Woman and Society: Combatting the Gender stereotyping and dismantling the power Structures

Ruchi Raj Thakur
The status of women or gender issues has become a common subject of discussion in social, literary, legal and academic circles. This concept has found a place of significance not only in verbal discourse but also in writings. In fact, Gender inequality has gained a universal recognition but the degree to which the discussion takes place differs. Gender inequality is a concept which etymologically refers to the disparity between the two different sexes which is the result of the social and cultural beliefs and assumptions. This paper aims to voice those social inequalities which are experienced more by women, because they are women. It interrogates those beliefs which are responsible for the miserable condition of woman. This paper portrays John Galsworthy’s and Vijay Tendulkar’s women characters who attempt to smash the obdurate social norms and to live on their terms and conditions. Though they become victims of the patriarchal structure, yet they do not lose hope and continue to fight against the system by dealing with it in their own ways. This paper also highlights the duality of Indian society which does not allow them to denounce these conventionalist styles of living. It investigates the wretched condition of women and their relegation to an insignificant position by the society. It further touches upon themes like alienation, loneliness, oppression, unprecedented violence against women, lack of autonomy, dependence, etc.
Key words: Autonomy, Alienation, Conventionalist styles, Patriarchal, Duality.

“It is not important to not just make art but also ensure it creates an impact”-says Vibha Gandotra
A literary writer studies the ethos, social mores, beliefs, philosophies, social outlook, or opinions, biases of a particular culture or society. So, literature, in other words, is a reflection of the society. Whether the piece of literary art is shaped by a Hindi writer or English or Australian or American literature etc., the writers remain committed to the sole purpose of mirroring reality. An article ‘Art for cause’s sake’ in The Tribune Trends reads that, “Art is no more religious propaganda or for visual pleasure alone. It is increasingly moving into the space of activism”. Writers, irrespective of their origin, enunciate their experiences and observations in their writings. They bring to fore all the practices, virtues and vices of the social milieu to which they belong. They objectively paint the injustices meted out by the marginalised and the silenced in the social edifice. In the same newspaper article Nonika Singh says, “An artist’s voice must be heard too.”
Many writers of the times have depicted the issues of gender discrimination, inequality and violence against the women as themes of their writings. The present paper discusses the endeavours of John Galsworthy and Vijay Tendulkar to have an insight into the social upheavals responsible for the deplorable conditions of women. It further discusses that the conditions of women remain the same irrespective of the times and the periphery to which the literary works belong. This paper mulls upon the condition of women as depicted in John Galsworthy’s Justice and Vijay Tendulkar’s Silence! The court is in session.
John Galsworthy and Tendulkar are crusaders of humanity and compassion which is noticeable in their literary writings. Both the writers try to underscore the deplorable state of women through their thought provoking writings, stridently enunciating the state of contemporary society, its values and norms. Their writings have a social purpose which is to reform the social edifice by purging off evils and worn out traditions from the social establishment. Justice is a portrayal of the unhealthy prison life and the evil of solitary confinement affecting the mental conditions of the prisoners enduring the pain of solitude. It revolves around the pitiable state of the prisoners but in passivity it also speaks about the condition of women in those times.
 Ruth Honey Will is introduced in the play as a victim of societal pressures and social obligations. Ruth’s atrocious marriage compels her to walk out of her failed married life. She decides to shun her relationship because her drunkard husband would often beat her and one day even tries to strangle her to death. Ruth Honey Will’s decision to call off her marriage wins criticism in the society. She becomes the victim of the stereotype social mentality because she dares to transgress the thresholds of autonomy and attempts to break the tyrannical marital bond to rearticulate the meaning of her life. But her attempt to smash the glass ceiling of the age old norms is highly condemned in the social circles.
If the so called social system is wrecked by men, the society remains stoic because such freedom automatically comes to them from their existence.  On the contrary, women ought to acquiesce to the social norms and obligations. If she fails to concede then she has to face the social ferocity. Society plays the role of a sadist who finds pleasure in one’s discomfiture. The unfortunate truth about such situation is that no one comes forward to defend a person. Hence, she becomes a so-called ‘accused’ in the eyes of society. Today’s woman prefers to speak rather than to observe meekly. Yashpal, says C.M.Yohanan, believed that:
In the changing circumstances, to achieve parity with men in society, women have to protest against the current social system. If women do not take such an initiative then they will never gain their individuality and self-respect. (Translation mine 133-134)
The utter mental anguish of Ruth Honey Will becomes clear when she informs Mr. Cokeson of the urgency to meet Falder as she says, “It’s a matter of life and death!”(4). On meeting Falder, she narrates her husband’s uncouth behaviour of beating her insensitively. This meeting informs the readers about the plans of the two lovers to run away to South America so as to start a life afresh. Unfortunately, the day they plan to leave, Mr. James How discovers Falder’s involvement in a fraud of altering a cheque by adding a nought to 9 and ‘ty’ to nine. Falder’s confession reveals his relationship with Ruth Honeywill and the reasons for the commission of the crime which are disdainfully condemned by his colleagues and his employer, Mr. James How. James might have given Falder another chance to prove his loyalty but his involvement with a married woman makes him more rigid in his approach. He considers him promiscuous in his ways. James remarks, “If it had been a straightforward case I’d give him another chance. It’s far from that. He has dissolute habits”(20).
In the court room, Hector Frome tries to convince the court that the misery of Ruth Honey Will stimulated Falder to commit the crime. He says, “…She saw a way out of her misery by going with him to a new country, where they would both be unknown, and might pass as husband and wife. This was a desperate and, as my friend Mr. Cleaver will no doubt call it, an immoral resolution; but, as a fact, the minds of both of them were constantly turned towards it.…  whatever opinion you form of the right of these two young people under such circumstances to take the law into their own hands­-the fact remains that this young woman in her distress, and this young man, little more than a boy, who was so devotedly attached to her, did conceive this…”(28).
Falder also confirms Frome’s statement that Ruth was in a dreadful condition and needed immediate help and so he could not think of the implication of his deed before committing it. He says, “I was having my breakfast when she came. Her dress was all torn, and she was gasping and couldn’t seem to get her breath at all; there were the marks of his fingers round her throat; her arm was bruised, and the blood had got into her wyes dreadfully. It frightened me, and then when she told me, I felt-I felt-well –it was too much for me! [Hardening suddenly] If you’d seen it, having the feelings for her that I had, you’d have felt the same, I know”(41).
The court including the counsel for the crown and the Judge consider Ruth’s reference in the case as nothing but a romantic and an emotional fascination to the case. The counsel for the crown says, “Divested of the romantic glamour which my friend is casting over the case, is this anything but an ordinary forgery?”(43). The Judge too turns down Frome’s plea to show mercy to Falder for the very reason that he committed the crime with an intention to help Ruth. He says, “The story has been told here to-day of your relations with this-er-Mrs. Honeywill; on that story both the defense and the plea for mercy were in effect based. Now what is that story? Is it that you, a young man, and she, a young woman, unhappily married, had formed an attachment, which you both admit was about to result in such relationship. Your counsel has made an attempt to palliate this, on the ground that the woman is in what he describes, I think, as, “a hopeless position.”…She is a married woman, and the fact is patent that you committed this crime with the view of furthering an immoral design….Your counsel has made an attempt to trace your offence back to what he seems to suggest is a defect in the marriage law; he has made an attempt also to show that to punish you with further imprisonment would be unjust….”(58).
Women are expected to compromise at every step and also understand that to make a marriage work comes under her social responsibilities. Ruth’s husband is absolved from the stigma of a bad husband and also his habit of consuming alcohol heavily. John Galsworthy, indirectly, dwells on the condition of women in the then times. The women characters have been discussed mildly but as a reader one feels the mental anguish of women due to the social mores. A hapless victim of male-chauvinism, Ruth Honey Will, is left alone to fend for herself and her children because Falder goes to imprisonment for three years and she breaks her marital strings, she was tied to. The major cause of women’s suffering is their economic dependence. It makes them more vulnerable in the society. Their fragile economic condition curbs their control over themselves completely and compels them to succumb to the social hierarchy. Ruth Honey Will does not accede to such social and cultural pressure and fights against the social structure and values her freedom from the unwanted relationship, a colossal of patriarchy. Jane Freeman remarks:
…The liberation of women thus depends on freeing women from this social construct of the ‘eternal feminine’, which has reduced them to a position of social and economic inferiority… (14)
Kate Millett defines patriarchy as a political discourse in that it involves ‘power-structured relationships, arrangements whereby one group of persons is controlled by another’ (67). Kate also believes that oppression is ingrained in the gender system of patriarchy. As it is embedded in the very foundation of the system so society considers it intrinsic part of women’s life. If some women fail to bear male oppression, they are ostracized by the society. It has no solution to a woman’s problem. Falder’s admission of defeat leaves Ruth weeping and thumping her chest. But the inerrant society does not come to comfort her.
The play also discusses the relationship of a husband and wife as that of an oppressor and oppressed. Falder’s sister is not permitted to meet her brother, Falder, in captivity. She requests Mr. Cokeson to meet her brother. This speaks about those times when women were nettled in the web of tyranny and patriarchy. If a woman gains strength to challenge the social and cultural structures she is trapped in, then she is labeled as a ‘bad woman’. Nighat says, “…Roles are well-defined and a good life means performing those roles…”(130). Patriarchy, conditions the minds of people to such an extent that they refuse to recognise women’s suffering because this is something which is part of the circumstance of their being. As such, silencing and marginalisation of women cannot be judged as something unusual vis-à-vis the fact of their existence. Vijay Tendulkar too challenges social malpractices which deter the prosperity of women’s lives. Being tied to traditions, their predicament shapes their destiny. The play is a mouthpiece of feminism because does not speak about the supremacy of one gender over another. It simply speaks about the human like treatment to be given to woman if man enjoys it. It seriously mulls on the question of social duality as it weighs both the sexes differently. The play emphasizes the role of society in fanning such practices which widens the cavity between the two.
Silence! The court is in Session depicts the struggle of an unwed woman who gets pregnant against the society. Mr. Kashikar, Mrs. Kashikar, Bhole Rokde, Sukhatma, Karnik, Ponkshe and Samant play the role of society. They pounce on Leela and assassinate her character. Leela Benare, in Silence! The court is in Session, emerges as partially a ‘new woman’ because she tries to live in the world of her desires to choose her own ways and prefers no change in the self but the other side of her personality stops her because she fears the adversities.
An autonomous woman is the biggest social irregularity because she can articulate herself fearlessly. The fearlessness of woman is alarming for a man, who is an intrinsic part of the hegemonic power structure. Leela is introduced as a fun- loving character. Leela Benare’s character has different hues. She is lively and frank. Her frankness offends her co-actors. She makes her appearance in the first scene with Samant, a local resident. Leela seems to be an assertive, successful and economically independent woman. But as the conversation progresses, it seems Leela tries to confide in Samant a dark truth of her life. She says, “…Just because of one bit of slander, what can they do to me? Throw me out? Let them! I haven’t hurt anyone. Anyone at all! If I’ve hurt anybody, it’s been myself…Who are these people to say what I can or can’t do? My life is my own- I haven’t sold it to anyone for a job! My will is my own. My wishes are my own. No one can kill those - no one! I’lldo what I like with myself and my life! I’ll decide…”(7).
Initially the truth remains a mystery for the readers because Samant shows his disinterestedness in her life. Samant tries to digress from the issue and says, “Shall I go and see why the others haven’t arrived yet?” (7). This shows that either Samant was too pretentious in his behaviour or absolutely naïve. Because he even fails to notice Leela’s hand that unconsciously rests­ on her stomach.
Leela is self-sufficient but somewhat feeble. She tells him not to leave her alone because “ I feel scared when I am alone, you know”(7). She is a member of an acting team of theatre actors who perform on social themes in order to bring reformation in the social set up and the mentality of the people. This further speaks about the duality and hypocrisy of the society which practices exactly contrary to what it preaches. Silence! The court is in Session is a play within a play. One play is didactic while the other blurs the line between the real and the make believe world. The former revolves around Benare and reveals the real face of the society. To bid time, the actors decide to act a mock trial. They decide to choose Benare as an accused of infanticide. She objects repeatedly but her pleas go unheard. It seems that the co-actors were head bound to carry the trial on the mentioned charge because such charges are more enticing. Kashikar says, “…The question of infanticide is one of great social significance. That’s why I deliberately picked it. We consider society’s best interests in all we do…” (36).
The trial scene begins but Bhalu’s witness which dwindles the line between the real and the imaginary. His testimony makes the personal life of Leela public. Her relationship with Prof. Damle is exposed. Rokde, who was offended with Benare, looks at Benare triumphantly and says, “ Now laugh! Make fun of me! This lady was there. Damle and this –Miss Benare!” (54). Benare warns them not to drag her personal life into the play. But the other actors do not wish to end it as the play was becoming more captivating. Samant’s witness brings a turning point in the case because he mixes the action of the pornographic novel, he was reading sometime before, with the play of which Benare was the protagonist. He narrates the imaginary conversation between Prof. Damle and Benare and tells the court that he overheard Benare saying, “If you abandon me in this condition, where shall I go?” and Prof. Damle (imaginary) replies, “Where you should go is entirely your problem. I feel great sympathy for you. But I can do nothing. I must protect my reputation” (64).
Indian culture is known for its chivalrous foundation. But it is offensive to see that on the same soil, woman is either oppressed or left abandoned to face the cruel world on the pretext of taking one step against the super imposed boundaries of society. The moment she is spotted by the society, she is dogged by denigration and dishonor.
Leela’s wretchedness continues. She is tormented to see the brazen talking of her co-actors, particularly Ponkshe and Karnik. Ponkshe shamelessly tells the court that she had tried to persuade him to marry her, which he had out rightly denied. Karnik too testifies her as a lady with easy virtue by telling the court about her childhood affair with her maternal uncle and her failed attempt to end her life. An article ‘A Bulwark for Unwed Mothers’ in The Hindu reads:
The plight of many unwed mothers in India who
 became second class citizens simply because they
had sex without marriage, with or without their
consent and were loving and responsible enough
 not to abandon their children. They ended up
economically and socially marginalised.
Leela patiently embroils in a long-drawn court battle. But to see her personal life at stake, she ultimately breaks down and confesses in a soliloquy that she was seduced by her uncle when her youth was blooming. He made her realise about her womanhood, which brought her closer to him. But the coward man took advantage of her innocence and deserted her when she needed him the most. She was punished by her mother, while her uncle got away with his sin, unpunished. She sings an English song,
Oh, I’ve got a sweatheart
Who carries all my books,
                                      He plays in my dollhouse.
And says he likes my looks,
I’ll tell you a secret-
He wants to marry me,
But mummy says, I’m too little
To have such thoughts as these. (7)
Benare was too innocent to understand that her uncle tramples on her doll house and her mummy will never be able to see that with her coerced blindness. She says that when she fell in love for the second time with Prof. Damle, whom she considered a God of knowledge, she thought that she has found her true love. But he too devoided her of her chastity in the name of love. She confesses that Damle was another vulture who was attracted to her flesh and body. Nighat Gandhi, “Is that love? Pyaar ka matlab hai matlab ka pyaar. The meaning of love is selfishness”(248). She also fearlessly accepts that motherhood took her to Ponkshe so that her child outside marriage could get a legal identity.
It is disappointing to see that our society does not allow a woman to convey herself freely Subservience is appreciated as the prime characteristic of ‘good woman’ while assertion of freedom shows pervicaciousness in her. Society tries to snap her confidence and convince her that woman’s submissiveness is men’s command.
Some women are also encouraging patriarchy because they readily accept the age-old social norms. They cannot think of breaking the glass ceiling of sore social ties. They prefer being subdued and silent because they cannot offend the society by demanding liberty. Mrs. Kashikar is incapable of challenging the rigid patriarchy. Hence, drags the unnecessary burden of social norms and sore relationships. She is controlled by her husband but she mutely accepts it. In a patriarchal set-up, an ideal woman is one who would always need a man for security in her life; one who would always need a male protection and cannot take a step further without a man’s consent. It seems the women who cannot resist the rigidity of the society take vengeance on other women, who do not yield to the system. Mrs. Kashikar expects Benare to bow down to the set-pattern of society and not to dismantle the traditionally approved model of the Indian women. Simon de Beauvoir holds that the patriarchal conditioning of the society makes the concept of sex and gender convoluted. Society considers sex and gender synonymous, which is an incorrect notion. Sex is a biological aspect while gender is a social theory. Simon de Beauvoir once said, “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman” (496).
Mrs. Kashikar spews poison against the women who do not get married at the so-called tender age. She utters, “…That’s what happens these days when you get everything without marrying. They just want comfort. They couldn’t care less about responsibility! Let me tell you- in my time, even if a girl was snub-nosed, sallow, hunchbacked, or anything whatever, she could still get married! It’s the sly fashion of women earning that makes everything go wrong. That’s how promiscuity has spread throughout our society” (76).
It is not only woman against woman but also patriarchy against woman. Except Samant and Shanta Gokhle. All other men present consider Benare coquettish and pounces on her as a preyer pounces on its prey. This is not the end but beginning of her predicaments. An economically independent woman is deprived off her school job. She is removed from the school because of an apprehension that she would defile the environment of the school and influence the school kids who might go astray under her influence. Nanasaheb Shinde of Bombay, a famous leader, too refutes the idea of an unwed mother. He says, “It is a sin to be pregnant before marriage. It would be still more immoral to let such a woman teach in such condition! There is no alternative – this woman must be dismissed’ (97). Benare is economically better placed than the rest of her theatre comrades. Her economic sufficiency was enough to give encounter the very existence of patriarchy.
Sukhatme rests his case as a prosecutor says, “…Her conduct has blackened all social and moral values. The accused is public enemy number one. If such socially destructive tendencies are encouraged to flourish, this country and its culture will be totally destroyed. Therefore, I say the court must take a very stern, inexorable view of the prisoner’s crime, without being trapped in any sentiment. The charge against the accused is one of infanticide. But the accused has committed a far more serious crime. I mean unmarried motherhood. Motherhood without marriage has always been considered a very great sin by our religion and our traditions. Moreover, if the accused’s intention of bringing up the offspring of this unlawful maternity is carried to completion, I have a dreadful fear that the very existence of society will be in danger….A woman bears the grave responsibility of building up the high values of society. Na stri swatantryamarhati. ‘Woman is not fit for independence.’…’Miss Benare is not fit for independence’ (101).
Prof. Damle is a married man with five children but the responsibility of the well-being of nation lies merely on woman. Not even once it is mentioned in the play that Prof. Damle is at fault. Leela Benare, who is advanced and to some extent emancipated, breaks away from the traditional role of a wed mother unconsciously because she is deceived by Prof. Damle. Prof. will undoubtedly be supported by the society but such women are never accepted by society. Kashikar, Judge of the mock trial, shows his utter biasness when he says, “The crime you have committed are most terrible. There is no forgiveness for them. Your sin must be expiated. Irresponsibility must be chained down. Social customs, after all, are of supreme importance. Marriage is the very foundation of our society stability…Criminals and sinners should know their place…Moreover, the future of posterity was entrusted to you. This is a very dreadful thing. The morality, which you have shown through your conduct, was the morality you were planning to impart to the youth of tomorrow. This court has not an iota of doubt about it. Hence, not only today’s, but tomorrow’s society would have been endangered by your misconduct. It must said that the school officials have done a work of merit in deciding to remove you from your job…No memento of your sin should remain for future generations. Therefore this court hereby sentences that you shall live. But the child in your womb shall be destroyed” (108).
Benare sobs and then become silent, but her silence yells her protest. She had only one true relation of a mother and her baby, besides fake and unnatural relationships. She remains tongue tied because of her contrived and coerced docility to get absorbed into the ‘tradition-encrusted chadar of her culture’ to borrow Nighat’s phrase.
It deliberates upon the dualism of the society and also shows its concern for those the established norms of social behavior are only for women and not men. No restriction is imposed on men. Are the norms only for woman and the penalty of spurning the limitation is also to be borne only by her? Or freedom is only men’s undeniable right, while women have to constantly live in the ‘unable to act’ in “atmosphere of discrimination and suppression” to borrow Ahmed Salim’s phrase. Social change is certainly the credo of these writings. The most painful thing to observe is that in Indian society the male is never considered wrong, his actions seem justified and the blame of everything falls on the woman. While pointing to the essential differences of attitudes, priorities and cultural conditioning of men and women, RajiSeth says that, “Man is accepted, a woman fights to be accepted”(qtd. by Chandra Nisha37). And women chose to fight the biases.

Works Cited
Primary Sources
Tendulkar, Vijay.  Silence! The Court is in session. Translated by Priya Adakar. New Delhi: OUP, 2017.
Galsworthy, John. Justice.New York: The New Public Library:1910.

Secondary Sources
Antahpur, Agrahayan, 1962. Print.
Freeman, Jane. Feminism: Concepts in the Social Sciences. Philadelpheia: OUP, 2001. Print.
Gandhi, Nighat M. Alternative Realities. New Delhi: Thomson Press Limited, 2012. Print.
Pandya, Rameshwari. Women in India Issues, Perspectives and Solutions. New Delhi: New Century Publications, 2007. Print.

Plato, Republic. ed. F.M.Cornford. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941.Print.Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Emile, trans. Barbara Foxley London, Melbourne and Toronto: Everyman, 1911. Print.
 _________. The Social Contract and Discourses, trans. G.D.H. Cole London: Everyman, 1913. Print
Saswati Sengupta, Shampa Roy, Sharmila Purkayastha. Towards Freedom Critical Essays On Rabindranath Tagore’s Ghare Baire/ The Home And The World. Orient Longman Private Limited, 2007. Print.
Singh, Chandra Nisha. Radical Feminism and Women’s Writings. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2007. Print.
Sharma, Aradhika, “Woman, thy name is grit”. The Sunday Tribune Spectrum. March 3, 2019.
Nonika, Singh, “Art for Cause’s Sake”. The Tribune Trends. March 30, 2019.

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