We are glad to publish this post by our friend Dr Abdul Fakhri. Please welcome him warmly by commenting on his maiden post. Also, do check out Dr Fakhri’s book when you get a chance. – Priya Raju.
These are a few random thoughts about Gender, Feminism and Sexuality. The old adage that while more things change they remain the same holds true in this case. Unless men and women make a radical departure from our ancient deep-rooted assumptions and prejudices nothing will change. Change that makes the world a better place to live in – I can’t see why anyone would have second thoughts about that.
My thinking about this subject was sparked off by a group of lady colleagues fervently defending the right of women to go to work in an office. I was at first a bit surprised and then very sad. Surprised because I thought we had reached a point of consensus ages ago in civil/political society that affirmed the right of women to work. And there are still people debating that. Come on guys! We are not in the paleolithic age!
Sad because I thought we take pride in Kalpana Chawla/Sunita Williams as icons of women’s/nation’s emancipation and seek to inspire our daughters along those lines but are still bogged down by very fundamental assumptions about women’s ‘location’ in society.
Irrespective of caste, language, religion and even geography, gender is the most common dimension where one can see similarities across societies. The ‘sisterhood’ faces challenges universally. One would be amazed to note how much domestic violence is part of family life across the world or for that matter crime against women. No culture or social group can claim a holier-than-thou attitude towards gender issues. Having said that, it must also be made clear that the level of debate and the extent to which these issues are addressed varies from society to society and country to country. The Euro-American societies have over the years seen a lot of ferment on these issues and they are able to cope with these issues better. They have not sought to push things under the carpet. Does that mean that our cultures have not had a progressive presence? There is so much out there to name a few: Pandita Ramabai worked for the emancipation of women. Our very own Periyar was a radical feminist of his time. Bharati spoke of “Pudumai Penn.” And many more to name just a few.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post. The debate, policy and research on these issues has reached light years ahead of what our ‘brotherhood'(sic) is busy with – the rather paltry right of women to go to work. The debate is about redefining masculinity. About expressive and assertive female sexuality. About alternate sexuality or transgender issues. About redefining the legal process to be more friendly to women and the transgendered. About reshaping policy to meet the changing needs of our time.
The most basic of all identities is ones gender identity. But there is an acute biological determinism about how people see these things. At a conceptual level, recent thinking on these subjects shows that there is increasingly a clear delineation about gender identity at at least three levels. At the first level is biology or biological fact about a person being born a male or a female. At the second level is the social sex whether the person sees himself/herself as a man/woman. Lastly and at the final level is the sexual orientation of the person whether s/he prefers someone of the same or opposite sex. At what level of permutations and combinations a person’s thoughts and emotions may be differs from individual to individual. Rigid straitjacketing of the roles of individuals whether men/women has never worked through history and will never work. Life is about fluidity and identities including gender identities are always in a flux.
Clearly gender is not equal to biological fact. Gender is culturally and socially produced. That there are men who prefer to live their lives as women is testimony to the non-biological reality of gender/sexual emotions. While it is sad that such men are sneered at by mainstream society, what is not noticed is that they have made a tough choice to abstain from patriarchal structures by abdicating the power that a man has in society. That is the key word POWER. Lord Acton had said “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Men seek that absolute power over women in society by setting the rules of the game. Gender is not so much about just the right of women to work but the power relations between men and women. Despite the relationship between husbands and wives being the most intimate space of their lives it is still amazing how power plays a vital role in marriages.
It is heartening to notice the increasing awareness of gender and transgender issues in the media. While some of this can become reduced to voyeurism and caricatures, still there is light at the end of the tunnel. Whether it is TV chat shows or films there is an increasing realization that we have to grow up on these issues. The onus in this sphere is clearly on the men as the power-bearers. Women already have too much on their plate to go about conscientizing men as to how they ought to conduct themselves. A redefined masculinity is not just about help in changing nappies of the child or doing household chores but about a fundamentally changed and different perspective about how we look at the world. Abhorring power and control in gender issues could also lead to a breakthrough in caste, religious, ethnic, racial and cultural spheres. It is all intertwined. We have to transcend gender issues to achieve a more peaceful and equitable existence. To those who believe in a God, it is the complimentarity of ‘Gods creation’ – the sexes that needs to be understood at the very outset.
The need of the hour is for more men to empathize with feminism. Can a man be a feminist? Perhaps yes or Perhaps not. Not because there is another kind of biological determinism that insists that only women understand their exploitation. Yes because through ages there has always been the benevolent(sic) male who has stood up for the right of women. Alright, if a man cannot be a feminist, at least he can be a ‘friend of feminism.’! What better or higher virtue can women attribute to men than being called true FRIENDS!
Our age is about transcending gender and transgender! To those who are still debating whether women can go to work, I say ” Yawn! Gentlemen(sic), Good Morning, Wake up and smell the coffee!”