Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feminism for the Lay'man'.

Feminism is an issue I avoid, if I can help it-both in conversations and in academic engagements. But after my post on it which was a response to a tag, I have decided to look at the issue again. For two reasons. 1. The male comments and rejoinders which betray an absence of understanding of the issue and 2. a fascinating post by Anrosh. She presents a case which fascinated me by the recognisabilitythe situation at the macro and micro level. Also, i subscibe to her analysis and conclusions.

What I hope to achieve through this post is to demystify feminism for the male blog visitors. However, let me, at the very outset, make it clear that there is nothing original about my reading on the issue. Whatever ideas that I present are all there in the plethora of theories on feminism. Because these ideas come packaged in theories, they don’t trickle out in sufficient quantities from the academicians’ and activists’ study room. And the result,? Society moves on, looking askance at feminism, and associating eccentricity and, to some extent, anarchy to this reality (I prefer to give feminism that label rather than “movement’)

I begin this post (two more posts on this issue to follow) with a clarification.

Feminism does not claim that the genders are the same. Male and female are not the same. They are biologically different. Their biological functions are different. But they are equal. Period. Equal does not mean same. (This was pointed out in a comment to my post). Feminism claims that the two genders are equal in their rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. For a crude simile, the heart and the kidney are not the same. Their constitution and functions are different. But we cannot hierarchise them in terms of their indispensability and importance to the system. The two organs are different but equal. The equality of both organs have to be acknowledged if malfunctioning of the system is to be prevented.

That sounds simple, doesn’t it? And many might be wondering why so much is written and said about this obvious truth.

Obvious truth? Society “accepts’ that truth. There is no dispute about it, eh?

This making-a–fuss-about-nothing attitude of society is the most difficult obstacle that stands in the way of the feminist trying to liberate herself from the subtle social structures which have kept her a prisoner. Ironically, women conditioned by the patriarchal ideology partner the male members of the society in doing maintenance to and jeealously and zelously guarding these oppressive social structures. Anrosh's post graphically describes this. The tendency of society to gloss over/ridicule/trivialize the issue of gender hierarchisation results in the issue never surfacing in a serious way in the society as a flaw in the system that has to be addressed. How can you treat a disease which is not acknowledged to exist. Very difficult to treat a patient who is in the denial mode.

To get more specific – how is this captivity of the woman achieved and perpetrated?

It’s a long story which goes back to time immemorial. And the story is the same across the globe, in all cultures. Differences are minor, superficial. Fundamentally, in gender politics, the woman has always been the second sex. Take the Hebrew culture, for example. The Bible says that God created Adam first. Then took a rib from his side and created a ‘helpmate’ for him. Bible is a divinely inspired work. But it was written by the male, and it reflected the patriarchal perceptions of an order. this order was considered ‘natural’/divinely ordained. This is not to say that this relegation of the woman to an inferior position in the Hebraic culture can be ascribed to the Biblical story of creation. The story itself reflects the gender perceptions of the period in which it was writen. But with the influence and the reach of the Bible through time, those perceptions acquired a religious sanction wherever it was accepted as the Holy Book. I suppose this could be said of all Scriptures.

Several centuries later, Jesus Christ spoke up to rectify this flawed perception. Christ was the most revolutionary feminist. Remember the episode of the woman being stoned for adultery. “Whoever has no sin can cast the first stone”, He said. The point is powerfully established. Adultery is not a gender specific sin. It is a sin irrespective of the sex of the adulterer. No two sets of laws of sexual morality for the two sexes. Again, take the story of Mary and Martha. Mary sits at His feet listening to His teaching. Martha complains to Him that Mary is leaving all the womanly duties to her. Jesus explains to Martha who has internalized the norms of the patriarchal society, that she also can do what Mary is doing. Leave the household chores and listen to His spiritual discourse. “Martha, Martha, thou art worried and troubled about many things; But one thing is necessary; Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her” The woman is as much entitled to spiritual quest as the man. That is what he meant.

Yes. Christ was the greatest feminist of all. But not so his followers. I have listened with great amusement at these episodes being interpreted in a manner that doesn’t question the discriminatory code of morality put in place by the patriarchal society. True, Christ said “Whoever has no sin can cast the first stone”, but, obviously, what he meant was whoever has not committed ADULTERY – the sin that she was being specifically punished for by the men - can cast the first stone. It is only logical to presume so. But no preacher or teacher will go to town teaching that by ‘sin’ Christ meant ‘adultery’. For, at all times and in all cultures, society has sanctioned the sexual escapades of males, and condemned female adultery. And the Mary Martha story too lends itself to many many interpretations – but never a feminist one.

Gender discrimination is chronically entrenched in the psyche of human society which was always male dominated. Domination of one group over the other can be sustained only when the latter is made to accept its inferiority status. That’s called hegemony – the acceptance of slavery or subjugation by assent – a subordination achieved in a democratic way! Over a period of time, there evolved formidable discourse on the concept of male superiority in which the subordinate position of woman is represented as ‘natural’ /divinely ordained. This ensured the durability of the patriarchal discourse on gender hierarchy; for the woman was made to accept, through subtle strategies, her predicament as the second sex. She internalized this image of woman , failing to understand that it is a societal construct. Any stirrings or rebellion or questioning deep in her mind entailed a sense of guilt and would be suppressed and sublimated. She becomes a captive of her own conscience.

In my next post, I would like to look at Anroshi’s post which so beautifully unravels the sad story of how such a woman becomes pssionately agentive is transmitting to the next generation the historically evolved traditions of gender perceptions of a patriarchal society.

‘Civilization’, indeed, is built on this foundation of the silent tears of the woman.


  1. I completely agree with this...
    And have revised mine to mention yours in my tag..:)


  2. Blockbuster post! :)

    PS: Why am I looking at the title again and again?? :D

  3. 'civilization is built on the silent tears of woman" " kpj.

    can somebody engrave this on the wall please ?

    We can have history rewritten, if we start the first line with the above statement. and so does sociology or politics and every thing related to social sciences.

    And yet the number of woman that we study in all the social sciences are numbered ! What a shame to our society and how we still perpetuate these stories in schools and colleges where children get the first taste of it.
    curriculum designers, journalists are you reading ?

  4. http://www.foxnews.com/photoessay/0,4644,5755,00.html

    I have been visiting your place for quite sometime, but never commented. You might have heard by now about the above story, a mallu girl shot dead by estranged husband in New Jersey. well, I ahve my own story, will get to it soon. could it be by email?


  5. Great Post. You rightly said that feminism is about gender equality and not about copying what men do.
    But 'Christ was the most revolutionary feminist' ...?
    May be to you.But a large body of secular scholars are of the opinion that about Gender equality,Christ's stand was little more liberal than Jews in Jerusalem but more conservative than Greeks of the same era.

  6. @ annony,ous
    yes. out here we r all shocked at the story. And malayalam media is giving it an indepth treatment.
    most welcome to send your story. can send it as comment. will not publish the comment if you ask me not to.
    @ charakan
    'Gender equality,Christ's stand was little more liberal than Jews in Jerusalem but more conservative than Greeks of the same era'.
    can you tell me more about this please? perhaps give a source i can go to?

  7. Hi KPJ :)

    Excellent post! The interpretation of Bible is thought provoking!Just as the Old Testament was written by males, the New Testament was also written by them. It was the males who made Jesus a feminist. If a Christian is disbelieving the Bible, then that person is weak in faith.Is it possible to believe in the Immaculte Conception of Mother Mary and Joseph was only a foster father of Jesus? Can you believe in the HOLY Trinity of One God. Can you believe in the Resurrection Jesus Christ? Christianity is based on faith and belief in many unbelievable things.

    As long as the male is stronger than the female and has an in built tendency to dominate, the situation will not improve much. Just as smoking and drinking. Inspite of the laws, advertisements etc, people (including women ) continue to smoke and drink although every body knows these habits are injurious to health.

    That doen't mean males should not be educated on this important issue. Basically we are all animals with a superior intellect and sophistication. But the animal instict is still there to dominate, subjugate,control, rule a weaker person irrespective of the fact whether that weaker person is a male or female. In other words a stronger female will subjugate a weaker male.

    How many women go to worship the Sati Devi in Rajastan?

    How many parents( mother included ) will stop their daughters getting married because they have to pay dowry?

    How many parents(including mothers) will ask their married daughters to come and stay with them because the daughters are being harrassed by the in-laws?

    How many actresses will refuse to act in films where their role is subordinate to a male actors?

    How many women are ready to become bread winners in the family instead of sitting in the cozy comfort of their homes?

    How many women will take up arduous, difficult and dangerous jobs such as mining, plumbing,vulcanising, painting high rise buildings, fighting a war in the infantry,long distance truck driving, sales representatives etc.? Who denied them the opportunity?

    I am not talking of exceptions.

    The situation is that if a police woman is an a patrol duty, she is accompanied by a male couter part. She will not go alone. Night patrol by woman police is out of the question.

    The women have to break out of their own self imposed shackles. They should come forward to face the risks and dangers which men are exposed to. The INDIAN CONSTITUTION gives equal rights to all.

    Carry on the good work of educating the males and females. It is only by dispelling the darknes of ignorance, indiffernce, arrogance and stupidity this serious malady can be eradicated.

    Have a good day :)

  8. I will like to mention the names of Greek Philosophers Plato and Epicurus and the Roman Philosophers Musonius Rufus,Seneca and Plutarch who had a much progressive view about Womans rights. All of them especially Plato,Epicurus and Rufus have written extensively about it.You can google them and read their writings.

  9. Thank you for the wonderful exposition on feminism. I have always considered both sexes equal and that they should be given equal opportunities. The only difference I see is in natural aptitudes like women's multitasking capabilites or men's spacial abilities. However this should not bias one's preference for assigning a particular task because individual capablities vary.

    I did however have a very narrow view of "feminism". I thought that feminists wanted to reverse the situation of men and women. Thanks to you I now know that there are various schools of thought.

  10. http://news.outlookindia.com/item.aspx?652786
    New Delhi | Jan 28, 2009
    A working woman's bid to get maintenance from her estranged and ailing husband in a matrimonial case has boomeranged in a Delhi court which not only dismissed the plea but also asked her to bear his expenses.


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