Feminism

Feminism

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people , said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded defin...

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Women Whom Mainstream Feminism Forgot

                                                               

Suddenly, the Indian media has discovered "working women".  There's a deluge of articles in the print media, TV shows,  and an explosion of social media handles and entities centering the "working woman". Most of this discourse is focused on the "empowerment" of working women. You'd be forgiven if you thought we'd been intentionally hiding all this time!

However, look a bit more closely, and you would discover that this definition of "working women" is largely confined to a certain category of : those working in offices or corporations, in well paying jobs. 

This should surprise nobody. Women with money of their own, and cash to spare, are now a big part of the consumer segment. It therefore makes sense for any business to focus on them - and the media is most certainly one! And middle and upper class feminists are lapping up this attention.

Don't get me wrong. Gender inequalities dog women every step of the way, and the higher up the ladder a woman travels, the tougher it gets for her. Sample these stats from a Catalyst report
1. Women earn 65% of what their male colleagues earn for the same work. 
2. The more educated a woman is, the wider the gender pay gap.
3. The gender pay gap increases as women advance in their careers.

Most businesses now employ a fair number of women. And the women who succeed in these fields, often work the buddy system system, just as men do. They come from families of privilege and they know how to leverage contacts.

But look closer. The victories that these women forge, are propped up on emotional and care work being performed on their behalf, by other, less paid women. 

Behind every successful man, so goes the adage, there's a woman,  usually his wife-cum-housekeeper-cum-baby-producer. Women continue to do more housework than men by overwhelming numbers. 

But with more women working outside the home in paid jobs, behind every successful woman there's a housekeeper, a maid, a cook. In all probability,  poorly paid and badly treated as Nivedita Menon writes. 

In the most important bastion of female subjugation, the home, the woman continues to slog away, marginalized. We've simply elevated one set of women and replaced it by another, less advantaged one. Yet, we lament endlessly about the lack of labour participation of women. This discourse cuts out working class women who don't belong to the upper or middle class. 

When the motivation is solely profit, humans are the first casualty.  Patriarchy has kept women tied to home and to caregiving work, yet this labour is not factored into wages. When called in to work, women are paid less, their work is deemed less valuable, then they are blamed for lowering wages. Capitalism and patriarchy work in tandem. 

All emotional work and a lot of care work is unpaid. Women continue to perform this labour unappreciated.
Close to two thirds of adult women  in India while away their most productive years engaged only in housework- uncounted, unpaid. 

Let's look at some other numbers. As more than 67% of all rural Indian households depend on firewood for cooking, every year Indian women spend 374 hours collecting firewood

Even as men flock to cities in search of better livelihoods, women left behind turn to the fields for sustenance. The number of women in agriculture has steadily increased, yet more of them are now labourers, tending to the lands of others with no land to their own names.

What is work? Economists say, only that which can contribute monetarily to the economy, can be counted in the GDP as work. When women stay home to raise babies it's decried as a loss to the GDP but nobody asks, without new members to add to the workforce, without children, where would your GDP be? Yet childcare continues to be devalued. 

The labour of women- productive and reproductive continues to run our families, our society and indeed our whole nation. Women keep the wheels of our national economy running. Feminism aims to improve the lot of all women, more so the marginalized, those away from the mainstream. We are nowhere near achieving that. 

And we are not even talking about these women in our public discourse. We mainstream feminists have left these working class women out in the cold. 
The light bouncing off the glass ceiling has left us so awestruck that it's been distracting us from looking at the women at the bottom of the pile, under the ladder. The real work of working towards a more humane and just society for all women hasn't even begun. 

Yo Indian Cricketers, What's In A Mother's Name?

                                                      


Recently the Indian men's cricket team played an international match in which the players wore special jerseys with their mothers' names emblazoned on them. The gesture was variously described as "emotive" "never before" and "being used to power social change". For wearing their mothers' names THE ONE TIME. 
AHEM. 

Well, well. Social change, if it could be brought about by a word printed on a jersey would be so cool, now! What with the various words they sport on their clothes, it sure must bring in a kind of change I'm sure our cricketers approve- the jingle of money flowing into their bank accounts.

See, I really have nothing against cricketers, yo. I'm sure their mothers must have been only too pleased to see their sons sport their names- I know I'd be. But the claim to powering social change? Let's cut the bullshit, shall we? 

The strange creature of women's empowerment is the latest buzzword and every media platform worth its bandwidth wants in on it. And if it were as simple as a printed word here or there, who wouldn't want to usher in a social revolution, pray tell. 

Just a word of caution, though.

We have idolized mothers since forever and kept them enchained to the kitchen since forever. In fact, if you're so inclined you can check out any of a number of internet posts where the ultimate abuse hurled by a man at women is, "go make me a sandwich". As per the hordes of literate, educated men on the internet, women still belong in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids. For god's sake, you've watched enough Nirupa Roy movies, haven't you? 

If you want a real change, get mother's names be the only requirement for a child's identification. Or take your wife's last name on marriage. Or get women equal pay for equal work. Or get compulsory pay for care work at home. Or get housewives a stipend, a kind of basic salary, while you're at it. 
Now that would be a real social change. Are you up for it, dude?

A version of this article first appeared on the website of Feminism In India here.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Film Review : Ae Dil Hai Mushkil Sehna Ise

                                                   



How many times have you watched a movie or read a novel, where a sexy woman is out to "trap" a rich guy? Yes, there exist women who seduce men for money. "Seduce" as in "to cause someone to do something that they would not usually consider doing by being very attractive and difficult to refuse" Let me remind you, confused or not, it's a choice they made!

In Ae Dil Hai Mushkil that choice is made by Ayan, Ranbir Kapoor's character. He finds Lisa played by Lisa Haydon incredibly sexy and is repeatedly shown unable to keep it in his pants. Men can't help indulging in sex at the first sight of a female body, you know! Yet, the fault lies squarely at the door of the woman! 

No, I refuse to use the misleading, sexist expression "femme fatale". It's been used too long to demonize women. It's time we discarded it.  Although the sex is consensual, Lisa is portrayed as vacuous and practically unable to speak. Yet there are allusions to how she's out to get Ayan's money. Now now, Karan Johar, you really need to make up your mind- is she stupid, or is she smart? 

Ayan has no compunctions in kissing and coming on to Alizeh, played by Anushka Sharma. This, the first time he meets her. Obviously, loyalty is not a value he sets great store by. Yet, one act of unfaithfulness by his girlfriend and he dumps her. What was that about sauce for the goose thingy? Forget it! 

Let's be clear, this is the umpteenth movie in which Ranbir Kapoor plays a guy coming of age, and the characters are so cliched you'll be deluged with repeated bouts of deja vu. To confound matters further, Karan Johar is yet to sort out his friendship-versus-love dynamics. Dude, it's 2016. For god's sake, you've done this for twenty-odd years now. Get over it!

Besides, a selfish man-child who refuses to grow up and throws tantrums at the drop of a hat, Ayan expects others to pick up after him. That's our hero, the man you're supposed to root for! Not only does he insist Alizeh fall in love with him, he chases her all around the globe in the effort. She invites him for her wedding and he manages to become the centre of attention there, too! He throws a hissy fit and walks out on the wedding day, making it a memorable day for the bride, indeed! This being Bollywood, however, all is forgiven. Conveniently for Ayan, yet again, Alizeh steps in to pick up after him.

The worst is yet to come, however. Ayan shows his most despicable side when he finds Alizeh struggling alone, dying, and comes on to her! Yes, dear readers, sexual harassment and stalking as love trope is alive and thriving in Bollywood.  

The very frame in which we are introduced to Saba, Aishwarya's character, would have set a million alarm bells ringing for any woman. She's sitting by herself reading a book. Our hero forces himself into her space because he can't sit alone! Where any woman would have called security, Saba smilingly indulges him. Men feel entitled to women's space, time and attention. Men often end violently and horrifically the denial of such attention. This is rape culture and the movie promotes it. 

To attempt to look for feminism in a Karan Johar film is futile, when it doesn't even pass the Bechdel Test. It is peopled with super rich people whose lives run without a hitch. They need not worry where the meals or housing or the education of the next few generations will come from.

You see, I left out Alizeh's character till the end. There really isn't one. We know nothing of who she is, what she does. We vaguely hear of parents, but don't meet hem either. She doesn't seem to have any friends either. Alizeh is another in a long line of women who seem to exist solely for the benefit of the men around her. She also shelves her life to trot all around the globe, wherever her husband's work takes him. Need we tell you, that relationship was doomed from the start? 

Anushka Sharma has put in her considerable acting skills on display, and she comes across as effortless. But I'll repeat my earlier advise to her- make your own goddam movies, Anushka! We want to see well-etched characters, not a sidekick for our hero to hang his emotional towel on, and maybe wipe with. 

Aishwarya looks still, unruffled, and bereft of emotion like a slab of marble just surfaced from under a glacier. She too seems to exist in a vacuum. Although she's portrayed as a no-nonsense person at first, yet she too ends up picking up after Ayan. Such a charmer our boy is. 

Women's work holds up men's world. It's time we gave it a rest.

                                

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too

Patriarchy and patriarchal thinking have deemed it necessary to divide up all of humanity into two neat blocks; the feminine and the masculine. It is ordained that you must belong to one group or the other, playing by the rules set out by the system. 


This implies that women are closely policed for conformity with femininity,while men are policed for masculinity. For a man, masculinity is essential to his place in the world. However, as patriarchy grants men privilege, we tend to ignore the harm it does them. The omertà of silence around it only compounds the problem. "Mard ko hard nahin hota" isn't just a cheesy cliche, its a credo for men and most believe in it wholeheartedly.


Masculinity is the model most men grow up with and it is natural they emulate it, mostly unquestioningly. Sexism is the practical manifestation of patriarchy. Men get better treatment, than women, in most spheres of life. Male domination, a consequence of sexism and patriarchy is accepted in our world as normal. These attitudes have been normalized over centuries of building up patriarchy.


Given this conditioning, it's hardly surprising that when men find themselves accused of sexism they are taken unawares and most may consider it an unfair charge. After all, in the set-piece world they are used to, this is the way things are arranged. 


 Granted, that  these structures have been around for centuries, but each man who plays his part, helps the patriarchy project along. 
Let's look at the unique characteristics of hyper masculinity and how it affects men.

1. Suppression of Emotion
No soon is a baby boy born and the grooming to be a macho male begins. Being a man means keeping a stiff upper lip, not letting your emotions show. 
 The reprimand of "boys don't cry" and "man up", are repeatedly made to little boys, enforcing this socialization. The only legitimate emotion men are allowed to express is anger and aggression.    
                                              


2. Men and the Outdoors
Men are expected to step out of the home and go into the wide world to earn a living, to play sport, to be adventurous. Women are expected to stay home and do the nurturing and caregiving work.  



3. The Provider

 Men are expected to be the main providers to the family, to earn enough to keep the home fires burning. Any wonder men with wives who work in paying jobs are ridiculed as "not wearing the pants". And the ultimate horror, a woman who earns more than her partner; the man is emasculated beyond repair.

4. Men are Strong

"Women are weak, men are strong." Male domination would have us believe that the powerful and strong have precedence over the weak. As a consequence, not only do men dominate women, but also weaker, less powerful men, or men of lower class. In the Indian context this means lower castes are beholden to higher castes.  
This thinking is justified by patriarchy.

5. Men Are Violent 
Masculinity implies strength and power, with violence or the threat of violence underpinning the power exerted by dominant men. 
We think it acceptable that men express almost all emotion and respond to any and every event with a violent response, if not in actions then certainly in words. The outcries of "hang the rapist' or the calls to castrate men who commit sexual assault are only a reflection of the acceptance of violence as a means to solve all problems.

Violence in personal relationships is often accepted and normalized. A recent court order stated that "minor incident of beatings on small issues  can take place in any household" in a case in which a woman had committed suicide.


Sexism and its accompanying violence leads to women being beaten, murdered, raped inside their own homes, by people known to them, be it family or neighbors or co-workers. As NCRB data for 2015 shows, in over 95% cases of rape the offender is known to the victim


Yet, much as it harms women, the double edged sword of patriarchy hurts men too. It may help men gain power over women but it also keeps men tied to roles they may not always like or be comfortable with. 

6. Men are Sexually Aggressive 

Masculinity demands of men the performance of more than violent gender roles; it demands that men be unemotional, and sexually aggressive. The violence we demand of men often spills over into every sphere, from the public to the private. The dominant male often carries this violence into the bedroom, into the realm of the sexual, the intimate, too. 


Sex and an aggressive performance of sexual desire are intrinsic to the macho man.The stereotypical male is expected to be interested in sex almost at all times. 

Emotional and psychological intimacy are often part of the bond formation when two people have sex. Yet patriarchal masculinity portrays the decoupling of emotion from sex as the norm, and present it to us as a basic male trait. The detachment of all emotion from the sex act is a basic premise of hyper masculinity. 

7. Fear of Emasculation
Masculinity is all about being the tough guy but at its heart lies a deep seated fear of the feminine. Any appearance of the traits seen as feminine, such as being emotionally expressive or vulnerable, and a man is termed "weak".  


It follows that emasculation is the idea that regardless of what other "manly" pursuits he may indulge in, certain  feminine acts will render a man unmanly or girly. 


The horror of appearing weak is well imprinted in our lexicon- wimp, sissy, pansy all refer to men not deemed manly enough. Our language itself is replete with the idea that emotional stability is linked to gender, whereas we know this  is not true.

8. Decreased Life Span

Toxic masculinity leads to the gap in life expectancy between men and women. Men live 10 years less than women do. The difference which we are lead to believe is due to size and structure, is probably an inability to accept stress or to seek out relief for it. Masculinity and male dominance kills men through over work, celebrated as workaholism. Alcoholism, substance abuse, and stress are the other major contributors to shortened life spans.

Masculinity is killing men. According to NCRB data, the number of men who commit suicide is far more than the number of women. Men suffering mental illness may not know how to assess themselves, or won't express it. Worse still, masculinity prevents them from seeking help.


9. Stunted Relationships.
Forced gender binaries also mean that men and women cannot have shared interests. How do you build partnerships and relationships with no shared passions?


10. Caste and Patriarchy

Being the result of a power differential, male dominance normalizes violence not only against women but also against other weaker men. In India, this is how the caste system works. The "inferior" men with no economic or social power are kept subservient to the upper, dominant castes. Patriarchy and caste are bosom buddies.

11. Patriarchy and Heteronormativity

It is no secret that all sex and romance in our culture is expected to be heteronormative. Macho men are supposed to fall in love with only girly women and a cis straight manhood is normalized. The fear of emasculation leads to violence against queer men. 

12. Imperialist Nationalism
Imperialist militarism can be seen as an extension of this model of male domination on the world at large. When extended to relations between nation states it can lead to war and military contests. In the age of nuclear weapons the perils of such brinkmanship cannot be stressed enough.

The Exception: The Male Nurturer 
Sure, there are men who are exceptions to this model of toxic masculinity. There may be the odd male family member or friend or partner who is a nurturer. This guy is fluent in basic human skills. He fetches you a cup of tea when you're in distress, or just listens to you when you're ranting. He knows how to comfort one by physical touch, or with loving, accepting looks.  

Male nurturers are a threat to the ideal of the masculine man. These guys escaped the strictly enforced codes of masculine behavior. These are the men we must idolize, hold up as examples and celebrate.The walls between the genders, the strictly enforced codes of behavior must go. Once men become aware of how stunted their growth as humans is we will begin to dismantle patriarchy. Only by abandoning the model of masculinity can men be restored to their full humanity. 


Dismantle the Patriarchy!
For betterment of interpersonal relationships, and for better international relations, patriarchy must be dismantled. Feminist thought is the only redeemer. Dear men, give this giant structure of patriarchy a heave-ho, and embrace feminism. Welcome to the vision of a more equitable, egalitarian and a just society!

A version version of this article appeared on the website of Feminism In India  earlier.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

My Life, Your Honor?

 Just a few days ago, a woman was stabbed to death by a stalker in Delhi. Though she'd complained to the police, as the report states "the two families had reached a compromise". Other reports state that the attacker had promised to mend his ways. The woman's parents had opted to believe him. When women are stalked by men, parents and police all advise them to ignore it.

On the other hand, when a woman leaves home with a man of her choice, the police and woman's family go into overdrive, report marriages of choice as rape  and do everything in their power to track down the couple. A woman asserting a life choice is to be hounded, but a man harassing a woman, even putting her life in danger, is free to do as he pleases.

 In Pakistan, Qandeel Baloch, a self made social media star, and a model was murdered in her own home by her brother, because to his mind, he had brought dishonor to his family. 

To many of us in this part of the world, it's nothing new, nor too horrifying. We even give it a nice name to decrease the horror of it; we call it "honour killing" so we can turn away from the momentary shock and go back to our normal lives. We ignore the huge risks women face everyday, at the hands of those who are closest to them, even those whom they trust.

As per the Indian National Crime Records Bureau data for 2014 (PDF), out of 37,413 rape cases, in 32,187 cases the offenders were known to the victims accounting for 86.0% of total rape cases during 2014. Women are at greatest risk in their own homes, or in their neighborhoods or workplaces. 

A woman is expected to uphold family honour by maintaining chastity before marriage and sexual loyalty to her husband, afterwards. Any deviation from the norm is strictly regulated and punishment for the same endorsed by all sections and all classes. Such is the cultural conditioning that even apparently well-educated people fall into the trap of clubbing women into slots, judging them for respectability. So a senior woman politician who has lived abroad for years, has presumably seen a more liberal side of society, tweeted thus. 

                                 
Let's not assume that women are above sexism or that they don't want a share in the spoils the system promises them if they follow the rules. 

Since at least the second millennium Before Christ we have records telling us of laws that classed women into categories based on their sexualities, segregated into honourable women and the disreputable ones. 

The sexually available woman was to be despised, even though masculinity couldn't do without her, yet her very existence was begrudged her. 

The honourable woman had a home and a husband and her sexuality was the possession of her husband alone. Such a woman had been given in marriage by her father, having kept her virginity intact till the time of marriage. 

At the other end of the spectrum were the slave girls whose bodies could be used by their masters in any way they saw fit, by anyone they wished to oblige. They could be used to bestow favours upon or to pay back dues. Basically a slave woman was a commodity at the hands of her master.

In both these cases the sexuality of the woman is owned by a man. 

The only women who had any modicum of agency over their own bodies or sexualities were prostitutes. The segregation soon came to be enforced geographically and the sex workers were restricted to a quarter of the city, where 'respectable' women wouldn't be caught dead.

The biggest trick patriarchy played was to thus pit women against women, having them fight for the limited spoils of men's attention, their only recourse to any kind of value or source of power. 

This system worked as the male is not only enjoined to keep it in place but also enforce it with violence. It is in this that his "honor" lies. 


In modern day Indian sub-continent these same notions of honor tied to women's bodies continue to persist. The individual's identity is tied to the honor of the family, and that in turn is tied to the women's sexuality. The family honor outstrips loyalties to any individual. Killing a sibling is a reprehensible act, no doubt, but one which it is his unpleasant duty to perform. Family honor trumps women's lives every time. 

Unless  this mindset changes, no matter how many laws we pass, our women are not safe. All rhetoric of "women's safety" will remain just empty words without aggressive campaigns to change the  minds. Many more Qandeels and Karunas will continue to meet the same fate. 

 A version of this piece was published by Feminism in India, here



Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Movie Review : Parched, Of Women Thirsting For More

In a lovely sequence in the movie, Parched, two of its four main characters, comfort each other. Rani, played by Tannishtha Chatterjee (wow! what a powerhouse performance!) applies a soothing lotion to Lajjo's (played by Radhika Apte) wounds. Lajjo has once again been beaten by her drunkard husband.A range of  emotions flit across the women's gently-lit faces as they explore each others' injuries. In a sense, this scene is at the heart the movie:  it's a chronicle of women's attempts to make sense of their scars, while exploring their sexualities, and trying to meet the world head on.

The two other protagonists are Bijli, played by Surveen Chawla and  Lehar Khan who plays Janaki. While Rani, Lajjo and Bijli are friends, Janaki is Rani's daughter-in-law, a child bride. In a heart wrenching scene, just after Janaki has been raped by her husband, Rani rebukes her for sleeping late, throwing the usual taunts of 'didn't your mother teach you anything?" As the child limps towards the bath area my heart all but leapt out of my chest. Rani is as much a product of the society she lives in and mistreats her daughter-in-law the same way she was treated when she herself had been a child bride.

Later, in a poignant monologue to her mother-in-law Rani narrates her life events, most of it a tragic unfolding of events beyond her control. She states quite matter of factly, that despite assurances of an improvement in their situation, nothing does.

Bijli, the hard-as-nails sex worker, is saved from looking stereotyped only by Surveen's impressive performance. Though she may appear bindaas and carefree, she longs for a "regular" life. Despite the fact that she sets the terms of sale of her body, she is unable to stop violence and abuse. I'm yet to see on the Indian screen a sex worker with true agency. The portrayal seemed problematic to me for a movie so progressive at heart.  

In one of the heart-gooey-making sub plots the women of the village band together to successfully get a satellite TV dish  installed, despite opposition from the men. The other interesting sub plot is the love story of Kishan, a local guy and Naobi, a Manipuri woman. Kishan is also Lajjo and Rani's employer. Their marriage causes much consternation among the menfolk of the village.  With every blow to the patriarchal order, I sent up a cheer. Dear director Leena Yadav, hope you have many more to come! 

While the older men disapprove of Kishan's marriage, the younger boys sexually harass Naobi. One of these harassers is Gulab, Rani's son. He has scant respect for his mother while stealing money she is saving up to repay loans she took for his wedding. Rani finally finds it in her to stand up to him and steps in to stop his abuse of his wife. 

Adil Hussain plays a nameless dream lover who helps women discover their bodies while giving them huge orgasms, it seems. Slight eye roll happened there. Lets face it ladies, does such a man really exist? Here's an apparently homeless man with nothing to recommend him save his great sexual prowess. The sequence of love making, however, is very beautifully shot. 

Another gorgeous sequence is the women frolicking in the water in the dark, sharing laughter and camaraderie, something not seen in Bollywood or Hindi language cinema-at least that which I'm familiar with. 

Here is a movie which lets women speak in their own voices. We watch them negotiate their lives, struggle with the realities of gender and discover the pleasures of their sexualities as they traverse the course of the movie. These women may not always be triumphant but they try; they are active agents in their own lives.  In the end, they all don't come out flawless, but each woman grows with the arc of the narrative. That's  what a feminist movie looks like!


This article first appeared on the website of Feminism In India, here


Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Book Review : The Creation of Patriarchy

                                                      


"The Creation of Patriarchy" by historian Gerda Lerner is a work of scholarship which took eight years of hard work to produce. In order to explain women's subordination, Gerda puts it in a historical context. 

Lerner's work shows insights into how women have been systematically subordinated over centuries of building the structures of patriarchy. These structures kept women in inferior positions, tied them to norms which they -apparently- willingly conformed to. 

It is not an easy book to read, specially for a romantic feminist like me. It took me longer than an average book does, for I had to put it away every few pages. Here is a book  which disturbs deeply. 

The book and its findings are based on the study of western civilizations, largely derived from Mesopotamian, and Hebrew sources and a study of Abrahmanic religions.

Man has been the default human now, for centuries. Patriarchal thinking and its norms are so deeply entrenched in our society that we take it for granted. This default is so much part of our cultural and mental landscape, we do not even notice it. Not unlike the furniture strewn around your home for months, in the same position. You notice  a particular piece only when you move it around into a new arrangement. 
                           
Historical scholarship has seen women as marginal to the making of civilization and as unessential to those pursuits defined as having historic significance. While no man has been excluded from historic records because he is man, yet all women have been.
                                                   

Though numerically, women are the majority, society is structured as if we are the minority and and have therefore been victimized by it. Women were essential to creating history, to creating society. They are and always have been agents and actors in history. Women have simply been kept from knowing their history and from interpreting it. They have been excluded from writing symbols, philosophies, science and law, and excluded from theory formation.
                                             
Gerda explores how, as laws evolved and religions grew, women's inferior position in society deteriorated. They were kept away from any learning or intellectual pursuits. She shows us how the lack of women's access to learning and religion was increasingly reduced, till their eventual cutting off from all sources of history making.

The book is divided into chapters, each of which investigates a different topic in great depth and with detailed and painstaking research, comes to its conclusions.

Starting with prehistoric details Gerda hypothesizes that gender is created out of the fact that women must mother the child. Prolonged and helpless infancy of the human child lead to the fact that most nubile women would devote most of their adulthood to pregnancy, child bearing and nursing. 

She finds that around the time when hunting and gathering or horticulture gave way to agriculture, kinship arrangements tended to shift from matrimony to patriliny and private property developed.

The vast body of research accessed and studied by Gerda Lerner includes the codes of law of Hammurabi, one of the first codes of law to be codified and written down. 

Women's subordination was institutionalized in the earliest law codes and enforced by the full power of the state. The archaic state was shaped and developed in the form of patriarchy, and it continues to be so today. 

A startling revelation of the book is that men learnt and perfected dominance by practicing it over women and exerting control over them. Later, these lessons  were transferred to the control of other men. The first slaves were women. 

While men could establish class or transcend it based on their relationship to the means of production, for women it was always  determined through their sexual ties to a man.

Veiling of women began when women came to be segregated into  the categories of respectable women and non respectable. Guess what established respectability? Sexual ties to one man was equated with respectability while the sexually available woman became branded as non respectable. The respectable woman had to be veiled, others could go unveiled. This was written into law and it was the duty of upright citizens to report women who flouted these norms. Women's class status came to be defined differently than that of men, from that period on to the present. 

The codification which began with the laws of Hammurabi, marked the beginning of the institutionalization of the patriarchal family as an aspect of state power. It reflected a class society in which women's status depended on the male family head's social status.

The most disturbing passages to me, were the removal of the goddesses from mainstream religion. All over the ancient world,   goddess worship was prevalent in one form or another. The goddesses would be worshipped for the sacredness of female sexuality and its mysterious life giving force, which included the power to heal. With the ascent of Abrahamanic religion, began the erasure of the goddess. Simultaneously, woman came to be painted as the harbinger of death and sin into the world. Women's sexuality came to be linked with sin. From progenitor of the universe, life giving force and healer, to harbinger of sin- patriarchy wrought the ultimate fall for womanhood!

The historical processes of the development of abstract thought and symbol making began to shape civilization. These developments coincided with the marginalization of women. Males alone became mediators between god and man while women were denied equal access to learning, and to priesthood. Women thus came to be denied the capacity for interpreting and altering religious belief systems. Women's subordination was complete.
                                                                          
                                                       

In a passage that I found stunningly evocative, Gerda outlines her call to action plan. She uses the image of a play to demonstrate this. She compares life to a stage where men and women are performers, both acting equally important roles, without either of whom the play can't go on. But the stage is conceived, painted, defined by men. They have written the play, decided on the props, fixed the lighting,  assigning themselves the most interesting parts and have given the supporting roles to women. 

Women have begun the struggle to get "equal" roles, but are only now beginning to realize its not enough. Men control which women will get which roles. They punish and ostracise those who try to challenge the script or try to rewrite it. 

Simply adding women to the patriarchal framework won't do. Only by placing women's vision at its centre will be able to dismantle patriarchy. Its a paradigm shift waiting to happen.

Patriarchy as a system is historical. If we can show it has a beginning, it follows we can show it to have an end and thus begin the work of its dismantling. 
                                                          
 I found myself underlining and annotating para after para and as I read this book. This is a book to keep, to read, to go over its pages over and over again, to mull its contents over in your mind.
                                                   
(The question of how patriarchy evolved in the Indian context, with its overlap of culture with Hinduism, is something I'd love to explore. I'm curious to read any available material on the subject. Anyone reading this, if you have any leads please let me know.)

Book                     : The Creation of Patriarchy 
Author                  : Gerda Lerner
Publisher              : Oxford University Press
Number of Pages : 243


This book review appeared on the website of Feminism In India

Film Review : Two Cheers For Baar Baar Dekho

If you live in urban India and manage to avoid the media saturation of an upcoming Bollywood movie, you probably live under a rock. Said rock is my roof. I went to watch Baar Baar Dekho oblivious to the fact that  it has a reprise of the 90s hit number kaala chashma.

 I did hope for some semblance of sanity only because I discovered that the director is Nitya Mehra whose bio says she had been the assistant director of movies like Life of Pi and Don.

To be sure, this is no gritty drama. It has its share of cheesy comedy and cheesier romance at the outset, helped along by typical romantic numbers. And come on! Dharma Productions and fluff go together like bheegi saree me hot nari under barsaat ka pani! 

Between the pretty faces and the beaches and bikinis, you're thrown the mandatory band, baaja and shaadi- obviously! The leads characters are Diya and Jai played by Katrina Kaif and Siddhartha Malhotra, so there's plenty of gorgeousness to gawk at.

A movie about inter-personal relationships, which doesn't let your attention flag, has got to be a winner in my book. It portrays the angst of the woman who alone must do the emotional and caregiving labour to hold her family together, while her husband is busy chasing his career. His singular contribution to family building seems to be donation of sperm. No surprises there! 

While she moves countries and continents so he may pursue his dream career, he couldn't be bothered to make the time to be at the opening of her art exhibition - so real, so predictable! I only wish they hadn't chosen such stereotypical professions for the two protagonists- he's a mathematician and she's a painter. 

There are jarring bits. Hugely uncomfortable making is the sequence when a person with an apparent mental disability is mocked and used as a prop for producing some staged laughs: so unfunny! And when the female protagonist Diya asks her boyfriend/ husband Jai why he loves her, his answers made me cringe each time. Stuff along the lines of "you're my wife" or "you're the mother of my children".   
Way to define a partner in strictly selfish, self-centered terms! I inserted a reminder to self: this is Bollywood and they can deliver only so much with one movie, let's not get ahead of ourselves in the hopes department, please!

 It does dawn upon Jai that relationships have to be built with loving attention and care and that nurturing one's loved ones leads to a more fulfilling existence. The soft, gentle man who is a nurturer, is upheld as the ideal us and it gladdened every pore of my feminist heart! When Jai picks up his daughter and swirls her around while she looks adoringly at him, in a scene crafted to pull at your heartstrings, it manages to do just that.

The movie has a clutch of creditable performances, from the actors playing the smaller roles, like Sarika, who plays Jai's mom and the guy who plays the art gallery owner (whose name I couldn't locate)  Ram Kapoor as Diya's dad tends to ham just the tad bit. Rajit Kapoor as the pandit with the mysterious link to Jai's future seems wasted.

The biggest surprise of the movie: Katrina Kaif has finally learnt to emote in front of the camera-to an extent. Siddharth Malhotra manages to hold his own, though at times the lack of depth in his performance shows.

With all the modern tech available and presumably a big budget, the make-up for aging is surprisingly tacky. The portrayal of the future is meh; it shows absolutely no imagination at all. A little effort in that department would have gone a long way in making this a memorable movie. 

Does the movie pass the bechdel test? Probably not. Yet, even though it's far from perfect I sent up two cheers for this movie's attempts at a feminist tone. It looks to a world centred on loving, fulfilling relationships, where jobs and careers-including men's- take a backseat and nurturance is given primacy. All hail Nitya Mehra!  Hope to see more feminism friendly cinema from her in future!

A version of this film review appeared on the Feminism In India website here here                                                                   

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Open

Homeless 

less, a home 

without;

living outdoors, 

like you lost something. 

google tells me an Indian family goes on an average five generations thus:

homeless, minus a home

No roof to shelter you

Come rain, heat or hail,

and no refuge from animals or rodents,

no sanctuary from prowlers on two legs,

no protection from the ravages of time and disease.

To live exposed thus, without walls

without fences,

defenceless,

open- 

like your body is itself a wound, 

uncovered, uncouth 

declaring the ruptures in the fabric of humanity 

which passes you by

and sits googling you. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Movie Review: Pink Is Colorless Trite Male Feminism

Pink  is a movie that tries, really hard, to "empower women". And like that empty vacuous phrase, it's nothing more than a shell. Right from the get go, with a name like that, it practically shouts at you: "look at me, I'm talking about WOMEN!" and so it goes. It harangues women, portrays them as weak, silly, and prone to putting themselves in dangerous situations. But seeing as they are all women, what can you expect them to do on their own, hai na?             Patriarchy:1, Women: 0

Enter: the knight in shining armor, the right honorable Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Because as we all know, women, however progressive they may be, need to fall back on men for help and support!

A major part of the movie is a courtroom drama centred around the prosecution of a woman, Meenal. She has hit a man in self defense, causing him head injuries. The man happens to have political connections. Result: he manages to turn the tables on her and get her arrested. She ends up having to spend a horrific time in a police lock up. The performances of the three lead women, specially Meenal played by Tapsee Pannu,  and Kirti Kulhari as Falak Ali, are pitch perfect. Most of the cast does an excellent job, too. 

Enter: Meenal's lawyer, Mr Sehgal, played by Amitabh Bachchan.  For reasons best known to him, he has been creepily watching the women closely. The film treats this as perfectly normal behavior. 

In a scene that made me gag, Mr Sehgal puts Meenal on the stand and asks her pointed, personal questions about her sex life. At this point I almost walked off, unable to take the violence of the language. Someone please tell the director Aniruddha Roy Choudhury that women are used to being insulted, having their character and sexual lives discussed threadbare and then having it used as stick to beat us with. You don't need to spell out the horrors of our lives to us! 

In a more shocking sequence, the culprits kidnap Meenal, and drive around, while apparently assaulting her. The men talk gleefully of raping her, and from all appearances they do. Yet, shockingly, in the rest of the movie, there's no mention of it. More than half the movie occurs in a courtroom. While the lawyers slug it out and police loiter about, the entire horrific incident is swept under the rug. Why is there no mention of it in the rest of the movie? Why aren't the perps brought to justice? 

Another aspect that bothered me was the role of Mamata Shankar. The entire sub-plot with her and her apparent romance (?) with Mr Sehgal was lost on me. What exactly was their relationship is not made clear. Other than to portray one more woman as weak, frail and dependent, and Mr Sehagal as savior, I couldn't fathom the reason for the introduction of the character.

The movie seems to try to reach out to the bollywood watching janata about concepts like consent, and we are supposed to be grateful for the smallest of mercies. "No means no" repeats Mr Sehgal in varying tones of voice, like the audience is hard of hearing. Or maybe a little dense. When talking to women you can never be sure! 

The biggest giveaway to how badly women need rescuing by big, strong, smart men is at the end close of the court case. As Sehgal walks away, victorious, the policewoman on duty looks up at him adoringly and salutes. In case you had any doubts, they made it clear who the hero is. FML, I murmured to myself.

Anti-women attitudes of our society are held up to scrutiny: is it immoral for a woman to drink? Does a woman who laughs and talks with a man, while having a drink and a conversation, send out signals that she's sexually available? To be fair, these conversations around consent are important to have, no doubt. It's the manner in which it is done that leaves you wanting to bash your own head in, rather than sit through this cruel joke.

I've heard people say that this movie plays out like a thriller, it didn't to me. Only if you are skeptical of the women's motives or don't take their word for it, like most of society does. The last sequence of the depiction of the assault as it happened, the events that trigger off the whole drama, from where the movie begins boggles the mind. It's captured in slow-motion, slimy, sneaky smiles of the men intact, making it look like a sneak peak video- voyeurism of misogyny celebrated. 

Alas, asking the right questions does not a feminist movie make. Even though it passes the bechdel test  it's attempts at feminism fail. The depictions of women are cringe worthy. It has the token "north eastern" girl, etched in painful stereotype. It panders to men's fears regarding young, independent women. The discomfort with assertive women and their ownership of their sexuality is moot; it's portrayal left open ended, pandering to the male gaze, safe only under a paternal custody. While the public discourse around sexual assault has grown over the years and Bollywood still seems not geared for it. 

How would this movie have looked with a Nawazuddin or even an Irrfan Khan, in the role of the lawyer Sehgal, I wondered time and again. For reasons best known to the producers and director they chose not have a woman lawyer in a movie about women's emancipation at its core. This reinforces my view that this is about empty, soulless posturing.

The weight of Mr Bachchan's presence is a burden for this movie and causes it to fall quite flat on its face, under the weight of unmanageable aspirations. Surely there are better way to pass on a message, than have Mr Bachchan ham his way through an entire movie. 

Just prior  to the release of Pink, Mr Bachchan had written a letter to his granddaughters talking of "women's empowerment". Take all that paternalism  in the PR stunt, multiply it many times over and you have this movie. It's colourless and full of cliches. Its male director and lead actor in the excitement to do feminism, don the familiar savior complex. They aren't willing to put women centre stage or to listen to them. Instead, their condescension is apparent. 

All of which left me feeling let down. Here was an opportunity to create a sensitive, powerful film, showing strong women take charge of their lives, despite patriarchy. Instead we get a patronizing, preaching piece, putting women right back into their slots, delivered from a male point of view!



In conclusion: dear men, quit the half assed attempts at feminism, will you, because you're spectacularly failing at it!