Dames in Shining Armour standing united.

“A girl should not laugh too loud.”

“A girl is not supposed to play with boys or hang around men.”

“You’re a big girl now. You need to start wearing loose fitting and modest clothing.”

“Hunch your back when passing a man, lest they stare.”

Every woman in our society has heard similar teachings throughout their lives. These and many more are taught to us right from our birth. In fact, these have been recited for centuries as though they are the fables and fairy tales that a girl must never forget.

But who teaches us women these parables?  Who binds these ‘cultural’ chains to our bodies? The easiest answer here would be – society. Here we must think what exactly are our accusations on society and which part of society are we exactly blaming.

The Five Monkeys Experiment of Society

The quotes that have been stated above are something that men have not tried to teach me ‘directly’. These were recited to me since childhood by the women around me, including my mother, female relatives and sometimes even strangers. It always made me question as to why is my freedom is denied by my own gender. What could have started this viscous cycle of shackling the next generation?

For a better understanding, I will delve into the story of the “Five Monkeys Experiment”. According to the story, 5 monkeys were put in a cage where a ladder with bananas on top was kept in the centre of it. Tempted by the bananas, one of the monkeys scurries up the ladder but is soon sprayed with a cold steam of water as he almost reaches the top along with the other monkeys. Just like the first monkey, the other monkeys too try to win the bananas but are met with the same fate.  

The scientist then replaces one of the original monkeys with a new monkey. Without the knowledge of the past punishment, the new monkey tries to reach the bananas but the other monkeys attack him due to the fear of being sprayed again. Another new monkey is introduced, replacing one of the original ones and he too tries to reach the bananas but is beaten by the monkeys, including the former new one. Even though the newer monkey is not aware as to why he cannot get the bananas, he learnt not to climb the ladder through several beatings. The same occurred with the 2nd new monkey.

After replacing all the monkeys, what was left was a group of entirely new monkeys who despite having never been sprayed with cold water, continued to neither climb the ladder nor let others climb it. Does this ring a bell? If we replace the scientist by the privileged men in the society and the monkeys by the oppressed women, we can understand how women have been conditioned to be the biggest hurdle in a woman’s life.

Under the Jaws of Patriarchy

It is henceforth clear that patriarchy is the culprit behind pitting women against each other. Growing up, I was always exposed to prime-time soap operas that relied heavily on this trope, that is the constant war between the saas and bahu, between two daughters-in-law, etc. Although marinated in drama, it is not far from the truth. Women have for long denied fundamental rights to their own gender since the same was done to them and they keep doing it, many a times due to the fear of being ostracized by the society. More often than not, women are against the rights since they themselves have never experience a life with one and have been taught that their ‘culture’ is above any right.

Patriarchy taught women that they cannot be anything more than a damsel in distress who needs the protection of a knight in shining armour. But if they wish to be that knight, it is absolutely against the rules of nature. Thus, even when women quarrelled with women, there must be a more intelligent and educated man to settle it, usually the patriarch of the family and lead them to the freedom that he believes is right for them.

To be the Dame in Shining Armour

Behind every successful man is a woman. We have heard this repeated time and again. What our society does not tell us is that that woman is usually lonely, neglected and denied her own identity. The lack of sisterhood among women is one of the leading causes behind the neglect of the gender. Though with feminism, a dire need to break the shackles of patriarchy rose, many still do not wish to call themselves feminists due to the bad reputation that our society has given it.

There are many instances where women standing up for women and creating a sisterhood could have completely altered the consequences. Mother-in-law standing for the daughter-in-law against domestic violence, female friends standing up for each other regarding sexism, women of a village standing up with each other to reclaim their rights, etc. Even the ‘I’m not like other girls’ cultural phenomenon which came up as a reaction against stereotypical feminine characteristics that is expected from every girl in fact also chimes in to the women vs. women scheme that patriarchy subtly fed us.

But before standing up for each other, it is required that we stand up for ourselves. For when we stand up for ourselves and our rights to our body and in this society, then we start the fire of a revolution. That is when we not only realise our own strength but also help others realise it through our stories of survival and victory.

Globalization has made it possible for us to see the butterfly effect of women standing up for and with each other. Yet there are places in our society where that light has not reached. We must march on, as dames in our own quirky shining armour, waving our flags of equality to places that still need it.