The Breakthrough Voice 13th May, 2019

The Family Unit – Where The Objectification Of Women Starts.

‘Marriages Are Made’

My cousin Elena
is to be married
The formalities
have been completed:
her family history examined
for T.B. and madness
her father declared solvent
her eyes examined for squints
her teeth for cavities
her stools for the possible
non-Brahmin worm.
She’s not quite tall enough
and not quite full enough
(children will take care of that)
Her complexion it was decided
would compensate, being just about
the right shade
of rightness
to do justice to
Francisco X. Noronha Prabhu
good son of Mother Church.
              – Eunice de Souza


Objectification of women is a common practice that prevails in society across various institutions, beliefs and even cultural norms. The family is, in fact, the first place where this starts. Family is an institution of primary socialisation and this institution promotes blatant sexualisation and objectification of women. The ways in which women are treated as mere commodities within the family are discussed below.

Starting from the time they are born, women are thought of as liabilities to family members. In most cases, parents start saving funds for their daughters’ weddings. However, whenever a son is born into the family, parents focus on saving funds for his education and career. From the very beginning, gendered norms and practices are imbibed and propagated. Little girls are monitored for their movements and behaviour much more than the boys are.

Since their childhood days, girls are made to believe that they are ‘fragile’ and that they must keep themselves covered in order to ‘protect their honour’. There are many instances of women being instructed to wear clothes that cover their bodies when the male members of the family are at home. This is a method of moral policing with respect to the female body. Such a forced practice is a result of sexualising women’s bodies. It is not the woman that is to be blamed for wearing what she wants – rather it is the people who cannot stop sexualising her body, even if they are her own family members.

A common and problematic practice within the family, especially during weddings, is the taunting and teasing of women. This cultural practice, which most families proudly propagate, qualifies as harassment of women with regard to their independence and sexual preferences. One very common example lies in the Hindi phrase “saali adhi gharwaali hoti hain”. This means that a man’s sister-in-law is his “half-wife”.

Starting from the time they are born, women are thought of as liabilities to family members.

This not only implies that the sister-in-law (the woman in question) is being thought of as a commodity for sexual bait, without her consent, but it also promotes the notions of adultery and incest. According to the defenders of this cultural practice, it is ‘joke’ that is to be dismissed. However, what one does not understand while promoting such practices is that these stem from the objectification of women and result in the same, further aggravating it. It, therefore, culminates into a vicious cycle.

Apart from these, there is yet another problematic practice that lecherously objectifies the women in the family, at times, even without their own awareness of the same. In many of the porn sites, it is common to come across videos named “bhabi sex video”, “sexy bhabi”, etc. These videos portray actual as well as imaginary sexual relations between s sister-in-law and a brother-in-law. Viewing such videos and gaining pleasure from them not only makes one think of their sister-in-law as a sexualised and pleasurable object, but also portrays adulterous and incestuous relations.

With respect to the religious practices during weddings, there are norms that essentially originate from objectifying women as liable commodities. In fact, what is more disturbing is the fact that, with the changing times, certain norms are being challenged by people, whereas some others norms that are equally harmful, are being promoted as being romantic and beautiful. Such are the cases of dowry and kanyadaan. Of late, there have been many arguments that state that dowry actually objectifies men by putting price tags on them, instead of promoting women as the centre of transaction.

However, while drawing up arguments, one must definitely not forget the reason behind asking for dowry. Women are very much the epicentre of the transaction that entails threat, abuse, third-degree torture and even murder. There are instances of the groom’s family asking for higher dowry, owing to high educational degrees and career-related success. The entire system of dowry is based on the woman being objectified in terms of being ‘perfect’ and agreeing to do the household chores for her husband. The dowry is generally stated as a price for the ‘maintenance’ of the bride, after marriage.

Although many are protesting against dowry, the idea of kanyadaan has not been contested against – as being a ritual that objectifies women. During a wedding ceremony, kanyadaan is a ritual that is performed by the father of the bride, wherein he ‘hands over’ his daughter to the groom. This practice stems from the idea that the woman is an object that is controlled by her initial family and is later handed over to another family. A woman’s decision to marry is completely her own call and nobody has to hand her over to somebody else. She is not a mere commodity to be handed over from one institution to another, to be controlled by the patriarchal society.

During a wedding ceremony, kanyadaan is a ritual that is performed by the father of the bride, wherein he ‘hands over’ his daughter to the groom.

In a traditional arranged marriage setting, the groom, along with his primary family members, goes from one house to another, in search of the ‘perfect bride’. This is similar to the method in which one generally hops from one retail outlet to another, in search of the perfect dress, t-shirt or shoes. This signifies that women are considered as objects for sale by their own family members. During this selection process, the groom’s family mostly shows concerns about the societal standards of morality possessed by the woman under scrutiny. This is a method of dominating and controlling the life of the woman.

Another vital factor that magnifies the practice of objectifying women within the family is marital rape. The acknowledgement that a woman has the ultimate right to her own body and that nobody else can violate her personal boundaries does not seem to exist in our society. A married woman is considered to be a puppet in the hands of her husband. Her right over her own body ceases to exist.

The notions of consent and coercion amalgamate into one massive courtyard of misconception, arising from masculine ego. The traditional institution of marriage seems to be the key to flashing unending masculine power and objectifying women to such an extent that only makes them look like sex slaves for their husbands. Moreover, even the highest court of law in the country fails to acknowledge marital rape as a crime, stating that acknowledging the same will lead to a breakage in the institution! The institution of marriage clearly rests on patriarchy, of which the objectification of women in the family is an integral part.

Objectification of women within the family has become so commonplace that acts of everyday casual sexism do not intersect the radar of offensive behaviour. For example, people who stand up against gendered practices and discrimination provide their explanations on the basis of the derived identity of women. Although there are many people who mean well, they do not understand the manner in which regular sexism works. Protesting against gender-based violence by stating that the women being abused are sisters, mothers, daughters and wives only objectifies them even more. Such a standpoint dissolves the independent identity of a woman, reducing her only to be known as somebody’s somebody.

Women have been objectified in every stratum of society starting with the family. With such patriarchal notions and practices, imbibed from the beginning of one’s life, the society cannot progress much in terms of ‘morality’ in its actual sense.

Also Read: Why Are We Protecting The Institution Of Marriage By Justifying Marital Rape?

Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: YouTube

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