|HER WORLD||Sunday, April 7, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
beauty of success
torture is silent and invisible
Man for the field and woman for the hearth;
Man for the sword and for the needle she;
Man with the head and woman with the heart;
Man to command and woman to obey;
All else confusion.
ó Alfred Tennyson
This is what most of the, even so-called "women-oriented", soap operas on TV project, be it Kyon Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (KSBKB), Koi Apna Sa (KAS), Saans, Kkusum, Desh Mein Nikla Ho Ga Chand (DMNC), Sanskriti, Shagun, Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki (KGGK), Kasauti, Kabhi Soutein Kabhi Saheli (KSKS), Mehndi Tere Naam Ki (MTNK), Kutumb, Hum Pardesi, Ho Gaye (HPGC), Kangan, Wajood and the list goes on.
The analysis of these serials would raise many feminist issues. These serials massively disseminate the discourse on domesticity stemming from Manuís composition of the man-woman relationship. She is helping men to achieve their goals and adjusting to manneeds. Her life revolves around men of the family. In Sanskriti, the dead husband is the supreme mentor and life is devoted to fulfill his dreams.
The argument is that these representations glorify patriarchal values and womenís victimisation. They reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes and gender roles. Instances are unlimited e.g. neglected and deserted Tulsiís return to her in-laws family in KSBKB or wifeís worship of the husband who rejects her and has a relationship outside marriage in Kkusum. Women are shown caught up in domesticity where they do everything for others but for themselves. In Shagun a young widow is committed to her husband and refuses to remarry because her dharma prescribes so. To top it all, to save her family honour, she becomes ready to mother the illegitimate child of her sister-in-law and declares herself as the biological mother of the child.
All serials wrapped in tradition of male chauvinism encourage women to aim for nothing more than a loving husband, happy children and a modern home. She is shown as passive and subservient portrayed as a glamour doll whose physical beauty is her only asset.
The sacrificing role of a woman in every serial is highlighted, as it poses no threat to the patriarchal structure. Women are all the time compromising and negotiating rather than refusing. The sacrificing wife of a mentally retarded husband, who goes to another woman when he becomes normal, is applauded in Koshish.
The dominant structure of patriarchy in the form of a joint family indulges in early domestication of bride. She submits not only to her husband but to her in-laws and grand-in-lawsí and this trend is found in all serials. In Des Mein Nikla...Pammi canít dare to marry her beloved against her parentsí wishes since she is obliged to them for giving birth to her and bringing her up. Even if she rebels, she does that only to forget and forgive the man soon and hopes to have a supposedly happy relationship thereafter. She redefines her role and function only when she forcibly becomes single, e.g. in Saans, Kkusum, Kasauti..., the women only attempt to become economically independent when their men leave them. On the extreme end, the woman is shown as a bitchy character who plays politics and breaks families. This is very demeaning. A woman is projected either as a devi or a devil, a static personality. She is either docile, dependent or holy or she is a vamp who creates problems and indulges in extramarital affairs. She is arrogant, hostile, jealous and loses her anger on all other women of the family. A woman is not shown as a human being, a dynamic character, with combination of all emotions, whose temperament and attitude can change according to circumstances.
The mother-in-law and sister-in-law is always depicted in a negative manner (Kyonki Saas Bhi... Kasauti) except the grand-mother-in-law, who has mellowed down with age and is relatively empowered to control others.
The present serials can also be criticised for glorifying the concept of motherhood. A woman is pinned down through a justification of womanhood that narrowly focuses on procreation. In KSBK, KSKS, KAS and Shagun, women find themselves incomplete and useless if they are unable bear a child. On the other hand a man with seven daughters in Amanat is projected as a bechara, almost as if he has committed a crime.
Serials like Kundali, Shagun KSBKB Kkusum are emphasising superstitions and fatalism in Kkusum, Abhey gets married to Kusum only to avoid his death predicted by pandits whereas he never accepts her as his wife. In KSBKB, women are shown as superstitious and emotional and men as rational.
These soap operas affect women more simply because the latter are watching them more then men. Men spend maximum time outside whereas women are confined to home. Moreover, men like to watch horror shows like Aahat, crime shows like Bhanwar or Indiaís Most Wanted etc. Another reason for their immense popularity among women, particularly housewives, is that they provide already established and identifiable images appealing to their emotions and sentiments (in an over-exaggerated way). Women easily identify themselves with the character and feel their pain and rejoice in their pleasure.
However, professional women are not getting adequate representation in these serials. Rather most of them are quite sick of serial produced by Balaji Films. "Most of the serials are family-oriented, focusing only on the saas-bahu conflict. These are day-to-day problems, which every one is facing and handling in their own way. These problems will persist. Thus media should focus on some thing different", says Gurmeet, a college lecturer. "These serials cater to the emotional and psychological needs of women who are free and have nothing constructive or productive to do", says Aarti, a volunteer in an NGO. Many of these women found Saans and Kora Kagaz sensible at least in the beginning and Heena the most idiotic where a woman is shown absolutely dumb without any self-identity and self-respect. "I watch them in the beginning with the hope of some unconventional ideas to be unfolded in the up coming episodes. But gradually they all become the same", says Geeta, a lawyer. Anu, a computer engineer, finds only Ji Mantri ji on Zee TV and Buniyaad on DD worth watching.
Many women are of the opinion that these serials reflect experiences of a majority of the women. This is not true because women either as construction or domestic or as agricultural workers are not shown at all. Uneducated rural women, struggling in their day-to-day life, but at the same time economically productive, are not touched upon. Countless educated women working independently and striding ahead towards their goals are hardly shown on TV.
Even if womanís representation in these serials is relevant and applicable to the conditions of women in general as Geeta, a housewife feels, why canít media smash them off rather than reinforcing it? Donít we need transformative and critical media to check it? Hasnít the time arrived to present women in the spirit of equality with men, women redefining themselves with their own identity, self-awareness and self confidence and women recovering their loss identities. Earlier, construction of knowledge and control on production of knowledge was in male hands and the tradition was to observe women as passive objects and project then in the same way. As a result both artists and spectators got caught in the same image. Feminists advocated involvement of more women in media production because women often perceive the world differently. Asha Parekh, Aruna Irani, and Neena Gupta are producing serials as is Ekta Kapoor. But they also face fierce criticism from the educated class. They canít be blamed as their idea of women is shaped and controlled by male discourse and they have internalised male ideology. The need of the hour is to conscentise media people and steps should be taken by women at the helm.
Often, it is the ordinary woman who has to possess extraordinary grit and determination to overcome various obstacles that line the way to success. It is the common woman who, without a celebrity lineage or a fat bank balance to launch her, has to display uncommon resourcefulness to make a venture succeed and even make a name for herself.
Sunita Mehra embodies this spirit of the common woman. From a housewife who had to begin working owing to a financial crisis in her family, she has today not only achieved economic autonomy but has also established an identity as the author of a book on herbal care, Solah Shingar, and as an instructor on beauty care.
Her tryst with the field of beauty care started in the 90s at Jammu, where she became the first beauty instructor at the Nehru Yuva Kendra. She was given the responsibility of grooming females as beauticians under the Kendra's six-month vocational training scheme.
Jammu proved to be a rewarding experience in other ways too. She got to work as make-up artiste for the Doordarshan Kendra there.. Whether it was working as hairdresser to artistes of Dogri serials or doing the make-up of announcers and participants of popular television programmes like Saptahiki, Rozgar Samachar, and Jammu Diary, she gathered vast experience during the two-year stint. She herself presented talks on various aspects of beauty care under the Ghar Vigyan programme. All this was a considerable achievement for a woman who was totally self-taught and had no formal training as a beautician.
She started a beauty parlour in Jammu, which soon became a launching pad for further ventures. When the family moved to Chandigarh, she opened a parlour here too without closing the one in Jammu. As an extension of this venture, she recently opened a grooming and hobby school in SAS Nagar, where girls will be taught beauty care and other skills.
Besides, the Chandigarh branch of the Nehru Yuva Kendra too has been inviting her to train girls as beauticians.
It was with the aim of familiarising more and more women with the herbal techniques of beauty care that she had written Solah Shingar. Since it is meant for the lay person, it has been written in a simple, uncomplicated style and is fairly comprehensive as it even touches subjects like achieving body and mental fitness through yoga, meditation, etc. Tips on the art of make-up can be handy even for aspiring models. She plans to have the English edition of her book out soon. Her parlour and grooming school are not entirely commercial ventures meant only to beget fast bucks, for Sunita. Even at the cost of losing clients, she turns away teenagers who come for facials, insisting that the skin at their age needs no artificial props and instead suggests to them unharmful, herbal remedies like fruit packs. Her humanitarian approach is also reflected in the fact that she is willing to impart training free of cost to disabled persons. Sunita has also launched her own herbal range of packs like anti-wrinkle, manicure and pedicure packs and even mehndi.
A vocation that began as a necessity has today become a full-time preoccupation for her. With many more goals to achieve and milestones to reach, she is intent on giving her best to her latest ventureóthe grooming school. After all, her interest in beauty is not just skin deep.
When torture is silent and invisible
Psychological abuse is often more subtle, subversive and difficult to pin down as abuse. Unlike physical abuse which can be seen and whose effects are more tangible and visible, psychological abuse is difficult to deal with and counter as it is much more insidious in its intent.
The effect of barbs, sarcasm, jeering and taunts as well as withdrawal, erode the self-esteem and mutilate the individual at the receiving end of this psychological assault. The fact that women are socially at a disadvantage more than men and as a result they are, more often than not, at the receiving end of such abuse.
Talking to a few women who have been at the receiving end of such treatment was an eye-opener.
Most of them complained how if they objected to certain behaviour that "put them down,"they were often told that they were needlessly kicking up a ruckus and there was no reason to crib because "much worse happens to women" and they should be thankful at least they were not being physically harassed. Some consolation.
Even legally, mental cruelty does qualify as abuse but the popular perception, especially in the context of women is that they should be prepared for a certain amount of "difficult time." They are supposed to only crib when the going gets absolutely unbearable. As one lecturer put it, "when even physical force has social sanction, to expect admission of psychological torture as abuse is indeed a tall order especially in our socio-cultural context"
Psychological abuse can carry on for years and the effects can range from a loss of confidence, erosion of self-esteem, inertia, withdrawal, lack of assertiveness and inability to take decisions and responsibility for your actions. Even the body language showed the effects of psychological mutilation. Inability to forge eye-contact, refusal to be definitive, a slouching, cowering gait and demeanour that is self-effacing.
A girl child who has been a victim of psychological abuse suffers from low self-worth, faulty ego-formation and poor development of identity. If the parents, in various ways, show how they consider her a burden and a liability, her growth and development is bound to be affected. A woman who is the recipient of indifference, sarcasm, barbs, suspicion and silent rage or verbal assaults or even shouting and abusive language, often seethes with the desire to seek revenge and hit out for the humiliation suffered and the feelings of rejection experienced due to those derogatory remarks.
However, unable to retaliate and stand up for herself in an overt manner, she takes recourse to subversive ways to get even or avenge the treatment meted out to her by the spouse. They often take recourse to nagging, often termed the "repetition of unpalatable truths," and withdraw from social situations. Sulking and refusal to respond and an effort to use children as ammunition in the war of attrition are means of getting back. As one such sufferer put it: "I was a confident and assertive person but the jibes and barbs that my boy friend threw so casually at me really undermined my sense of self-respect and self-worth".
While it is easier getting out of a relationship with a boy friend as compared to a spouse, the latter often proves explosive and life becomes a long drawn out war of attrirition. "The way in which my husband sulks like an attention-seeking boy is most irritating and he uses such underhand means to hit out at me," says one harried woman.
Since the children are used as ammunition in this war, they are torn apart and tested for their loyalty the house becomes a battlefield.
According to Rajshree Sarda, a Chandigarh-based clinical psychologist: The most significant effects of psychological abuse are feelings of guilt, revenge, fear and withdrawal. Any kind of psychological assault imbues the recipient with the feeling that he is bad. These feelings of guilt take the form of anxiety in the adult. She says, such a person is a woman or a man is unable to enjoy simple pleasures like a day off, a holiday or simple socialising.
If you were excessively punished with derogatory remarks, you have a fierce desire to retaliate, to strike back. The more unjust the barbs, the more
fierce the instinct to retaliate. The object of psychological torture learns to lie and later dreams of seeking revenge. He is unable to see the need for correction, for rules and feels no tenderness. People who have experienced psychological torture often as adults, lash out at their spouse over trivialities. That is how they succeed in satisfying the abused feelings and retaliatory desires of the "child of the past".
What happens then is spat after spat, row after row, quarrel after quarrel until the marriage is on the verge of a breakup. In a divorce court one hears one tale after another, how cruelty follows cruelty what he did, and what she did, how he struck and how she threw.
A person raised under such constant pressure also becomes very fearful and withdrawn from people. He cannot trust anyone and even though he puts up a show of bravado and defiance, actually he is internally paralysed with fear. This person maintains certain reserved aloofness in his contact with others. This aloof detachment serves as a "kind of wall". While this wall successfully hides these longings for affection and tender care, it also prevents participation in a mutually satisfying way in the emotional interchange which is natural in adult marital and sexual life.
Psychological torture also destroys spontaneity. The people who have been severely punished cannot be easily spontaneous because so much of their energy is tied up in feeling of worthlessness, guilt, and desire to strike back and fear. Spontaneity requires an ability to trust oneself as well as others.
Several men who were quite cruelly treated in their childhoods, now regularly use their wives as punching bags to work out the retaliatory feelings which couldn't be expressed when they were children but can be now that they are physically stronger. Why is the wife often the target? Because she is the only adult closely connected to the "at home" atmosphere. After striking their wives, these men may feel guilty and call themselves names. They give themselves extra chores and go out of their way to be nice to reduce their guilt. This self-punishment builds up the old flames and they again hit out at their wives. In many cases wives also throw retaliatory digs in little cutting remarks which are subtly undermining and belittling. W.Hugh Missildine, M.D has done research on punitiveness and effects of barbs on mental health. He feels only by being understanding parents can such people regain their ability to trust. ó AN