I would hire Sampat Pal Devi, the leader of the North Indian Gulabi Gang, to beat the philandering Mad Man into submission. For those unfamiliar with Sampat, let me explain. In Utter Pradesh, a northern province of India, misogyny is the norm and patriarchy reigns supreme. Women have little education, and even less money to pursue higher knowledge. Often they are forced into arranged marriages with men who use and abuse them. Sampat is one such woman. In a story I covered for the World Policy Journal, I wrote about the strength of this one woman, who though illiterate, determined to take back her body and take control of her life.
Organizing a group of disenfranchised ladies, Sampat– yes, we’re on a first name basis– formed the Gulabi Gang, which literally translates as the Pink Gang. She chose the name because the identifiable mark of a Gulabi member is her pink sari, and in some cases pink laathi, or bamboo stick, which she employs when beating an abusive husband into obedience. Though many have claimed that her gang is criminal and worthy of severe punishment, I find myself supporting Sampat. In a region where women have no rights or access to legal recourse and where the government refuses to hear their pleas, they have no choice but to play the role of vigilantes. And unlike many vigilantes, their attacks are targeted at a very specific subgroup for which most individuals would have little sympathy– philandering and/or abusive husbands.
Now how different is Utter Pradesh from 1960s New York? In those days, what recourse did women have when their husbands cheated or abused them? The law was made by men, for men. Women like Betty Draper had little opportunity to respond within a formally instituted framework, which is why I think it’s a shame Betty never met Sampat. And yes, I know Betty is a fictional character. But I am certain that she existed in some form in some suburb somewhere in America. I just wish she could have had the strength of someone like Sampat and defied the Good Housekeeping’s Guidelines for a 1950s Housewife which include a number of memorable gems:
– “Don’t ask him questions about his actions or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house, and as such will exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.”
– “Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first- remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.”
-And my personal favorite, “A good wife always knows her place,” as summarized in the below graphic:
I bet you the woman above knew how to make a double bed. And while that means she possessed certain skills I may never acquire, I can honestly say that I am content with that reality. I will have to bring home the bacon (in my case, veggie bacon), and be my own breadwinner. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is more rewarding than a 4 PM chocolate chip cookies and milk break with the kids after school.
Note: A special thanks to Torie, the beloved roommate, whose brilliance and love of Don Draper inspired this entry.