“If women go out to work, will men stay at home?!”, said a man.
There are a set of rules which form the bedrock of a patriarchal system. A public private divide of work is one of them. Men belong to the public sphere. Women belong to the private realm. Women work at home. Men go out and are the breadwinner of the family.
The work that women do at home is essential for a society to function. However, the work that they do is devalued, unpaid, exploited, in fact is not even considered to be work. Through a normalisation of this public private dichotomy, where one is superior to the other, what has been perpetuated is discrimination against women where their life possibilities have already been defined by those in power.
What happens when women challenge this public private dichotomy and enter the public sphere? Yet another dichotomy is constructed to systematically deny them equal opportunities. Some jobs are identified as masculine and some of the jobs are identified as feminine. A woman who teaches or a woman who works at a parlour receives more acceptance than a woman who defies stereotypes and enters ‘masculine’ fields such as combat roles, sports such as wrestling or say driving an auto.
When women enter the public sphere, when women take up roles which have traditionally been identified as masculine, a direct challenge is posed to a patriarchal system. When such a direct challenge is posed, resistance and backlash is not surprising. Women are constantly harassed, discriminated, all with an aim of sending then back to their ‘designated’ space; the domestic realm. Women breaking stereotypes and entering these traditionally masculine fields is perceived as a threat to manhood and the woman’s honor is put up for questioning.
Our Breakthrough team went to Rohtak, Haryana following a story of women auto drivers. When you watch the video, you will hear two stories of women breaking stereotypes and occupying their rightful space in the public sphere. There is nothing about them being women which stops them from being women drivers. The challenge does not come from them, rather from the people around them. One of the woman auto drivers mentions how the black autowalas (men) trouble them. Also, when the Breakthrough team spoke to the men auto drivers, the discomfort with women driving autos was evident. It was not just discomfort rather an outright rejection of what these women had dared to do. And why would they not reject the idea? Afterall, it does infiltrate their sphere of privilege and supremacy.
The video ends on a powerful note. Rekha, the auto driver says that if an Indira Gandhi could run the country, women can drive autos too. Oh the joy the statement brings! Reena and Rekha are examples which break all patriarchal stereotypes associated with women. There is nothing inherent or biological which makes women the weaker sex. All that we need is some questioning, questioning of what seems obvious and absolute. And as, Reena and Rekha say in the video, the times have changed. There is only one way to go with this change and the way is forward where women live a life of limitless possibilities.