THE MONSTER UNDER THE BED
Writing has often been for me a way of bringing some greater amount of conceptual clarity to the puzzling issues in everyday life.
Today I would like to try and understand what the meaning of patriarchy is? Popularly it is defined as a system of social life where man presides at the centre and the apex of the power structure. I feel this definition fails me because definitions by nature are restrictive and it ceases to capture the softer and more complex dynamics of this huge organism called patriarchy. This is an attempt to understand patriarchy through some examples at an individual level.
We are more or less educated about what might well be called the hard power of patriarchy. It is present in sex-selective abortions and killing of the girl child. It creeps up grinning when the girl child is not educated or given career opportunities, and I appreciate the insufficient but yet positive change that has been brought in the scenario due to the efforts of many of us.
Instead of this I fearfully observe some other aspects of patriarchy which do not find enough representation in media and our culture, because of which action towards the deconstruction of the same remains scanty.
I would like, to begin with, the story of Matilda (name changed), a trans-woman who was raped various times during her early years by several school seniors. Matilda notes that her feminine manners were ridiculed more than often and she was threatened because of her feminity.
So was she raped because the seniors of her school were sex starved or was it that it was a punishment that was meted out to her because she transgressed the gender norms of a society with rigid gender conditioning?
Rape is generally regarded as a sex crime. Which is to say that people starved of sex commit rape! By this definition, a country like India with big prostitution industries should have a fairly low statistical occurrence of rape crimes.
Intriguingly that is not the case.
A very different but yet similar is the account of Niharika (name changed) who was raped after she refused the sexual advances of a fellow peer. Niharika’s story is one we have heard before.
So is Rape a sex crime or a power crime and is it at all related to the politics of gender?Honour killings too are painted in a similar shade.
This is an attempt to talk about honor Killings from a different perspective. From one of the victimizers instead of the victims. I would like to beg your pardon if this in any way seems like I justify the actions meted out by them because I do not justify the atrocious actions. But let’s try to take a moment to think about what makes a father and a mother want to murder their own daughter, one who has been a part of their lives for approximately 18 to 20 years?
Have any of those fathers ever felt any affections towards the daughters they killed? Does the brother shut his eyes before he shoots his elder sister at her head? Does a mother ever remember the daughter, whose murder she thinks is apt, for the sake of honor, after she resumes her everyday housework? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then what is it, that makes human beings become these hideous creatures? Are there any undercurrents to the existence of these hideous creatures that walk amongst us? Is it possible that these undercurrents are manifestations of a deep-rooted social, cultural and ideological evil synonymous with the word patriarchy? Is it healthy for the emotional development of our boys to grow up indoctrinated, imbibing these cultural constructs? And finally, are women the only victims of patriarchy or does it victimize all?
The story of Amisi in this regard particularly touches me. Amisi is a woman from Egypt that I met during the time I was living in South India. Her career record was excellent. She was a high-class practicing doctor who trotted across the globe for work. She seemed to symbolize the empowered woman and she still does, but I was astonished when she mentioned that she was flying back to Egypt for a procedure of genital circumcision. This was a mark of the ‘good woman’ in her culture. This was a way for her to connect back to her roots. The hold of her patriarchal cultural norms on Amisi amazed me. She brought about various ways of convincing me that the traditional custom of circumcision had nothing to do with the repression of feminine sexuality.
Amisi sadly reminds me that patriarchy lurches in from all directions. It is enforced by not only men but even women. It seems like an omnipresent system pervading through most things, most connivingly. This is what I call the ‘Soft Power’ of patriarchy. The most latent one that is hard to detect.
A fellow peer once remarked, “Maa sabse badi hoti hai”. He justified his statement by explaining how well a mother performs all activities of motherhood, like procreating, raising, cooking, caring, and sacrificing selflessly. This reminded me of the familiar Indian custom of equalizing a mother with God. This also led me to ponder about and question the validity of the extreme glorification of Motherhood in our country. Is it fair to glorify motherhood to such an extent that it overshadows all other aspects of a woman’s life? Is she not a human being, an artist, a lover, a woman etc? Is it not dehumanizing to enforce a role on an individual so strongly that any other possibilities are shunned? As equal to god is a mother not entitled to make any mistakes? And if she does, does it make her a fallen woman? Are all her energies only entitled to flow in a particular direction, SELFLESSLY? Is it fair to expect this selflessness? Is she only a mother and not a human being full of many possibilities and imperfections? And should she feel inadequate and guilty if she chooses to refuse this motherhood that is the crowning glory of womanhood? And finally, is this too patriarchy, after all, to expect divine standards from a woman?
One of my teachers once made us understand that one needs to indulge completely into a subject and gain full knowledge of it in order to deconstruct it. “Deconstruction is not demolition but the undoing of a structure brick by brick”. I believe that the least we can do today to fight the oppressive structures of the world is to have knowledge of it. To detect it for what it is. I hope that this contemplation of the manifestations of Patriarchy helps its bit.