One imagines patriarchy as a stuck-up piece of pomposity barking orders in a baritone as womenfolk scurry around, obeying and nodding. Occasionally machismo peeks out of newspaper headlines or movie trailers, warning viewers to avert gaze or look fully. One such event is the Jollyamma Joseph case in Kerala.
Many write-ups have followed the arrest of Jolly, who reportedly carried cyanide in her handbag to bump off all those who annoyed her, delving deep into the state’ psyche where men reign supreme and are mildly shamed by the murderer being a murderess.
That a mere woman outwitted the superior breed of men, so much so that many are now dead, is said to have completely shaken up the state. ‘What? How? Who?’ they ask, mortified that a devout middle-aged housewife could have hoodwinked them for so long. Murder needs nerves of steel, and women are traditionally rumoured to be soft, docile and lacking guts. And that, in a nutshell, is what the moustachioed lot are ruing – the gender of the killer. If Jolly was a man, it would have been routine homicide.
A cause and effect thing
Feminists, on the other hand, see it as a crime very organic and natural. A cause and effect thing. When women are deliberately kept out of the proceedings, infantilised in money and property matters, when they are passed on from father to husband to son, they will at some point retaliate. So how much of Jolly’s motives are her own twisted mind and how much the tow of sexist undercurrents?
Jolly herself seems to have been on an elimination spree when it came to partners. They had to be in well-paid jobs, gentle with her but dynamic, going by reports. Not controlling men, but she did want real men. Of course the term ‘real men’ is subjective and, hence, the high tally of victims. Even as society says she wore the pants, she was on an indefinite hunt for a male partner who would come wearing the said pants.
Who can blame Jolly for dreaming of Mr Right? Women less smarter than her have detoured from happy lives just to fulfil some fantasy about love. And many of them rue the rogues they meet en route. Just like Jolly was no shrinking violet, as women are routinely told to be, manly men turn out to be more of a myth.
A recent Canadian study claims that psychopathic traits make men more desirable to women, as they mimic qualities that the latter are looking for, ‘who display not just a mask of sanity, but an appealing mask that deceptively displays attractive qualities desirable in the marketplace of relationships’, the researchers said.
Men expect women to play a supporting role; women expect men to make their lives comfortable, luxurious even. Broad shoulders, protectiveness, deep caring and deeper pockets – what romance novels fling at us while caricaturing the opposite sex. No wonder then that some women restlessly go scavenging through available candidates and end up disillusioned. No wonder then that some women kill.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival. Read Shinie Antony's columns