From mythological tales to religious scriptures, from daily soaps on Indian television to mainstream pop culture – there is a common theme that keeps coming up in discourse. The theme of a manipulative woman, a woman who lures a saint to break his cycle of celibacy, a woman manipulating her husband to get what she wants, a woman manipulating her in-laws so that they don’t become aware of her life choices.
And, since time immemorial these manipulative women have been shown in a bad light. These women are tagged as “unsanskaari” and are swiftly ostracized from society. There is no denying the fact that dishonesty and inauthenticity should not be adorned by any person, whatsoever but how do we judge these values and parameters in a society where particular genders are not allowed to exist in the way that they find suitable.
Telling a lie with good intentions is not counted as a lie – is what we are told. However, we end up forgetting this when it comes to the case of a woman. Are women not allowed to lie, if the lie serves a good purpose in their life?
This theme of manipulative women is nothing but debatable. Most people would look at this theme in complete black and white, either agreeing or completely discarding the reality of manipulative women. Nonetheless, there lies a grey area when judging this particular theme. The context matters, the position of women in the social hierarchy matters, the influence of systems of injustice matters, the reality of the women’s lives matters – when we slowly start deconstructing and unpacking the term “manipulative women.”
There is no short, one word, one line answer to if women are manipulative. Certainly, it depends on the context of these women and their lived reality.
In a patriarchal society, women are not allowed to live their life as per their terms, conditions, needs, and wishes. They are told that the outside world is bad. That this world is not a safe place for women – but we forget to ask ourselves the question of who is making this world unsafe for women?
The larger structures like patriarchy and capitalism benefit from this sense of feeling unsafe and insecure. Women spend large sums of money to fit into unrealistic standards – how capitalism is benefitted, and again women have to manipulate others, even their loved ones to cater to their own hopes and aspirations – something that benefits patriarchy.
This manipulation of other people by women actually perpetuates the theme that “women are bad, dishonest, and inauthentic creatures” which fuels patriarchy into telling the world that women don’t deserve the power, they are not deserving of working or living a life dictated by their own desires.
Are women manipulative? Maybe. Why? Because sometimes they just have to!
To understand this better, let’s take an example. An educated, motivated, and passionate woman gets married into a conservative household and is now denied her right of having a full-time job because if she works – who will complete the other household chores from taking care of the husband, kids, in-laws to cooking, cleaning, washing?
Yes, unrealistic, stubborn, unjustified gender roles are constantly reinforced, and truly is there any escape from this reality? We’d love to know! (Tell us in the comments below.)
Now, if this woman still wants to work and aspires to stay independent – what will be her escape route? She can somehow charmingly manipulate the in-laws by asking them to allow her to take a work-from-home part-time job. This route seems dishonest but genuinely, it is the only way for the woman to pursue her dreams, even if she does not get to enjoy the full picture.
Women are told to compromise and manage and adjust. They are asked and constantly battered to tweak their limitations, requirements, aspirations, and boundaries so that they can accommodate the needs, demands, whims, and wishes of other people.
Sometimes, women’s way of compromising, managing, and adjusting with their own dreams and aspirations is by manipulation and that is okay, valid, and justified until it is not causing any grievous hurt to anyone.
People manipulate to get what they want. It is as simple as that. Sure, there is no running away from the fact that it sounds all selfish and narcissistic but it is what it is.
The same argument goes for manipulative females. They manipulate others to get what they want. They manipulate others to live a life that they are not allowed to live by the patriarchy. Manipulating is simply a way of resisting the dominant discourse of patriarchy.
And, like everything, there is a dark side to manipulation too. Manipulating other people to selfishly fulfill your own needs without thinking of the welfare of others is nothing but wrong and immoral and cruel! Manipulating your boyfriend to get that designer bag – nope, that’s not patriarchy’s influence, that’s you acting as an immoral and obnoxious woman.
In the movie English Vinglish, if Sashi hadn’t manipulated her family, she would have never learned English and neither would she have been able to make her husband and kids proud of her ability to learn and speak and become that impressive and charming woman.
Sometimes, manipulation is the way for women to survive and obviously, this theme of manipulation as the way to survive is entirely context-dependent. Many Indian women have to lure and manipulate their husbands so that their husbands don’t exploit them and do not take their advantage.
The patriarchal society teaches men to treat women as objects. They are told that they need to show their superiority and power over women by pulling them down. To save themselves from these everyday injustices of living, and existing women have to become manipulative to survive.
The patriarchal world that we live in is cruel. The world does not leave any opportunity for women to not grow and to follow the paths that they desire and aspire. To carve their own roads to success, and to become the kind of woman they admire – women manipulate, they use this means to fulfill their own and to me, it seems justified as long as the manipulation is not causing anyone emotional, physical, or psychological harm and hurt.