(In)ability to Assert Independence and Freedom of Choice: A Comparative Study of the Treatment of Women in British and Bengali Ballads

Author: MD Abu Shahid Abdullah (University of Asia Pacific, Bangladesh)
Speaker: MD Abu Shahid Abdullah
Topic: Language, Gender, Sexuality
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


Women are depicted in quite a large number of British and Bengali ballads either as protagonists or characters where their identity is determined by their relationship with a male, e.g., somebody’s wife, beloved, daughter, mother or sister. Most importantly, the portrayal of female characters is grounded on the belief that women are weak and insignificant creatures who need security from their male counterparts. The depiction of female characters is, on the one hand, negative and full of violence, and on the other hand, positive, passive and objectified, and that the characters are socially constructed and are the part of a patriarchal hierarchy. Although both the depiction is influenced by the patriarchal pattern of society, the contrast between Bengali and British ballads in the treatment of women is quite illuminating.

In the presentation, I will show that although women in both kinds of ballads are considered and shown inferior to men, women in Bengali ballads are portrayed more positively than women in British ballads. In British ballads, women are murdered, raped, and violently beaten by their male counterparts, are considered sinful temptresses and lecherous when they try to behave independently, disobeying their male counterparts; they are positively depicted when they are obedient and do not revolt, when they abide by their families, and follow their lovers, husbands, fathers or brothers without questioning them. In Bengali ballads, although women are depicted in a way to meet up the demands of the patriarchal society, they are not harassed, tortured or murdered by their men if they disobey them. Bengali women possess diversity in their attitudes, skills, and tastes; they are independent, confident, passionate, determined, and devoted. Interestingly, in quite a number of ballads the heroines assert their freedom and possess a towering grandeur. I will prove this comparatively positive depiction of women in Bengali ballads by contrasting some British and Bengali ballads on issues like women’s assertion of independence and freedom of choice, cruel treatment by their male counterparts, murder of own child, education, and such.

Keywords: Ballads, identity, patriarchal society, freedom