From now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me. Luke 1:48-49
A recent advertisement for one of the schemes of ICICI Bank reads ‘Lets celebrate the super power called woman’—probably in consonance with the recent series of incidents and movements that have brought women into focus in terms of gender equality. The protest of the nuns in the town square in Kochi against the Bishop of Jalandhar led the way, and was followed closely by the #MeToo campaign, and these were given further impetus with the court ruling on Sabarimala. Indeed, there is enough in the air for us to actually reflect on the phenomenon labelled Woman Power.
An example of a certain kind of woman power can be seen in the life of St Teresa of Calcutta. A recent edition of The Hindu carried the photograph of a beautiful jute statue of Mother Teresa in a Durga Puja pandhal in Kolkota. The theme, coincidently, was Woman Power and it showed the wrinkled face of the Saint with a baby in hand and several children around her. Her path to power started from the slums of Calcutta where she nursed the orphans, the sick and the abandoned, and her fame spread world-wide. What was the driving force behind her selfless service? In her own words, all her endeavours were inspired by her special relationship with Christ. She saw Christ in the diseased and the dying and she ministered to them believing firmly in Christ’s words that what we do for the least of our brothers, we do for Him. Like Mother Mary, Woman Power in this context came as a result of an infilling of the Holy Spirit that helped her to transcend all human limitations to create the kingdom of God in the slums of Kolkota.
Another version of woman power is seen among the unsung heroines of ordinary homes. Based on their instinctive capacity to serve selflessly, a woman finds herself taking the responsibility of husband, home, children and old parents along with a job that helps her augment the family income. Very often, she has to face chauvinism and disrespect from many quarters, but she carries on unmindful of insult and injury. The rough years teach her the beautiful Christian virtues of giving without expectation and loving without recompense. With the passage of time, her resilience pays off and, very often, she gains a stature that commands respect from all those she selflessly bestowed her loving care upon.
At another level, #MeToo is a modern version of Woman Power. This has global antecedents and is a retaliation against generations of sexual harassment in the workplace. Unlike the earlier versions of Woman Power this does not claim any affinity to religion or selfless surrender. Backed by a social milieu that is ready to defend gender equality, woman are now on the offensive against the unfair treatment meted out to them by their male counterparts. Women are no longer in a mood to tolerate unwelcome advances and have proved that their accusations are sharp, as a double edged sword, capable of slashing those in high places and bringing them to a position of retribution. At the moment, however, the movement is rather limited in its scope of influence. Though the media has publicized the campaign widely, in actual fact it has only brought to light the crossfire within a tiny speck of educated elite—the Priya Ramanis of the world against top officials and ministers. The magnitude of the problem of gender exploitation and sexual harassment in India is widespread and deeply embedded in a mesh of caste differences and economic backwardness. #MeToo will be justified only if the Woman power it has generated can finally find a solution for all those helpless families that continue to be victims in a rich man’s world.
A fourth version of woman power is slowly gaining ground among many worldly-wise young ladies today. A chance conversation with a student doing her final year Engineering brought me face to face with an unpalatable modern –day phenomenon. She laughingly recounted how she had flirted with her young professor to get the highest mark for her project. Shocked and disgusted at the sheer brazenness of the remarks of this educated upper class student, I quipped back ‘isn’t that a mild form of prostitution, I mean, like selling yourself?’ Pat came the reply, ‘ Well, if you have to get something, you have to give something, isn’t it?’ Really? Was this a popularly accepted philosophy among students today? I cringed to think of how she would use her version of Women power in future.
Woman Power has become a force to be reckoned with. As women of the 21st century we must be judicious in our use and support of its different versions. Woman Power must be used for positive outcomes that strengthen society and build communities. If the benefits are narrow and temporary, we must reject these for the broader and more universal versions that have stood the test of time.