Saturday, February 16, 2013

Let One Billion Rise




The last Valentine’s Day witnessed a women’s movement that brought global attention on certain important problems of women.  Women were discriminated against in the past in a variety of ways.  While discrimination seems to be on the wane today, violence against women is apparently mounting. 

It is possible that the decrease in discrimination and the increase in violence are correlated.  When women began to be more successful and more visible in the public, some of their male counterparts (who could not achieve proportionate success in life) reacted violently.  As women continue to ascend the rungs of success, this problem is likely to be more accentuated.  The problem, in this case, lies with the men; it is men who need treatment.

But it’s not fair to put the entire blame on men alone.  True, patriarchy has been the dominating system in most parts of the world and men created the rules for women.  It is a man who drew the Lakshman rekha for Sita; it is a man who kidnapped her; and, again, it is a man who abandoned her when other men cast aspersions on her chastity.  It has been a man’s world hitherto.

Nevertheless, the blame cannot be put on men alone today.  We live in a time which has already given much liberty to women and ample opportunities to forge her own destiny.  Have women made proper use of that liberty and those opportunities?

In the middle of the 20th century, feminist Simone de Beauvoir wrote: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman; ... it is a civilisation as a whole that produces this creature.”  The civilisation that De Beauvoir spoke about made woman a commodity, something that was “constructed” by man, by patriarchal systems.

Half a century later, we live in a substantially different world.  We inhabit a civilisation that gives equal rights and liberty to women, in addition to many protective measures like reservation policies.  In spite of that, about one billion women (a third of the entire women population in the world) feel insecure.  There is something radically wrong somewhere.

I have already admitted above that there is something wrong with the men who inflict violence on women.  I also raised a question whether it is only the men’s fault.

The women are responsible in many ways for defining themselves and the responsibility is ever more today when they have been given much liberty and rights.

One of the first things that women have to do today is to stop seeing themselves as commodities.  If De Beauvoir lived in a time when the patriarchal systems commodified women, can today’s women admit that they are not also party to the process of their own commodification?  We can accuse an Andrew Marvell of commodifying his Coy Mistress by virtually dismembering her identity into discrete sexual objects by focusing his gaze on her eyes, forehead, breasts, “the rest,” and “every part,” before raping her mentally with the bizarre threat that if she refuses him, “then worms shall try / That long preserved virginity.”

Marvell lived about five centuries ago.  Has a woman’s situation in society changed much today?  My focus, however, is not on that situation but on women’s responsibility in upholding that situation.  Can women today claim that they are not equally culpable for the commodification of their species?  Look at the advertisements and the movies.  Don’t women allow themselves to be commodified, to be shown as objects of men’s sexual pleasures – overtly or covertly, sensually or vicariously?  Consider the amount of jewellery sold all over the world every day – it’s in hundreds of kilograms.  Why do women think that their bodies are objects to be decked with such jewellery?  Consider the fashion industry, the cosmetics industry, the beauty industry... Can man sustain these industries without the woman’s cooperation?  So, who is commodifying women today?

As long as women allow themselves to be perceived as commodities, there will be hordes of Marvells to admire the various parts of the commodity according to each one’s taste.

In 1975, a female socio-linguist, Robin Lakoff, wrote that women’s language was inferior since it contained patterns of “weakness” and “uncertainty”, focused on the “trivial”, the frivolous, the unserious, and stressed personal, emotional responses.  If we replace the word ‘language’ with ‘attitudes’ or ‘perception’, Lakoff’s verdict would be correct even today.  

The issue of women’s emancipation is too complex to be analysed in a few lines like these.  I have merely looked at it from just one angle which, according to me, deserves serious consideration. 

16 comments:

  1. I suspect that there will be very few, if any, women who will take in your message.

    I wish to be proven wrong.

    RE

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    1. Thanks for the warning, Raghuram. I keep my fingers crossed.

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  2. Hi Tom,
    After reading your post, I get the impression that u are under illusion that the women in the entire world forms one body; having one aspiration, one ambition, tradition, culture and one milieu.

    It is not so, so I wonder how relevant are the examples u sited to the entire women in the world.

    I wished, u had sited some recent examples from Kerala as well; the glaring examples that shows nothing has changed there but only deteriorated as far as the majority women are considered.

    About 'com-modification' again remember we are living in a globalised capitalist society. It is fundamental to that to commodity everything. A better way way to face it, in my understanding, is to master the trick of the trade. One thing important to that is to have the individual freedom.

    Yes, females should have the freedom to make informed choices. If a female decides to appear in the add, she should know the implications of that and should make the choice men too. Here is the role of the education.

    choice of a product for eg. should be included in the curriculum. Without knowledge, people cannot make choice. They cannot be responsible in a commodified world.

    The problem of our time, in my knowledge, is that few women and men know about their rights and their freedom. Then females have their own nuances.
    Well this is a big topic, cannot go into the details of all in a comment.

    This is all my opinion.

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    1. Prasanna, I've already confessed that this is a complex problem and I'm taking a limited look at it.

      No, I don't think that the entire female lot in the world is a megalith with the same ambitions, etc. I'm looking at certain dominant patterns and aspects.

      In Kerala too, as I understand, the situation is not different from the global one. Girls are accepting a certain degree of commodification of themselves. Look at the nature of relationships between boys and girls in higher classes and colleges.

      But I do agree with you that there are quite a lot of women who will fall out of this perspective... But how many are really willing to step out of the Lakshman rekha on their own instead of letting themselves be hijacked by man-made systems such as 'capitalism'?

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  3. I agree partially with you. To add to what you say, I think women have always been asking for liberty, freedom etc from men. That places them in an inferior position. who are men to give and women to take?
    I believe both men and women are differently wired and need their spaces and that must be accepted by both genders. once that is achieved there won't be any need to ask for freedom because it would be accepted generally.
    painful as it may look but yes women do allow them to be commodified but for different reasons many times innocently.

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    1. Yes, Madhvi, it is a question of looking at the roles as being quite different, rather than seeing it as a question of equality. You are absolutely right in asking the question why women should seek freedom from men and their systems? Understanding of each other's needs and respecting them are the real foundations of a more civilised society.

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  4. You seem to be stirring a hornet's nest. There is no doubting the systematic and systemic exploitation of women but feminism is a much misunderstood, much abused term. I have held for long that women frequently play the catalyst in the trivilaisation of their own sex.

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    1. Uma, don't you think that women are helpless in some ways because of which they trivialise their own sex? Now, what makes them so helpless is a different question. Is it only the man-made systems or is it also their own limitations (such as unwillingness to take certain risks)?

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  5. Women were chained in sociatal expectations for long.Now they want to break free.Certainly they ought to.But now the pendulum is swinging dangerously.Yes,they are adding to their own commodification.Partly it is their own fault but more than that it is the male ego which cannot tolerate their rearing of head.

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    1. It is that dangerous swing of the pendulum that I'm concerned about, Indu. Maybe, this is the way civilisation works. As Ken Follett says in his latest novel, the Germans were living in caves when the Arabs were cerebrating about the value of zero. But where are the Germans today, and where the Arab civilisation? Maybe, the whole issue of women's emancipation is destined to go through such cycles of evolution.

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  6. There are women and women, Matheikal and liberation means different things to different people. Everybody likes to be admired and be considered attractive, be it for something as vain as looks, or something more profound like intellect, that is human nature. This need for appreciation and admiration is not a 'woman's' folly if I may say so without being misunderstood. Sexual objectification of women is something that goes beyond mere admiration. Much as other women might try to dissuade, there will always be certain women who would love to be just just their bodies and willingly participate in this objectification.....in the vainglory of being 'liberated'.....

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    1. Aditi, you are coming to the question of levels of self-fulfilment. Some women are capable of finding fulfilment at the higher level, while others will remain at the level of the body - that's what you seem to be saying.

      I can accept that. But then, as Raghuram asks below, how will you blame men for ogling or admiring (whichever way one would like to see it) what the women are displaying?

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  7. Aditi,

    I seek clarification: could any man have said what you did and got away with it in these days of heightened temperatures in public discourse? Secondly, how much of a defence can a man mount for appreciating beauty, a woman's beauty, without being accused of leering? Who judges this, the man or the woman? Or, perhaps something vague like societal standards?

    RE

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  8. Matheikal, Raghu, ,very crudely put, there is 'bad touch' and 'good touch' which these days one teaches the kids in this perverse world. Similarly for 'ogling at a woman as a sexual object' versus 'looking at a woman with appreciation'. Yes, the woman judges it, not the man, she is the one affected.

    You might not believe or accept it, but a woman almost always knows the difference, You could cross check this statement with any other woman you have faith on. Also except perhaps very high strung self-important homophobic women, for most women, being looked at appreciatively is never a big deal, but being stripped naked mentally is, and you must forgive me for this generalization.

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