Different Strokes|Jan 5, 2013 4:25 AM| by:

Man and Woman – forever distinct?

This is a December few of us will forget. Delhi-ites, Indians and people across the world waited with anxiety and prayer for two whole weeks to see her live. We all felt tragedy upon us, personally, like never before. The outburst of spontaneous, center-less protests that continue to this day amply demonstrate that

“..there is a secret unity between our self and the self of others and therefore between our own lives and the lives of others”. 1

Perhaps it is in times like these that society makes a genuine effort to seek for lasting solutions, for during ‘peacetime’, there are the incessant demands of life, of family and everything else. One author opined that fathers, parents and teachers ought to concentrate more on how they bring up their boys rather than teach their daughters how they ought to dress, or what is ‘approved behavior’, and what is not.

This is a step in the right direction, surely – but I think we are ensnared by other ideas and conceptions which hold us back from something fuller. The idea for instance that our bodies define but a form, that we are tied by habit and instinct to see our opposite sex as ‘the other‘, separate and distinct from ourselves.

In fact, there is an evocative line from a commentary on the Isha Upanishad :

“The sense that this is I and that is you…so long as the difference between I and you exists, hatred cannot cease..war cannot cease.” 2

So the question for us boils down to something very basic –  for our part, the part directly in our hands, if we truly wish to change anything – are we willing to do any inner work? If this sense of separateness between man and woman continues to be supported and amplified, should the consequences of this folly be surprising to us?

Bodily Strength in Women

Consider a commonly held yet perverse belief regarding bodily strength in women. Both men and women jointly exclaim ‘eww !’, ‘gross !’ or find it unbecoming when women have any noticeable muscles. Why? Societies the world over look down upon women who exhibit even a hint of muscular strength. Almost by definition, this is considered un-feminine, because real strength is of course reserved for men. This is nothing if not a perversion of ideals.

In this context, let us see what the Mother had to say to a student 3 :

Will a girl’s appearance change and become muscular like a muscular man’s and make her look ugly if she practises vigorous exercises?

Weakness and fragility may look attractive in the view of a perverted mind, but it is not the truth of Nature nor the truth of the Spirit.

If you have ever looked at the photos of the women gymnasts you will know what perfectly beautiful bodies they have; and nobody can deny that they are muscular!

What should be the ideal of physical education for a girl from the point of view of her sex?

I do not see why there should be any special ideal of physical education for girls other than for boys. Physical education has for its aim to develop all the possibilities of a human body, possibilities of harmony, strength, plasticity, cleverness, agility, endurance, and to increase the control over the functioning of the limbs and the organs, to make of the body a perfect instrument at the disposal of a conscious will. This programme is excellent for all human beings equally, and there is no point in wanting to adopt another one for girls.

Highlighting our inherent biases on the feminine form

Maybe you can try this with your friends –  ask them why they believe so strongly in their fixed idea of form for a woman’s body. When we speak of equality, we don’t stop to ask ourselves if men and women should even aspire to achieve the same level of strength, so conditioned are we to expect that women must be physically weaker. By and large, women have come to accept the past as a permanent pointer to the future. The biases perpetuate, and parents inevitably pass on their beliefs to their children.

In the competitive realm of athletics, differences owing to gender are shrinking, a fact I’d alluded to earlier. While such athletes only represent a miniscule fraction of society, they serve to remind us of an intrinsic or fundamental equality – even in the body, which we tend to collectively ignore.

This isn’t a call for women to go build muscle to save themselves from the currently more physically powerful sex, but just an observation which demonstrates how women accept to not develop physical strength partly because it may show.

This is something I feel women ought to reflect on. Why have you accepted this? Our new age body culture admits yoga, jogging, hiking as ‘good’ for women, but still shuns push-ups and chin-ups, because there is a ‘risk’ of muscular formation. At least now, can we not ask – why? Are these exercises reserved only for men?

As men, we should ask ourselves if this media and pop-culture based idea of the female form is something consistent with our internal righteous notions of equality. What is it within us that ‘okays’ and perhaps even encourages women to exercise, so long as there is no hint of what is considered ‘masculine’?

On Intrinsic Equality and the end of separateness

On a much deeper note, and related to this theme of intrinsic equality, I’d like to share this powerful essay titled ‘The Problem of Woman‘. 4 I think is worth reading because it is as much about the Problem of Man; The two problems are inseparable. It is not a list of solutions or advice or anything temporal – it is Wisdom. And the more I read it, the more conscious I become or am nudged to become of my own road-blocks.

What happened in Delhi will not be ‘solved’ by external methods, though they are a must, and at this point, a dire necessity. The problem is with the present state of humanity, and until the crux of the psychological condition is not understood, and not worked upon, until a real, and lasting basis not found to the disharmony between the sexes, we will be marching valiantly – in the dark.

About The Mother

The Problem of Woman

I wish to speak to you about the problem of woman, a problem as old as mankind in appearance, but infinitely older in origin. For if we want to find the law that governs and solves it, we must go back to the origin of the universe, even beyond the creation.


In any case, the indisputable fact remains: man feels superior and wants to dominate, woman feels oppressed and revolts, openly or secretly; and the eternal quarrel between the sexes is perpetuated from age to age, identical in essence, innumerable in its forms and hues.

Of course man throws the whole blame on woman, just as woman throws the entire blame on man. In truth the blame should be equally distributed between the two and neither can boast of being superior to the other. Moreover, until this notion of superiority and inferiority is eliminated, nothing and no one can put an end to the misunderstanding that divides the human species into two opposite camps, and the problem will not be solved.

So many things have been said and written on this problem, it has been approached from so many angles, that a whole volume would not be enough to expound all its aspects. Generally speaking, the theories are excellent, or, in any case, all have their own virtues; but the practice has proved less successful and I do not know whether from the point of view of realisation we have made any headway since the Stone Age. For in their mutual relationships, man and woman are at once rather despotic masters and somewhat pitiable slaves to each other.

Yes, slaves; for so long as one has desires, preferences and attachments, one is a slave of these things and of the people on whom one is dependent for their satisfaction. Thus woman is enslaved to man because of the attraction she feels for the male and his strength, because of the desire for a home and the security it brings, and lastly because of the attachment to motherhood. Man too on his side is enslaved to woman, because of his possessiveness, his thirst for power and domination, because of his desire for sexual relations and because of his attachment to the little comforts and conveniences of married life.

That is why no law can liberate women unless they liberate themselves; likewise, men too, in spite of all their habits of domination, will cease to be slaves only when they have freed themselves from all inner enslavement.

And this state of veiled struggle, often unavowed but always present in the subconscient even in the best cases, seems unavoidable, unless human beings rise above their ordinary consciousness to identify themselves with the perfect consciousness and unite with the Supreme Reality. For as soon as one attains this higher consciousness one realises that the difference between man and woman reduces itself to a purely physical difference.

As a matter of fact, there may have been on earth in the beginning a pure masculine type and a pure feminine type, each with its own special and clearly differentiated characteristics; but in course of time, the inevitable mixture, heredity, all the sons that looked like their mothers, all the daughters that looked like their fathers, social progress, similar occupations—all this has made it impossible today to discover one of these pure types: all men are feminine in many respects and all women are masculine in many traits, especially in modern societies.5 But unfortunately, because of the physical appearance, the habit of quarrelling is perpetuated, perhaps even aggravated by a spirit of rivalry.

In their best moments, both man and woman can forget their difference of sex, but it reappears at the slightest provocation; the woman feels she is a woman, the man knows he is a man and the quarrel is revived indefinitely in one form or another, open or veiled, and perhaps all the more bitter the less it is admitted. And one wonders whether it will not be so until there are no longer any men or women, but living souls expressing their identical origin in sexless bodies.

For one dreams of a world in which all these oppositions will at last disappear and where a being will be able to live and prosper who will be the harmonious synthesis of all that is best in the human race, uniting conception and execution, vision and creation in one single consciousness and action. Until such a happy and radical solution is reached, India remains, on this point as on many others, the land of violent and conflicting contrasts, which can nevertheless be resolved by a very wide and comprehensive synthesis.

Indeed, is it not in India that we find the most intense adoration, the most complete veneration of the Supreme Mother, creatrix of the universe, conqueror of all enemies, mother of all the gods and all the worlds, dispenser of all boons? And is it not in India too that we find the most radical condemnation, the uttermost contempt for the feminine principle, Prakriti, Maya, corrupting illusion, cause of every fall and every misery, Nature that deceives and defiles and lures away from the Divine?

The whole life of India is shot through with this contradiction; she suffers from it in both mind and heart. Everywhere feminine deities are erected on her altars; the children of India await salvation and liberation from their Mother Durga. And yet is it not one of her children who said that the Avatar would never incarnate in the body of a woman, because no right-minded Hindu would recognise him! Fortunately, the Divine is not affected by such a narrow sectarian spirit or moved by such petty considerations. And when it pleases him to manifest in a terrestrial body, he cares very little whether or not he is recognised by men. Besides, in all his incarnations, he seems always to have preferred children and simple hearts to the learned.

In any case, until the manifestation of a new conception and consciousness compels Nature to create a new species which would no longer have to yield to the necessity of animal pro- creation and thus be under the obligation of dividing into two complementary sexes, the best that can be done for the progress of the present human race is to treat both sexes on a footing of perfect equality, to give them the same education and training and to teach them to find, through a constant contact with a Divine Reality that is above all sexual differentiation, the source of all possibilities and harmonies.

And it may be that India, the land of contrasts, will also be the land of new realisations, even as she was the cradle of their conception.

April 1955

Notes and References

  1. pp 632, The Ideal of Human Unity. See Book_2 here
  2. The actual line from the Isha goes thus : “The Self in all existences, and all existences in the Self.”    {Isha, 6}
  3. The entire chapter To Women about Their Body, where Mother responds to a whole set of questions is accessible in the book On Education, (Vol 12, pp 290)
  4. The full essay is accessible in Mother’s book On Education, (Vol 12, pp 102)
  5. Someone asked Her “Then why is there a complex still?”, to which came the reply: “Because they don’t know themselves. They don’t know themselves and then they are the slaves of their form. Because when they look at themselves in a mirror they see that they are men, and the women see that they are women—and they are slaves of the physical form.”