Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fighting Masculinities: In the Indian Society and Within the Left

Renu Singh
Women in the Left ranks have to fight on multiple fronts starting form families, society to our fellow comrades who are so busy trying to change the world but forget the need to change themselves in the process.

The 16th December rape incident with a 23 year old student has shaken up the whole nation and the manifest anger was seen in the national capital. People who would have never came out of their comfort zones, came out onto the streets and faced tear gas and police batons.

It was the first time when the gender issues became an issue of public debate in the mainstream. The so called "apolitical" people who claim to hate politics became the part of this very political issue. I got the chance to be part of the protests in various parts of Delhi including the sites of power such the as President House and the India Gate.

Lots of things have been already said and done during this time. We have listened to the words of expertise on the matter including political leaders such as Sushma Swaraj, or khap panchayats (our self -proclaimed guardians of morality), and even godmen have given their words of wisdom on the matter, calling the victim "Jinda Lash" (living corpse) or blaming the victim for not behaving properly and for not begging before the rapists. They have in one or the other way suggested women to behave in a certain ways to avoid such incidents. Even the great ideologues of the hindutva bridge have also expressed their thoughts, holding women squarely responsible for inviting the sexual violence on themselves. They have found quite original reasons for violence against women such as eating chowmin, using cellphones, co-ed education and clothes etc. Obviously, none of them attributes a share of responsibility to the culprits for the heinous acts of sexual violence.

What has been bothering me is that very few people have questioned our 'great Indian masculine culture', which promotes certain kind of behaviours as 'normal' in our society. As I say this, I ponder on our day-to-day experiences.

We are living in a society that prefers sons in the family. The origin of son preference is deeply rooted in patriarchy. Historically the preference for a son can be seen in the notion of private property which Angles argued in "Origin of Family, Private Property and State". He argued that over the period of human civilization women were turned into private property. The family structure took such shape that it became necessary to make sure to have son of particular man to ensure the property inheritance. Ensuring it could be done through controlling women's sexuality and taking their rights over their bodies including decisions regarding marriage and child birth. Thus, women lost their status as an individual in the course of time.

patriarchy and IndiaThis very patriarchy shapes our daily lives through various cultural forms. This bias against women can be seen from birth to death and now it has reached inside the womb. At a times girl child is not even fortunate enough to take birth. And if they are born, the systemic discrimination starts against them. Both the genders (male and female) are socially constructed in entirely different ways. One can see various examples of this socialization process starting from the game of the children's. Even the market promotes different type of toys for the girls and boys. Where boys are promoted to play with toy guns, girls have this whole range of Barbie dolls and kitchen sets. In our social and cultural set up girls are expected to be protected and boys are to be protector. They both are brought up by giving different type of values system. Girls do not even have free choices even in clothing, education, or even food. Even the day to day examples in our families such as "boys don't cry" or "girls don't go out in the night" or "girls should not speak loud" and so on socialize both the genders in entirely opposite way. In all the fairy tales, which we hear since very young age, there will always be a princess waiting for her prince charming and that prince charming comes one day and frees the princess from all her miseries. Girls have been socially programmed to internalize that the house where they are born doesn't belong to them. These are just some examples how we are shaped as a person and how our role models are being constructed.

Since our childhood, girls live under constant surveillance, which prevent their growth as an independent individual. On the other hand, male children are brought up in entirely different way. They are free, have exposure of outside world, can roam freely, can go to watch movies in late night, and get introduced to the slangs and can use them. Boy's upbringing in our society is all about gaining control over everything. They also internalize the violent nature which is inherent in our "great culture". I have seen so many young boys fighting among themselves, using slangs such as mother fucker and sister fucker (most used slangs in Hindi) etc.

These slangs then become a part of their daily life without even realizing its literal connotations. This masculinity gets so naturalized that people don't question it rather we see celebration of masculinity all around us.

Even the people in progressive circles and left politics are not free of these societal norms. Men who become part of the progressive politics are also not free from this masculine attitude and practices. We can see it in their body language, conversations, and their public and private behaviour. We may make big claims of being champions of the women's freedom and liberation but somewhere inside them the fear of uncontrolled female sexuality bothers the men of the progressive left circles. No one talks about it openly in public spaces, but to know its existence one only has to observe it little carefully. Even in the progressive universities fellow female student's and comrade’s character is being used during elections campaign. Their sexual orientations become an issue of ear to ear slander during election campaigns. Women are being guarded even by the progressive men starting from their clothing to their political, personal and sexual lives. They are no different of those Hindu fanatics who are afraid of "uncontrolled" female sexuality of women and control it through various ways. Few examples such as, ones a male left activist who is well known in a radical left circles said to another female comrade that she wears a sari below the navel to attract men. This is just one example from the long list which women in left politics face. Either they have to behave as "good women" as per the societal norm or else their character has to undergo postmortem in every possible way.

This patriarchal masculine behaviour is very visible in the protest march, male comrades are in front, shouting slogans at the height of their lungs, without understanding the problems lying with this showing off of the masculinity and not allowing the female comrades leadership even on the issues of gender justice. Some of them even claim to read the feminist theories more than any feminist. But they do not understand the praxis of it.

And that is how women in the Left ranks have to fight on multiple fronts starting form families, society to our fellow comrades who are so busy trying to change the world but forget the need to change themselves in the process.

One more issues on which I would like to draw the attention is the day-to-day culture of masculine violence in our society. Violence is inherent in our day to day lives. Our society and culture is full of masculine violence. It is inbuilt even in our language. We can very well see it around ourselves in our day to day life and interaction with outside world. This violent culture is so inherent in us that we don't see any problem in that and do not realize that this is the one important reason on violence against women. This works on the logic of teaching others lessons who do not fit in our appropriate ways or who do not listen to us. For example one reason which I can see in the context of rape culture is of that teaching the other a lesson. They teach lessons to women of other religion or other culture because that is the best way to teach the men of that community a lesson. We need to say it loud and strongly that our honour doesn't lie in our vaginas. The fight is long, and on multiple fronts.


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