This line is one that is both derisive and idiosyncratic in many ways. One that irritates and infuriates any sane woman. However, a closer look at many a woman's life and one will find that this line, if not fully, is at least partially true. How many are the cases where the mother-in-law or sister-in-law or a woman relative is involved in a dowry harassment ? How many are the cases where there was a woman around who didn't raise her voice when an atrocity was committed ? Even if a woman did not raise her voice, how many cases are there where a woman has criticized rather than sympathized with a victim ? In how many cases of rape have we heard a woman point at the victim as though it was in some way her fault ? How many women question and find fault with the dress and lifestyle choices of other women ?
A sample case is when one sees a boy and girl going out together. Many a time one sees the blame left unfairly at the girl's feet; in the name of protecting her or that no matter what, society will point fingers at her. Instead of equally holding the boy responsible, one hears justification of a boy's behaviour as he is of that species.
Personally, I have seen many a time when a woman is a woman's worst enemy. A girl feels it first at adolescence when the monthly is not understood. Not just by peers but by teachers and other elderly women around. When there is complaint of pain and tiredness, the girl is straightaway termed 'lazy' or 'escapist'. Then comes marriage. While men in the family one is married to are inconsiderate many a time, most often it is the women who are the worst. It starts in the kitchen - one uses a wrong spoon or vessel and there comes a story of 'ignorance'. It is equated to a crime, especially in homes where there are separate vessels for vegetarian, eggiterian and non-vegetarian food. It is totally ignored that any human being will take time to memorize new things. Then comes the recipes. Way of cooking is not good, not tasty, not healthy: it doesn't matter that the girl's family is of robust health despite eating the same recipes for decades. The monthly haunts here too. From the issue of what one can touch and what one cannot, what one can do and what one cannot, what parts of the house one can walk and cannot - worst part is that the women in each home tunes it to their own convenience and decide how far and how close one can go. As if all this is not enough, comes the part of how you dispose waste - all kinds included. Through all this, while the men folk ignore, the women folk in the family will make a hue and cry about every aspect.
Women who are widowed and childless face the brunt too. Women who are widowed, stay away from festivities. Yes of course, it is changing today. But who are we fooling. For an auspicious event, a widow is still not allowed to light a lamp which is the most auspicious thing to do. She of course is allowed to stand around. While it is progress, is it enough ? Take a marriage - a widow including the mother of the bride groom stays away from the front / stage when the main festivities go on. However, this does not work in the case of the widower. He will be in the forefront. While the societal norms are known to everyone, it is women who talk and talk creating the atmosphere that is despicable. Have heard women comment about how the new widow is not sad enough, is not crying enough, about how the colours she chooses to wear are bright, about how she wears jewelry and bindi, about how she has to have her head down. Thankfully, in the part of India I live in right now, tonsuring the head and wearing white or saffron is not longer followed. Have seen so many such in childhood and never understood it then.
Have to mention here the case of an uncle of mine who more than thirty years ago, held his widowed mother's hand proudly as he walked out of his home to get married - something unheard of those days. He made her sit right next to him in the car taking him to the wedding - another taboo in those days. He went against social norms and listened to no one. No one dared tell him much either. Sad part is that it is very rare for a girl going to her wedding to do this, not just because of her own circle but also that of the grooms family. Hope the boys in my family take him as the role model.
In a wedding house, if a widow comes even a tiny bit well dressed, then you hear the women talk in the background. The same cannot be said of men - they look, talk, many a time pass a nasty comment too. However, more than the men, it is the women who talk - and talk dirty; even though the victim is a woman, and any day they might find themselves on that seat. I many a time wonder how a woman who is widowed feels in such an environment ? All I come up with is a life caught in a paralyzed body screaming to be let out or die, but not a whimper comes.
The childless woman's case is pathetic, as I can say from experience. Family members poke and prod wanting to know who has the problem, whether treatment is pursued and what kind of treatment. Then comes suggestions on doctors far and wide one can go and meet. So many people, so many suggestions - I find one application of studying 'Algorithms'. If at any point I think of pursuing suggestions, I know what optimization algorithm I can use to find minimum travelling distance and time. Then there are family members, who you know very well had no issue in begetting a precious one, but make up stories of how they traveled far and wide visiting holy places and guruji's to beget that child. Then another kind asks you to write down the name of the temple you will have to visit if you beget one as they have prayed for you. This list grows so long that at one point any sane woman would trash it. Then there is close women family who are your time keepers - times including when you sleep, when you wake up and poke and prod about everything in between including passing 'A' jokes about you when guests are around.
While this is the state when meeting family and friends, trying to get away someplace unknown is not of help either. Travel in a train, bus or plane and your neighbour at some point will ask about family. The moment you say you don't have kids, the next question that pops up is, 'how long since you are married ?'. Then the next, 'how old are you ?'. Then the advice : 'you still have time, though you must hurry'. Even the decent looking among them ask the basic question of treatment undergone. Then they offer suggestions as if they are your soulmate instead of a travel companion of a few hours. And all the time, the victim searches for ways to shut ears or cut the conversation down. The one I usually try is to point upwards and say, 'When He decides'. It helps many a time but does not cut grass with the specialists. They tell you how He cannot help unless we the couple help ourselves and chuckle and laugh much to the amusement of everyone around and our embarrassment. Only upbringing and control helps tide through situations like this - else many a slipper would have gone missing and many a black eye and hand would have needed treatment.
As if all of the above is not hurtful enough, one hears women tell lines that can slice the heart without even the skin being incised. Lines include, 'don't you want to have a kid ? ', 'oh you are the career kind, who don't want a kid', 'is it a fashion choice that you decided not to have a kid ?', 'you are still young, keep trying and one day you will have one'. Then there are taunts from those who have kids : 'you don't know how tough it is to bring up a kid', 'you don't know the complexities involved in handling a kid because you have none', 'you are lucky you don't have a kid - you have time to yourself', 'you can work late and go home late as you don't have kids', 'you can't empathize with a kid enough because you don't have one yourself', 'you don't know how much energy goes in bringing up a kid', 'you have time on your hands because you are free, I have kids to look after', 'you are lying when you say you like kids',................. All of the above said by women of all kinds, ages and sizes. Only one question rises in my mind, 'Did anyone force you to have a kid ?'
Then there are family and friends who suggest adoption. They make it sound as thought it is like buying a product off the shelf in a supermarket. 'Have you considered adoption ? Many people are doing it ? You should do it too ? It will help a child and help you too', was a relative's suggestion. I wondered, 'How do you know it will help me ? and who gave you the right to make a choice for me ?', 'Why didn't you consider adopting when you were trying hard to have one instead of taking treatment ?'. 'Ok, you didn't think the first time, but you could have considered adopting atleast the second child instead of having your own ? It would have helped the child and you too, right ?'
Compared to the any women's comments, I can count on my one hand the times I have heard a comment like this from a man. A very old man even taunted his wife for asking me whether I didn't want a kid ? That day, I blessed that man with all of my heart for his humanity. For he had it in him to raise his voice. Otherwise, in all these years, I haven't had one man or woman, close or far, relative or not, standing by my side, raising their voice against the questions and taunts, except of course my husband.
And so life continued thus, till recently. A rude comment from a family member got me researching on cultures and their attitudes to childless women and women in general across the globe. Women treating women in the family badly is widespread around the world, especially in the eastern world. With widowed women, the west fares a bit better. With clothes and choices women make, the west fares better. The east and middle east are the worst places for women dependent on the country or place. Every part, every culture, every country in the world has the same attitude to childless women and have names for such women. The universality of it hit me. There is I think, no escape for women in this world from some issues till death. Or so I think, as the after world is not known. Will know when some woman returns from there to tell the story or when I get there.
Statutory warnings :
1. In case a woman tries to defend, the perpetrator will try to act like the victim and say 'I was just trying to help. Didn't mean to hurt' and shed a few tears if the woman does not immediately say 'It is ok'.
2. All of the above is based on my own experiences, those of women in similar situation, I have directly seen or heard.
3. All of life's experiences makes me stronger and bolder.