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Denison Journal of Religion

Abstract

This article examines the relationship between the depiction of women and femininity in Hindu myth and the lives and possible oppression of Hindu women today. The author synthesizes this question with Sallie McFague's theory that the way in which cultures use language to construct god(s) reveals how that culture conceptualizes the roles of different members of the community. The first notion that Pyle pursues within this question is dharma. Dharma can be roughly understood as the fulfillment of each person's appropriate role. For women, their primary dharma is to care for their husband and their children. This often consists of a level of nurturing and obedience that places all of their needs and concerns below the needs and concerns of their spouses and children. This idea is embodied in the story of Sita, which women have often told as a way of commiserating on the challenges of womanhood. This story, however, found a retelling in the hands of Mahatma Gandhi, who emphasized Sita's independence and strength in order to bring women into the political arena. Sita's perfectly obedient femininity is juxtaposed, however, with Durga, the warrior goddess who reigns over kings and warriors and who defeats demons no god could. Both of these figures are in possession of Shakti: the force that gives and destroys life. Pyle asks how two such images can exist within one understanding of Hindu womanhood. She concludes that they cannot: that the two forms exist simultaneously, both as perfect representations of femininity. Through the lens of Sallie McFague, Pyle concludes that Hindu woman have the right to decide when they feel oppressed, and at that point to use their own voice and language to redefine womanhood when it becomes necessary

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