Women as Bodies: Struggling for Identity in the 21st century

Words by Shruti Tiwari

There is nothing new to write about the outrageous statements regarding women by the leaders of the country. After much observation of the same over the years, one can fairly argue that there is a pattern to this. A leader makes a problematic statement, the intellectual section of our society expresses outrage over it; write twitter threads rationally criticizing it, screenshots of the above-mentioned tweets are posted on Instagram stories of countless people expressing shock over the fact that someone in today’s world hold these views. No one is held accountable and the statement is forgotten until it appears years later in an article by Schoopwhoop titled – ‘10 Statements by our Ministers on Women that are absolute Bullshit.’ Weeks later someone else gives their much-valued opinion on how a woman should exist and wash, rinse, repeat.

Former minster and Congress leader Sajjan Singh Verma, with his wisdom of 38 years of political career and a Masters degree in Sociology questioned as to why the legal marriage age of girls should be increased from 18 to 21 when “Doctors say that even a 15-year-old girl can reproduce…”. Unfortunately, as appalling this statement may be, it is not a personal opinion of Verma but a reflection of the views held by a major stratum of our society. 

Also read: When will TVCs stop making ‘perfect’ women?

Over the years, women have been looked at as mere bodies with sole purpose of giving birth to further the family lineage and ‘future of the country.’ It is imperative to mention here that the above views are not only held by men but by women too. Women as a womb is a discourse that has been normalized and internalized by all of us. This is reflected in that fact that women who cannot reproduce are marginalized in our society and not considered as ‘true woman’. In addition to this, there is a practice prevalent in our country wherein a young girl is married off to an old man just because being young, she has a better chance of giving the family on offspring. Furthermore, transgender women have struggled considerably to establish their identity as women just because they may struggle to reproduce.

Against this backdrop, it is no surprise that people look at women as child bearing machines and their identity is limited to their wombs and the number of children (preferably male) they can give birth to. A woman can be financially, socially independent and become a person with skills and critical thinking abilities, but at the end of the day, her purpose in life is to pop out children and be a mother. 

It is crucial to point out how these beliefs are not only normalized but also glorified. Various government schemes that aim to promote female education talk about how educating a son is equivalent to educating an individual, but educating a daughter means educating a whole family. Clearly, this is the most relevant reason why women should be educated. Not because education will be the key to their overall development as human beings but because as mothers, they should be able to educate their children (also to be noticed how the prime responsibility of imparting education falls on mothers, not on parents). 

It is safe to say that the above statement made by Mr. Verma is one of many ways in which society as a whole dehumanizes women. In lieu of the same thought, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, suggested that women living outside their parental homes for work register themselves with the police so that they can be tracked for their own safety. 

“Indian women can reproduce at 15, then why to increase marriage age? ” asks MP MLA

It is quite noteworthy how almost every scheme/policy proposed by the government for the ‘safety’ of women, requires stripping the latter of their autonomy as a pre requisite. Why the focal point of these ideas is always to prevent women from getting assaulted and not preventing men from assaulting? Why women should sacrifice even an iota of their independence to get basic human rights? Therefore, on one hand, we have ministers who come up with regressive policies under the garb of safeguarding women’s rights and on the other hand, doing everything but safeguarding the identity of women not just as wombs, but individuals. 

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, this is nor the first neither the last time such opinions have been voiced. We can make countless social media posts and write countless articles criticizing them but they are and always will be from a privileged position of an educated person residing in metropolitans. These ideas about the identity of women will never reach Roshni, who lives in a small village and will be pulled out of school and married off at 15 when she is capable of reproducing children. 

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