[This is an earlier version of my translation of the article that appeared in my book Her-Self, Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005. For a fuller, annotated version, please refer the book]
Kochattil Kalyanikutty Amma (1908-1997), also known as Mrs. C. Kuttan Nair, was born at Thrissur. She graduated in science subjects from Queen Mary’s College, Madras, and had a long career as a teacher, which proved quite turbulent, especially towards the end. She was prominent as a contributor to magazines, and known for her keen interest in women’s education, active participation in the All-India Women’s Conferences and support for contraception. Her travelogue, ‘The Europe I Saw’, written in the 1930s, was widely read. In 1991, she published her autobiography titled Pathikayum Vazhiyoratte Manideepangalum (The Traveler and the Wayside Lamps), which won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi’s award for best autobiography in 1993.
[ ‘Streepurushasamatvattinulla Chila Pratibandhangal’, Matrubhumi Weekly Special Issue 1938, Article No. 12]
A wise man has said. “Man can look upon Woman only as the amalgamation of the Goddess and the Fool”. This is indeed the truth. Though women in particular countries in particular times have indeed achieved progress somewhat, womankind is still to earn equal status with men even today. Nevertheless, the numbers of women who desire such equality have been steadily on the rise. There are, however, certain impediments in the path of the equality of the sexes. Women ought to be aware of these.
First, the willingness to view life rationally is a primary requirement in today’s world. From ancient times, men have associated women with the malevolent and secret arts. This association is rooted in the mind’s tendency to fear the inscrutable, trapped as it is between the sensory and the extra-sensory. The mystery of the rhythms of the female body – menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth – challenged the human powers of comprehension. Consequently, the male imagination associated Woman with sorcery and the black arts. Woman, being steeped in ignorance like Man himself, accepted this fixing graciously. Later, in different times and in different societies, some women did gain power and dignity as individuals, though as a group, women remained powerless. However, it is doubtful whether contemporary Man has attained significantly higher levels of psychological refinement in comparison with the tribal forest-dwellers. Early memories and the doubts and horrors associated with them remain embedded in the human heart. Where the instincts and tradition hold the upper hand, objective observation and rational philosophy cannot thrive. Therefore, the amicable nature and the inclination to co-operate that form the foundations of equality do not materialise. This insight provides us a key to understanding why Woman is perceived to be a concoction of the Goddess and the Devil. The fear of Woman’s dark powers that sprung up so vigorously within ancient Man have condensed into certain misgivings deliquesced in the Unconscious of modern Man. Contemporary socio-economic conditions have served only to aggravate such apprehensions. Today, it is common for Man to regard Woman, who is ready to work for lower wages, as his adversary. As a result, he is suspicious of all her activities. Psychologists warn that fear is harmful; though one does not know whether this hold good for all sorts of fear, it is certain that the fear of the slave experienced by the master is destructive to both. One of the major hurdles towards the equality of the sexes is that at present, Reason is not accorded prime status. The oppression of the Jews in Germany, and the massive losses suffered by the Women’s Movement there are the outcomes of the displacement of Reason in that country.
Secondly, equality between the sexes is not possible without some degree of industrial culture. Muscle power ascends to prominence in a world in which mechanical devices are rejected thoroughly; this fosters the primacy of Man. If machines are proving troublesome, that is surely due to lack of appropriate regulatory efforts. Men do take pride in physical strength; let there, indeed, be abundant opportunities for the display of such strength by men. However, the industrialised countries have proved that machines controlled by the intelligence can carry out the labour performed by human muscles, and there, Woman can work alongside Man.
Thirdly, the importance that we grant today to military strength must be jettisoned completely. As long as war remains a possibility, we will continue to pay inordinate attention to militarism, military prowess and ‘Manliness’. We will worship as our leader precisely that person who exemplifies these three qualities. Adverse circumstances do not permit many Joan of Arcs amongst us. Even that heroine had to encounter many obstacles, because of her sex. Today, most men consider it an insult to acknowledge a female leader. However, given the situation in which every country remains rapt on amassing the instruments of war, the day in which the immense value granted to military power will evaporate seems quit distant. By nature, women are far more reluctant to destroy life. Nevertheless, the possibility that men may develop that capacity in the future cannot be ruled out. But the National Weeks and warmongering rampant in countries like present-day Germany, Italy and Ireland are certainly not helpful here.
Fourthly, every woman must have access to full knowledge of contraception. It makes no difference whether this is achieved through self-control, or through other means. Whatever be this, unexpected pregnancy is certainly a major hindrance for women seeking to plan and order their lives and discharge the tasks of citizenship in an uninterrupted fashion, like men. Mothers should decide for themselves the number of children they would like to have. The pro-natalist system of rewards instituted by Hitler and Mussolini rests upon the thought that ‘if the Woman fills the cradle, we can conquer the world’.
Above all, our social, economic and political institutions must be thoroughly dismantled and recast. When many workers roam around helplessly without work, many others toil the whole day for a pittance. Also very many high-placed political experts overwork themselves without any sort of relaxation to the detriment of both mind and body. Without finding a solution for all this, it is difficult to attain social well-being. If everyone were assigned lighter workloads, the overburdened mothers of the present may get enough leisure and comfort in life. Those who have a penchant for homely affairs may remain snug within the home. For other, hotels, community kitchens, nursery schools etc., now widely prevalent in modern countries, will be of immense help. In today’s Soviet Russia, it is quite common for men to do housework. In some parts of America too, men have begun to get involved in the performance of domestic duties. In any case, unmarried women can help housewives who carry heavy loads. Even in today’s Germany, young women visit the homes of busy mothers and help in bathing the children, cooking, and cleaning, under the initiative of the Women’s Movement. They also offer considerable help to farmers in the fields.
Of what use is equality? This may appear a legitimate question. Many of us women do firmly believe that it will alleviate much of the malaise that plagues us now. Women who advocate the equality of the sexes do not certainly want one single model to suit everyone. On the contrary, only equality will nurture uniquely individual qualities. We still possess only incomplete knowledge of our natures and dispositions. What do we actually mean by vague terms like ‘Manliness’ and ‘Womanliness’? Does not research into psychology reveal our ignorance regarding aspects of sex difference? How many individuals are left stunted by our moral precepts, which are the offspring of our half-baked knowledge!
In human society with rational orientation, we would behave more considerately towards each other. There, neither class nor caste nor position would matter; the greatness of the mind will form the sole criterion of valuation. When individual greatness is recognised as superior to community and tradition, the importance we now concede to external physical differences will wither away. In such a world, many-splendoured individuality, unthinkable in today’s world of hatred and negative attitudes, may materialise, and along with it, happiness and contentment. In such a society the question ‘what for the equality of the sexes?’ may echo as meaningless noise.