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

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Patriarchy Hurts Men Too

Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary powered predominate in roles of political leadership, social privilege and control of property. In the domain of family, fathers or father figures hold power over women and children. 

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