Why Indian men are chauvinists; could it be their mothers?
The irony is that many men grow up to hate the very entity they are excessively dependent on - women.
- Total Shares
I always look at mythology to understand culture and society and when I look at the mothers hailed as supermoms in Indian mythology, it makes me wonder. Whether it was Sita, Kunti, Shakuntala or the devoted Yashoda, they seem to raise their sons alone and as single moms. Their husbands have either abandoned them or play no role in the sons' upbringing. And they all bear only sons (why no daughters?).
This makes me think about India's familial structure and society and what we draw from our mythology because all this lies at the root of understanding chauvinism in India.
The typical Indian family
Traditionally, we've been a collectivistic society that lays a lot of emphasis on family, loyalty and unity. We're certainly not about individualism. In fact, many people I know even frown upon this term. For years, a patriarchal joint family has formed the backbone of our societal structure.
I believe the joint family system and patriarchy are inextricably linked. If your values are rooted in family unity, integrity and loyalty, then naturally there is no room for two families to live together after a couple gets married.
In a patriarchal setup, of course, it must be the woman who ought to forego her own familial ties and move in with her "new" family. To say that a woman's family is less important than a man's is in itself chauvinism but that's not the point.
In current times, with urbanisation, families are becoming more nuclear due to financial compulsions or employment opportunities but we're still where we were. The ties and dependence with the extended family remains. And so does patriarchy.
Even now, I see a disproportionate number of men living with their parents and women willingly moving in with the man's family. It's an expectation from women that they must abide by without question. More on what this does to the psyche of a man in a bit.
Men and women; fathers and mothers
Most importantly, in this family structure, it is the role played by the father and mother that has the most impact on how men view women in their later years.
In the patriarchal setup, women are assigned the more "menial" tasks, which are constantly underrated and undervalued by men. Their whole identity revolves around child rearing, cooking, cleaning and caring for others.
That's another outcome of the family system in India - rigid gender roles. A young child is highly likely to grow up with an over involved mother whose existence is defined by the child; a father who is out making a living, taking decisions, getting involved in more important matters of the household like finances - activities where a woman does not belong. The fathers are typically not very involved in the child's upbringing leaving the mothers much like our mythological supermoms. This is what the child sees and is familiar with.
At the very least, the boy from this family structure grows up to be a man with some serious dissonance when he sees women living life for reasons other than having a baby, raising a child or cooking and cleaning. Even if he accepts a woman working in his office, how can she take decisions, get into debates and express opinions?
But there is more. This person can go through a difficult and unsettling process of individuation or lack thereof.
The lack of individuation
Individuation is an important ongoing psychological process that every person goes through. It enables the separation of an individual from his/her primary caregiver and defines who they are as a person. The process begins when we are toddlers and continues through life at various stages.
According to physician, and, later, psychotherapist, Margaret Mahler (she developed the theory of separation-individuation in toddlers), a toddler begins to see themselves as a separate entity with an identity when their separation from their mother is complete and healthy. Jung says that individuation continues well into adulthood.
In the case of Indian men, neither does the individuation from their mothers happen in a healthy manner nor do they go through the healthy stages of individuation in their later life. Let me explain.
To a large extent, many mothers seem to have nothing more in their lives than mothering. Their identity revolves around this, creating an excessive interdependence between mother and son.
On the other hand, Indian men are brought up to be the next patriarchal head - responsible for their parents, the epitome of strength, assertive, dominating, etc. Yet, as they continue to live with their parents, they skip two critical ways of achieving individuation - 1) to form a meaningful romantic relationship with a significant other, and 2) becoming financially responsible for themselves. Of course, there could be many other ways but these two are critical and are easily quashed in the Indian family structure.
The irony is that many men grow up to hate the very entity they are excessively dependent on - women. A lot of chauvinism stems from this. Being dependent on a woman (as they are on their mother) does not sit well with what they've been taught to be - the next patriarchal head who sees women as lesser. The only way this internal conflict can be managed is by maintaining the traditional gender role of a woman. Anything else is a threat to their own identity.
Sadly enough, this is their own loss. This entire system only serves to make most men unable to form healthy relationships with their significant others - they can never really understand why a woman would have her own needs and if they "give in" to her needs, it's as if they are abandoning their parents. Reminds you of the typical "caught between my mom and my wife" scenario, doesn't it?
I believe a lot of chauvinism can only be broken by mothers. By them cultivating an identity for themselves and living lives that don't just revolve around their strict gender role.
They don't necessarily have to destroy the family structure that we are used to, but they can certainly break the excessive interdependence between mother and child and allow their sons to experience individuation, which can be very challenging for them.
But breaking the cycle anywhere else in the patriarchal family structure is a far cry.