A woman is revered if she dons western clothes and fights for her country’s revolution in Algeria.
She’s a goddess if she can pass the test of purity and remain obedient without asking questions in India and elsewhere.
Should she decide to take up more than western garb, to think, act, love, express an opinion independently, she is quickly descended from her godly pedestal. She re-becomes a human. To be stabbed, put on fire, acid faced, stoned, sometimes jailed and sequestered away in some ashram to live a slow death, paying a price for an act she has been told she committed. But how can an 8-year-old be blamed for the death of her 50 something yr old husband? Perhaps he contracted prostate cancer or ate badly and has become diabetic? Possibilities are endless, but thinking [about them] is limited.
Recently NYTimes reported the cases of 2 women who dared to act/think independently: Gul Meena, about 18, who was chased and stabbed for loving someone other than the one chosen for her. She ran off, was caught, and stabbed multiple times, but survived miraculously. A 15 yr old Malala Yousafzai spoke for educating girls, but she was silenced by a gun, but she also survives. Can any religion justify that they needed to go through such inhumanities to learn or prove a lesson?
Soraya M was silenced, too, albeit for a different reaon: she became an inconvenient wife. With only her head above ground, hands and feet trapped inside the earth, she was stoned her to death, relentlessly, mercilessly by husband, father, sons and villagers. She is the Iranian Sita who didn’t make it through the fire. Was it because she wasn’t chaste, should chastity be used as a measure of worthiness as is often the case ? We know she was innocent and was accused of adultery only because the husband wanted to free himself of her. He changed his mind, perhaps like Meena did.
“Where are the men widow-houses?” asks Chuyia innocently in Deepa Mehta’s Water. This thinking child- like Soraya M- is put away for life in an ashram, but desires to be free to run and play, like any child. In the ashram are only women who do penance for their husband’s death. Do men or husbands cause their wives’ death? Is there a male ashram? What house does the husband of Soraya M occupy after the wife, whose death he causes, dies? And what was Benazir Bhutto’s fault that she, too was silenced? Did she also become an inconvenient woman by trying to lead her people forward?
The greatness of a civilization can only be measured by the status of its women. Could that be why euro-anglo-american women have a voice that is heard and status? And is it why their societies make as many inroads in the world Of ideas?