Sarah significant discrimination in their education as well

Sarah Hughes

Mrs. Hewlett

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30 November 2017

Silenced Women and
Secret Daughters


Despite international progress,
sexism is well and alive across the globe; even in western culture, where
society is sometimes apathetic towards sexism due to its lesser
prevalence.  The more obvious and tragic
forms of sexism can be seen in many cultures such as India, as shown in the
novel Secret Daughter.  In various novels this issue of gender discrimination
is touched upon, however the novel Secret
Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda,
is able to bring these unfortunate aspects of society to the forefront by contrasting
the lives of two mothers, Somer and Kavita, through the use of varying
circumstances and socioeconomic climates. The frequent occurrences of
discrimination, abuse and social pressures placed on these women seem to play a
large role in the determination of their self-worth; a regrettable consequence
of the societies in which they are raised. The novel shows these disparities by
highlighting the discrimination in educational and career based injustices for
both women, in the abuse surrounding the abhorrent conditions of patriarchal
justice and decisions in India, and in the social pressures placed on both
women which present the idea that women are considered successful based on
their family lives. The application of the feminist criticism allows the reader
to very clearly examine the role that gender inequalities and the implications
of motherhood place on the self-worth of the female protagonists in the novel.

Somer and Kavita
both face significant discrimination in their education as well as in the workplace.
Similar to many women growing up in India, Kavita was brought up in a family
where she was not given the chance at an education and was raised with the idea
that her fate was to become a housewife. In many societies such as India, “It
was not common for women to work outside of the home and most were subjugated
to being housewives while their husbands earned all of the money” (Dixon). In
such an inherently patriarchal environment, from birth, these women are taught that
their husband will be the one to provide for them and that they shouldn’t aspire
to have an education or a career. At the beginning of the novel, Kavita is
forced to give away her daughter, and the men in the city disapprovingly
question why she is unable to care for the baby. These men “all try to
ascertain whether the baby is deformed, or whether Kavita is unwed or just too
poor to keep the child” (Gowda 34). This form of discrimination helps support
the idea that many of the men in this society believe that a child can only be
properly taken care of in a home where there is a man to provide for the
family. This is one of the frequent occurrences of discrimination that women in
many cultures face every day. The gender biases and discrimination found in
predominately male-lead civilizations often lead to women being treated as
weaker than men. As a result, women are continuously told that they are
incapable of striving for a position where they are respected or pursuing
ventures that may endanger them. Somers adoptive daughter, Asha, quickly
becomes aware of this bigotry when she spends her summer in India. When telling
a man of her research in the slums, he develops a look of concern on his face.
Asha reacts by asking, “What, are you going to tell me to be careful like
everyone else?”(Gowda 236). It is evident that many citizens discourage women
from roaming the streets by themselves and often people believe that it is wise
for women to leave their homes only when there is a man to accompany them.
These condescending opinions are often seen as societal normalcies, but in
reality, are large contributors to the issue of gender disparities in a number
of societies.  Although many people
living in western culture are ignorant of the matter in their own societies,
gender inequality continues to be a consequential issue that is in need of improvement.
While most women in Western culture have the chance at an education, women
often still face oppression in their place of education as well as the
workplace. In the novel, Somer can attest to this prejudice due to her own
experiences as a female brought up in this education system. While Somer was in
high school, she experiences these biases when she heard her “chemistry teacher’s
suggestion to let her male lab partner run the experiments” (Gowda 20).  The discrimination found in these environments
has a large impact on how these women go about their everyday life. It is clear
throughout the novel that the female protagonists face many injustices in such
androcentric environments.

Gowda also shows
how this androcentric climate contributes to the oppression of women by
highlighting the abuse of females in patriarchal societies. In a society such
as India, with an unfortunately misogynistic justice system, women are often
abused and mistreated on behalf of their husbands. In Secret Daughter, this predicament is a large factor contributing to
the gender disparities seen in India. 
When Kavita and her family are living in the slums, they experience a
police raid that leads to a horrifying act of revenge as means of justice. A
man living near their hut had committed a crime, and when the police could not
find him but instead his daughter, “in front of her mother and young brothers,
and while neighbors listened in fear, they brutally raped her” (Gowda 22). This
abhorrent act is a very powerful demonstration of the way in which the men in
some socioeconomic climates are treating women; regarding them as property to
be owned, used, and controlled. Living in this type of society can also result
in women facing many economic challenges. In an environment where the men are
providing for the family, if the man loses his job it will often fall on the
woman to find means of work; usually falling to the whims of men, being denied
the opportunity of a job where they can use their intellect to help support
their children. When first doing research in India, Asha is shocked when she
sees many women, with no education, trying to make money to survive. When she
is visiting one area of India, “Asha shudders involuntarily as she looks at
this woman who lives in squalor, prostituting herself to survive”(Gowda 253). This
is yet another example in the novel of women being treated in a demeaning and
oppressive manner. This type of abuse towards women is brought to Somer’s
attention when she is visiting India to see her husband’s family. Somer decides
to walk through the village by herself, and on her way, she is objectified and
harassed by men on the street. Somer first notices this when “she sees a
mustached man eyeing her, starring brazenly at her breasts, nudging his friends”
(Gowda 77). This is extremely off-putting to Somer,
but she continues walking. As she reaches a crowded area, “Somer feels a body
press up against her buttocks and a hand squeeze her breast” (Gowda 77). Somer
immediately escapes the crowd and quickly returns home. The degrading and
misogynistic acts of these men have a significant influence on Somer’s
composure, and in many cases, these actions can cause women to question their
self-respect.  These forms of abuse show
the deep and devastating consequences of the sexism that occurs in a
patriarchal society and justice system.

In addition to
the abuse and discrimination these two mothers face throughout the novel, the
pressure placed on women to be “successful” solely based on their family lives
shows the influence that gender biases in society have on women’s self-worth.
This is evident at the very start of the novel, when Jasu, Kavitas husband,
will only accept a boy for a child and kills their first daughter minutes after
she is born. Kavita resents him for his actions, but on the third attempt Kavita
is finally able to give Jasu a son. Once the baby is born, everyone around
Kavita begins to treat her much differently. Jasu’s family begins to treat her
as if she is a person rather than property. She first comes to this realization
when she is with Jasu’s mother and “Kavita cannot remember ever seeing such a
show of generosity from her mother-in-law”(Gowda 72). These changes in her
lifestyle, although she assumed would make her happy, prompt Kavita to resent
her husband even more, as well as envy the life she could have had with her
second daughter, whom she gave away. This chain of events provides evidence of
Kavita questioning her self-worth. Back in America, Somer finds herself in many
situations in which she is questioning who she has become. Somer decides to
switch jobs when they adopt Asha in order to watch her, but feels pressure to
do so due to the idea that it is the woman’s job rather than the mans. When
talking to an old coworker, it is apparent that Somer is unhappy with her new,
less satisfying job when she states, “I’m working over at the community medical
clinic in Palo Alto, so lots of coughs and colds…but hey I can pick up my 6
year old daughter from school everyday”(Gowda 107). Somer was a very
intelligent doctor at a high-end job but compromised her career to care for
Asha. Once Asha has grown up, Somer finds she is feeling a lack of self-esteem and
discovers “her profession no longer defines her, but neither does being a
mother. Both are pieces of her and yet they don’t seem to add to a whole”(Gowda
108).   In both the lives of Kavita and Somer, the pressures
of not only a patriarchal society but also of motherhood leave them both
feeling as if there is something missing from their lives.

When the
feminist theory is applied, one can clearly examine the roles that gender
biases and prejudice have on the self-worth of females by exploring the
discrimination, abuse, and social pressures the female characters face throughout
the novel. Kavita, Somer and many other female characters face discrimination
in educational settings and the workplace, experience abuse in the unfortunate
conditions of a predominantly male society, and struggle with social pressures.
This leads the female characters to question numerous aspects of their worth as
women and as people. These gender disparities are present all over the world to
different degrees and continuously undermine women’s rights; the devastating
consequences of which are made apparent through analyzing the ideology of the
patriarchy in this novel.






Works Cited


Dixon, Violet K. “Western Feminism in a Global Perspective.” Inquiries
Journal/Student Pulse3.02 (2011).


Gowda, Shilpi Somaya. Secret daughter. William
Morrow, 2011.


Hewlett, Lindsey. Literary
Criticism. Uxbridge: Uxbridge Secondary School, 2012.