Redefining what constitutes a ‘Good Woman’

Reams of papers haven already been written about the rampant crimes against women, lots of noisy debates have been held on the so-called news channels, innumerable videos have been seen and exchanged on social media about the same. Then there have been candlelight marches, protests, against the increasing cases of heinous acts of rapes. Recent ones are the Hyderabad case and Unnao case. But are these actions enough? Is it going to change the way women’s security and safety is dealt with in our country? Are we doing enough to ensure that a woman’s dignity is upheld? The problem is multidimensional, which starts from our home and ends with the state, police and judiciary system. The solution too can’t be uni dimensional.

Social role

Recently got to hear Deepa Narayan, a renowned social scientist and author, besides wearing so many other caps, in a TED Talk episode and she couldn’t have made more sense. She brought out the point with much conviction that in a society that’s highly misogynous, we raise our girls to be anything but self-assured, confident and independent. Interestingly, she pointed out that even women who outwardly looked free and independent, carried misogynistic notions.

She spoke of the term adjustment, which is not just a word for women but almost a bible. ‘Good women’ adjust- to make a bad, violent marriage work, to keep themselves last- for meals, for enjoyment, for everything. ‘Good women’ adjust for family’s sake, to keep up the façade that everything is hunky dory in her world.

Also women are taught to keep quiet, for family honour, for society and for the simple reason that good women don’t talk, do not hold strong opinions, abide by what’s told to them, to keep quiet even when they are molested because ‘this happens’!

Desires are something a ‘good woman’ should not have, especially any kinds that asserts her sexuality! She is brought up with the ‘value’ that its always ‘duty’ over her own desires.

Girls are raised believing that good women are the ones who please others, keeping her own happiness at the back burner. In our culture, they are raised to value loyalty towards men and family secrecy, over their own dreams. After all this was the way for boys to claim power and authority.  Even today, in so many subtle ways we succumb to these notions. Women carried these misguided senses of moralities for so long that these got institutionalized and internalized to the extent that we thought of them as the absolute truth and fact.

Often, within these frameworks only women find their ‘freedom’- to work and earn, to dress as they want, to go out; to consume alcohol; all giving the notion of liberation but in reality, far from it.

Kavita Krishnan, a women’s activist and author of Fearless Freedom, rightly asserted in an interview that patriarchy tells women that they will be safe only if they don’t seek full freedom and mobility.

We keep getting told that sexual violence in public spaces is a given, women can be kept ‘safe’ only if their freedom, autonomy and mobility is restricted. Socially, we are tuned to blame the victim for her failure to keep herself safe. We, which has an overwhelming number of women, question victims’ choice of clothing, her choice of timing to go out, her free behaviour.  If she chooses to be free in true sense, she is named and shamed not only by the men but also by the women who after generations of conditioning, have learnt to look at their own gender through the lenses of men’s perspective. The point is, while we are more forgiving towards a man faltering, it’s not the case with woman.

It’s time that we redefine what constitutes a good woman, breaking the mould of centuries’ old ideas and ideals. Let’s stand not only for ourselves but also for other women. Let’s not judge our own gender through a man’s eyes. Let’s raise our daughters to be fierce, teach them to embrace and celebrate their sexuality and most importantly tell them to unlearn all that they had learnt about being a ‘good woman’!

State role

Besides at social level, sadly, women are let down by the state as well. Pretty much we all know how the encounter of four rapists in Hyderabad, but should this be the solution? Is this how we are going to guarantee security to half of our population? The roads are not safe, the workplace is not safe, homes have perverts lurking in the shadows in the guise of uncles, cousins, neighbours and even fathers. There are people who exploit young gals in the shelter homes. We need much more than Hyderabad like ‘encounters’. By the way the encounter was conducted by the very police who refused to act in time.  Sadder and ironical still was the fact that People across all walks, cheered that encounter, patted the back of the police. And this act does call upon some introspection by our system which has failed people.  Perhaps somewhere they have lost faith in the judicial process. Delayed justice/ high rate of acquittals of convicts because of lack of evidence, (result of faulty investigation), are few of the reasons invoking such a reaction!

We need a multidimensional structural reform to provide women, what’s rightfully theirs. Union Ministry is planning to set up 1000 special* courts to fast-track nearly 1.67 lakh* rape cases, of which a whopping 1.6 lakh* are of child rape! Now the onus lies on the State Govts to respond proactively along with the centre.

Besides, we also need to fix our police investigation system. Even when a case goes to the court and fought, the rate of conviction is mere 32 percent*. It’s kind of manifestation of the fact that every arm of our criminal justice delivery system is falling short; police are failing to investigate cases properly; prosecution is unable to win trials; and lastly, a shortage of judges results in cases piling up.  And I haven’t even mentioned, witnesses turning hostile!

The ever-increasing number of cases brings us to the question as to what happened to the vacant posts of HC judges; staggering 38 percent* of these posts are vacant which makes 410 of 1,079* judges in absolute terms! Now isn’t it reprehensible? Also, if the state continues with this stand, what’s the point of having 1000 more fast-track courts!

To make true changes and make a woman feel safe- in her home, city, state and in her country, all these stakeholders- family, community, center, state govt, police, judiciary and most importantly we ourselves; will have to be serious about reforms and work in earnestness to bring about holistic changes in the way we look at things vis a vis women’s liberty with security !

Copyright © Aradhana Mishra

*Data source- TOI editorial

Content Inspiration- TED talk by Deepa Narayan, Kavita Krishnan, author of Fearless Freedom!

Photo- Depositphotos

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  1. Bhabhi, I am genuinely puzzled by a concept of “good woman”. Is there a single definition ?

    There is no one definition of “good man”. So to say there could be 100 different kind of men who are all good and maybe 100 different kinds altogether who are all bad. So trying to create a single frame to frame all good woman or a good man would not only be extremely tough, but impossible in my view.

    I also heard one friend of mine talk (on facebook post) about how it is tough to be good for woman. My puzzle about that post was why do woman care what other people think ? Yes everyone cares a bit about some views, but I believe you only have to see the person in mirror and be comfortable. Rest of views, you should not care the least. As in no one needs to impress others. When someone decides that they need to impress other or conform to a view to be accepted, they are willingly giving away their own free will. Parents maybe can do most in instilling confidence that it’s ok to have an independent view.

    In a relationship though one always kind of balances what they care the most about vs what their better half cares more about and choose what to assert about and what to not assert about.

    To raise more confident women (or men for that matter) we need to balance opportunities for fun, challenges and independent thinking. Also as you rightfully mentioned, govt need to provide better rule of law where criminals fear or shiver before thinking of committing any crime. In india a parent has additional responsibility of providing safe environment since govt can’t do that (it does not really care) and parents can’t wait for reforms. Youngsters need to demand these reforms though.

    1. Dear Shishir,
      At the onset, let me apologize for being late in replying. Because of some technical glitch, didn’t get the notification of this comment and hence the delay.Coming to your comment, loved going through that. However would like to state that the title of my write up is more like a pasquinade on the state of women (inverted commas of ‘good woman’ assert as much) in our country and to some extent, world over!Surely there cant’ be any definition of a ‘good woman’ and here in lies the irony. The objective of this write up was to bring forth the point that, centuries of conditioning of mind as to what constitutes a good woman, ( again, this itself is a very misogynous term but unfortunately women themselves have succumbed to this and pass this though down the generation), has brought nothing but discrimination and crime against women besides objectification.
      Your suggestions about raising a confident woman are so welcome but quite far from being the reality in most of the house holds, especially in India. Unfortunately the biggest hurdle is their (women’s) mind set which has been conditioned into thinking a certain way. Slowly but surely things are changing, though we need to speed this up many notches.
      for men… thank fully they never needed the ‘good man’ tag. Historically, ‘good woman’ tag was only meant for women in order to find their position in the world which largely revolved around men… in places of power. While men had the ‘power’ women had their ‘good woman’ image to stay close to this power, in order to taste a slice of the same, by virtue of being the ‘good woman’ and thus selected by the men in power.
      Hoping that your last para becomes a reality…sooner than later.
      Also, looking forward to more such thoughts.


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