. What I feel is that it takes away from the entire point of equality that feminists have been trying to make.