Written By NilavroNill Shoovro
All women aren’t necessarily feminists and all feminists need not necessarily be women. In a patriarchal social scheme, it is indeed debatable, whether feminism is a woman’s last bastion or her primary condition for survival. However, it cannot be denied that feminism is woman’s strongest stance against patriarchy. But has feminism really succeeded in safeguarding women in a world strongly driven by capitalism? How familiar are we with these questions? Are these even connected with our daily life and interactions? It would be interesting to evaluate the relevance of feminism vis-a-vis the general family and social frames. How do women, themselves, evaluate these? In fact, this subject is so diverse and open to such wide interpretations that there is no singular answer to it. However, traces of these answers are found in the different layers of social transactions and politics that plays out in our midst every day. Even if we do not delve deep into the history of how patriarchy has turned out, it is undeniable that it has undergone vast changes in the way it operates. Modern technology revolution and consumerism has brought about these startling transformations. But how deep are these or just superficial, is again a debatable issue. We have seen that the various new laws, that are promulgated in favour of women’s safety and security have emboldened feminism against patriarchal chauvinism. Are these really making any difference? But the very fact that such laws are being formulated, has reflected favourably in the spread of feminism worldwide. The manner and degree to which feminism benefits from such initiatives, is a function of social reality and the national framework within which it is enacted. Therefore, its effects differ country to country. But some more factors still remain beyond the political and economic aspects of feminism, where even economic independence is unable to ensure a woman’s right to her own identity. These are the aspects that need most of our attention and analysis. Generally, it is considered that economic independence is the key to a woman’s autonomy, but that might not be true at all times, in all societies or all countries, this is more or less a known fact. But why is that so? It is a subject, worthy of consideration and should be pursued.
The social realities of the developed and the under developed world are different and so is the nature and reality of feminism within them. The differences in communal culture, social hierarchy and economic structures are responsible for such variations. The growth of a woman within a social environment, her thought process, and the way her familial traditions and beliefs mould her cultural and mental outlook are all to be considered. These factors vary so much owing to the nation, culture and community that the nature and reality of feminism in each space becomes distinct from one another. Generalizing these complexities into a few simplistic structures, therefore, creates gaping discrepancies in such studies. Economic independence alone cannot ensure a woman’s liberty and autonomy. The realities of women in the Western world and those of the East are different and thus are the processes through which feminism manifests itself in these societies. But those who ignore these facts in order to propose themselves as the spokespeople for feminism internationally, often make this mistake. The differences between the aspirations, beliefs, expectations and demands of European or American women are drastically different from those of the women of the third world. Thus, international feminism is an elusive concept. The fact that in each milieu the culture, values and morality of women are different, so are their problems, aspirations and horizons. That is why feminism cannot be one and the same in each woman’s mind. to this we must also add the factor of the changing times. in any country or any community, the meaning and significance of feminism keeps changing over time. This is an undeniable fact and therefore needs to be reconsidered decade per decade.
Women within the confines of patriarchy
The main agenda of patriarchy, that is hidden in all societies, is the claim and control of man over a woman’s womb. It is the unchanging and established truth, irrespective of time, country and society. It wouldn’t be an overstatement if this is considered to be the most important aspect of modern human civilization. Every boy and girl become aware of this as soon as they attain puberty. And it becomes so entrenched in their minds that it gets firmly rooted in their beliefs and culture. Thus, it is rare for anyone to question this in the first place. Rather, it becomes as natural and acceptable fact as the physical environment around them. And in turn, it becomes their way of life by their early youth. feminism, on the other hand, questions this very premise. Those who are influenced by this are marked as feminists. Especially in the third world, these familial cultures and social dictates bear so hard upon the youth that their freedom of thought and experience is severely constrained and barred. This is the mechanism employed to prohibit such questions and strengthens the roots of patriarchy ever so firmly. And this is why women remain restrained from asking such questions and prompts them to remain muted, to refrain from thinking and thinking differently. rather, they are discouraged from being different. This silent surrender to the dictates of patriarchy is the history of women in the third world. And their present too, in the 21st century! This very prohibition on being different is enough to silence women. If that doesn’t work, it is easy enough to mark that woman as corrupted like ‘Taslima Nasreen’. This is the political scheme of patriarchal system. How many women can afford to be so strong of character and bold of thought that they would be able to counter this structure emphatically? Or even to step out of this ugly but familiar reality? Rather, empathetic man can dream of enveloping this beloved woman with love, security and care. That is the true yardstick of love. This is the notion that is etched on every woman’s mind by this social structure. This is how the domination over her womb can be consolidated, without deeply and without opposition. This is also why, in a third world like ours, even an economically independent woman cannot escape this scheme of thought. She doesn’t even desire to be different, whereby she can counter and deny the claim of the patriarchal system on her womb. She learns feminism from books, blindly follows the ideas discussed in seminars. Most women do not even see themselves outside that boundary nor do they have that boldness or fierce perseverance to actually break free, despite their impressive qualifications and financial independence. There a perpetual curfew on women’s minds in this oppressive set up of the patriarchal system. Rather, the more academically qualified and financially independent a woman is, she seeks a man more qualified and stronger financially than herself; to whose cushion of love and security, she can surrender the claim to her womb. Almost 99 percent of women find gratification and success of her feminine existence in this. And they regret their womanly existence, in case these expectations are not fulfilled in accordance with this comfort and convenience. They rue their fates but still, do not aspire to be different. They cannot think differently, nor do they realize that the problem lies on a completely different plane. Why and how things turned out differently for them. In our social reality, our feminist concepts are imported from the European or American contexts, which, more often than not, serve the sole purpose of leisurely entertainment. More regretfully, it becomes a tool for attaining fame or a medium for practicing professional skills.
But let’s not forget, that women themselves are not solely responsible for this lopsided thought process. It is the mental and social conditioning since her childhood that precipitates this mindset in women. In our society, we encourage women to think of herself as inferior to men in all respects, irrespective of her qualification or professional excellence. We consciously keep women far away from the confidence and self assurance that helps the development of bold and independent personalities. It is a misconception that the wife’s freedom to shop with her husband’s finances or her freedom to choose a profession are not the yardsticks of ultimate independence for women. An independent personality is that which does not allow anyone’s encroachment or right on its body, body and identity. This is indeed a rarity in a third world society like ours’. And if such a personality is found by any chance, the society concertedly arranges to isolate it immediately. Women have been trapped in this constricting vicious circle eternally.
It has been a concerted and continuous effort of the patriarchal social structure to keep women dominated and exercise undisputed claim on her womb. Religion, especially communal religious set ups, are actively complicit and adept in propagating this ill will. Even in this age and time of unprecedented success in technological development, sectarian religion is tremendously effective in propagating and preserving patriarchy. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that Patriarchy and religion complement each other. This gender politics is born and gets fertile ground to grow in the unholy environment created by the collusion of these two. That is why, an individual woman can never expect to win in the face of this unbalanced power equation. This is the mainly why feminism has be striving further and harder to lend that necessary support and confidence to women in this battle. This is imperative because, as discussed earlier, this is not at all a one-dimensional problem. So, it must assume new forms, find ways and invent processes to deal with the unique issues of each community and sect. This is also why; feminism must become increasingly more practical. The less fancy and emotion driven it is, the better. Practical issues and realities need discourse and solutions that are based on ground realities. This should start primarily with educating women. Feminism has to keep up a continuous effort in ensuring women’s’ financial independence to helping them to find their self-identity, in different ways, as per the needs of different social frameworks. The revelation of their self-identity shall help women to develop self confidence and strength, which in turn shall help them to break out of the vicious circle of gender politics towards liberation. That would indeed be a big step towards empowering them to counter the chauvinistic demands of the patriarchal society, rather than surrender to it unconditionally. This would pave the way for their true liberation and glory.
Birth of a woman and her personal freedom
In more or less all countries across the world, even in this modern society and age, women are still considered second class citizens. This is because throughout the world, patriarchy enjoys domination over the social, infrastructural, constitutional and administrative amenities. An individual woman keeps struggling to break out of these boundaries throughout her life. She has to sacrifice her individual freedom and confine herself within the lines defined by patriarchy, irrespective of whether she is in the domestic periphery or beyond it. Therefore, most women are unable to exercise their individual freedom, the way they would like to. Women’s Day is celebrated worldwide, every year, but what good has it brought to enhance the freedom in their lives, is a pertinent question that needs to be honestly answered.
Many will argue that most modern women get to enjoy enough liberty in this modern age. But there are a few things that need to be considered carefully. ‘Enough’ liberty is not ‘complete’ liberty. Why so? Simply because, it is not earned by the women themselves. Rather, this freedom is what, how, when and where it is sanctioned by patriarchal rules. Nothing more than that. And the notion that they ‘get to enjoy’ their freedom again, implies that it did not flow naturally, rather, the society ‘allows’ them to enjoy so. It is only a privilege, sanctioned by the society. This is what patriarchy would like to believe and endorse. And this is where hiccups occur in the exercise of women’s liberty.
The periphery of domesticity is very much the background on which the question of women’s liberation is established. From its very infancy, a child becomes aware of the disparity in the freedom enjoyed by its father and its mother. And this conditioning takes deeper roots in the child’s psyche as it grows in that environment. This set up becomes so entrenched in the child’s mind, that it becomes enormously difficult to break out of it. Therefore, irrespective on man or woman, this framework guides people in the society, at home, in relationships, marriages and all other spheres of life.
Practically, a man can give only that much freedom to his wife, daughter, loved one or even his mother, as much as he loves them. That measure remains proportional. Which means that a woman’s freedom is defined primarily by the boundaries set by the husband, father, lover or son. This is the biggest challenge that women’s freedom faces at the very onset. More often than not, we overlook the fact that the apparent freedom that a woman enjoys is directly controlled by the whims of the men at home. The ineffectiveness of so-called feminism is clearly visible in this unfortunate scenario. More so, because it is at home where women find their freedom most severely curbed. We hardly realize this fact at all. In situations where a woman’s freedom is severely restricted by the whims and fancies of the male head of the family, we can still see it. But in so called progressive families, where women apparently enjoy personal freedom, the fact remains that, the men still control the reins, albeit that domination is invisible.
It is interesting to note that despite the enthusiasm and noise created around feminism worldwide, the restrictions on the personal freedom of women at home remains more or less unaffected. This unchanging reality pervades our psyche, emotion, work ethics and lifestyle invasively. Thus, there is a pressing need to redefine the efficacy of feminism within the domestic confines. It has to be brought out of this celebratory modernism and absorbed in our thoughts, emotions and psyche so as to bring a real positive change in the way it is looked at. We must remember, that without a paradigm shift in the understanding of this subject, feminism shall remain by and large ineffectual.
How is this possible? We simply have to begin at home, at the very infancy of a child. The parity in personal freedom of its mother and father has to be established. Primarily, an amicable environment of mutual dependence, based on respect and trust has to be entrenched in the child’s mind so that it can fathom the idea of this parity. This will define the child’s understanding, thought and mind set about a woman’s personal freedom as it prepares for the next stage of its life. If this can be replicated in every household in the society, then it would not be difficult to establish feminism and the chances for it to be successful would be enhanced.
Such nurturing can ensure that future generations are rightly oriented towards the idea of the freedom of a woman. What is the basis of the various kinds of freedoms enjoyed by men or women in a domestic environment? The day, the patriarchal society set the burden of carrying the entire financial liability of the family on a man’s shoulders, the idea of personal freedom of women became ineffectual. Which means that all financial freedom of a household being given to a man drastically diminished the expanse of the personal freedom of the women. This is the main reason for seeking a financially sound groom to marry off a girl. It is implied that man will take over the entire financial liability and the woman will take charge of the domestic duties. But, since financial freedom is the biggest criterion for sustaining life, the man’s financial freedom automatically curbs the woman’s liberty. Times have changed, nowadays, most homes have both, the man and the woman earning side by side. However, the man’s singular right to authority at home has hardly changed. This has mainly two reasons. In most households, the man’s earning being more than that of the woman, creates an imbalance in the right to take quick decisions on the way the house hold is to be managed. The woman becomes dependent on her husband for such decisions and consequently her area of personal freedom diminishes. Secondly, due to the monopolistic male authority in the social circle as well as the ideas nurtured since birth, the financially independent man refuses to acknowledge the personal freedom of a woman. Consequently, this skewed sphere of individual freedom cannot change easily, and without that, there is no hope for change in the social and domestic environment.
This is why, a woman’s personal freedom is dependent on her financial independence. It also changes the way men and women look at their own freedom and parity. More and more public awareness about this is most important in our society. Only this can ensure the efficacy and success of feminism and also lend meaning to the celebration of women’s day. A continuous, collective, all round effort, at all levels, is required for this to happen. Women need to understand that the idea of depending on a man for her entire livelihood has to change. If a man can shoulder the financial liability of an entire household, so can a woman. In fact, she is capable of shouldering a man’s responsibility as well. In that case, no man can exercise a monopolistic authority over her. This would enable and ensure her personal freedom. It builds up the necessary courage and confidence in a woman to win over her fate. The more strength she gathers, the more esteemed she will become in a man’s view. This esteem shall further ensure that men change their behaviour and become more humane in their attitude towards her. This has to happen in the family first, only then will this affect all strata of the society, across the nation and reach a crescendo at the global level.
Rights of a Woman
That, sexual involvement of man with one or more women is not seen as much of a crime but a woman having such relationships is seen as unpardonable- this makes absolutely no sense and we can do no more than be ashamed and guilty of this skewed idea. The very perpetuation and inheritance of the patriarchal society and its ideas is in itself shameful. It becomes rather difficult to escape this guilt by arguing that polygamy is not good for nurturing a healthy family. But the question is, why? Does it help in reinforcing the foundation of patriarchy? Why is it not such a grievous crime when committed by a man, but essentially a taboo for women? Why doesn’t a man being polygamous doesn’t worry the society as much as it does when it is committed by a woman? Why is a woman called out as ‘Taslima Nasreen’, when she raises such uncomfortable questions? She had dared to call out this disparity with honesty and practically stepped out of the boundaries of this so-called chastity. This is absolutely not acceptable to the patriarchal order.
The society will never give women, the right to override its diktats. The very right of satiating its sexual drive by using women through ages, patriarchy will never let women out of that vicious arrangement. That’s but natural! Just like, the United States of America, the first country to make the atomic bomb and the only one to use it, exercises its own monopolistic discretion to decide which country will own nuclear technology and which won’t. It also chooses whom to accuse of possessing nuclear technology and break all hell lose on that country, according to its convenience and whims. Because the US knows that as long as the balance of power is skewed towards it, it can remain the most powerful nation, with the right to exploit the entire world. It is like the local don, deciding that no one can lock their doors and the sale of locks is banned in the market. No one can even possess weapons for self defence. The US ban on any country possessing nuclear technology is a similar phenomenon. This is exactly how power is exercised. The country that bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not ashamed, rather it has placed itself as the authority to sanction the right of another country to possess such power. This is how the world works, because, the powerful is always fearful of losing its power. Therefore, it tries to keep its dominions downtrodden and powerless.
Patriarchy exercises the same domination over women, through ages. And men use this patriarchal framework for their own interest, according to their education, culture, choice, opportunity and capability. That is why what men do, is evaluated and judged differently than what is done by women. The fear of losing control on the wife if she becomes polygamous is huge. As a husband, a man zealously guards his monopolistic right to the body, emotion and sexual fidelity of his wife. That is why, women’s infidelity or poly amorous relationships are taboo in our society.
But woman? If she chooses to step out of the boundaries of her patriarchal confines, if she chooses to question her own right over her own body and sexuality, we are quick to throw a counter logic at her that human sexuality is not the mere joy of sexual intercourse, as is seen in animals- this is the difference between animals and humans, where the body is the ultimate consideration. By the same logic, a woman also should have the right to express that a in marital relationship, where emotional and mental pleasure has fizzled out, is it not animal to indulge in a pleasureless, dissatisfying, routine copulation day in and day out? Is it a mere carnal consideration? If she too, can create a balance between her marital life and a satisfying extramarital relationship, why must the society prohibit it so vehemently? Can patriarchy answer this in honesty?
We all know, that patriarchy has no answers to this and that is why it indulges in idolatry of a woman’s ‘chastity’, ‘virginity’ and ‘fidelity’ as the highest virtues. Not only that, all this is also inseparably clubbed with the virtue and glory of ‘motherhood’ as a potent fetter to tame the sexuality of women. This is the cultural and domestic milieu within which a woman grows up from a child to a young maiden. It encompasses her body, mind and sexuality. She also begins to believe and tries to follow these exalted virtues with single-minded conviction. This is the moment of triumph for patriarchy. Just as the craving for globalization has led the world into the trap of capitalistic colonialism. Just as in Tagore’s play, ‘Roktokorobi’, the subjects of the king become mere numbers, pawned to the masters of an autocratic arrangement, a woman trapped in the virtues of ‘chastity’ and ‘motherhood’ also fails to realize that they keep her from realizing her own identity and flowering into an independent individual. She too starts believing that the patriarchal set up is the only arrangement that can bring order and sustain the society. That a woman is single-handedly responsible for the happiness and satisfaction of her family. That, ‘chastity’ and ‘motherhood’ is the highest virtue of a woman, just as we have accepted that the global expansion of capitalism is the only alternative to counter the monopoly of a few, on wealth. This is the manner in which an unjust and disproportional arrangement is entrenched into the psyche of the society. And how is it done? Simply, by creating an irresistible craving for the desired idea and brain washing people to perpetuate this scheme. Be it in the international, political, financial context or domestic, matrimonial environment. If a woman ever tries to establish her individual, independent personality in such a world, the entire society stands to accuse her of creating anarchy and disrupting the social order. This is exactly like the US, that feels entitled to dominate all the countries in the world by selectively weaponizing and garrisoning some countries and terrorizing others, thereby perpetuating their unipolar chauvinism on the entire world. Propagating the so-called virtues of ‘chastity’ and ‘motherhood’ is also a similar scheme of patriarchy.
However, it is pertinent to ponder over the real value of ‘chastity’ and ‘motherhood’ in a woman’s life. How far it is significant and how much control her individual self has over it? Despite our pride in our modern outlook, how many of us ask these questions or let a woman ask them? For instance, if a man misses the last train to return home from office, he can easily call up home and say that he is going to stay the night at a colleague’s place. His wife feels satisfied that he has a decent shelter for the night. But if the same happens to a woman, what does the husband think? Does he have the same sense of relief, if his wife is staying out of home for a night? Certainly not. Is this because he has more love for his wife than his wife has for him? Or, is his faith on his wife is not as strong? This question does not disturb the wife as much as it perturbs the husband. The wife would have to give an elaborate explanation about her whereabouts if her virtues are still to be accepted by her husband. Just as Sita had to give a trial by fire after her rescue from Lanka. But no one asks, how were Ram’s nights spent after Sita’s abduction. Even the creator of this epic has bypassed this question. This is a glaring example of what ‘chastity’ means in patriarchy. how chaste was Draupadi, given her five husbands, what ‘chastity’ meant for women who were married to the same man and cohabited with each other, are questions that repeatedly come up in patriarchy but are swept under the carpet with the oud noise created by the tom-toming of the virtues themselves.
The main concern of propagating these virtues is to hammer deep into the feminine psyche, that a woman’s ultimate value is in her acceptance of sexual slavery to man. And it perpetuates as a traditional inheritance. Any denial or resistance of this, invokes the risk of social ostracization. But it was perhaps per-empted that only ‘chastity’ as a virtue might not be enough to ensure complete submission to this system of slavery. Thus, as in all other systems, there was a back up mechanism envisaged to reinforce and ensure its success. And this mechanism was the exaltation of the virtue of ‘motherhood’ as the highest, in a woman’s life. This is the virtue that leads women to offer her womb to the perpetuation of a man’s lineage. Motherhood, is inherent to women and a man’s role in it is limited. By right, a child should inherit its mother’s identity, because a woman’s role is of utmost importance in this birthing a child. If this could be attained, then no woman would have to surrender her sexual liberty, body, sexuality and emotions to a man. A man and a woman’s relationship would have stood on a fair ground of mutual consent and agreement. But that would never be conducive to patriarchy. Rather, the forced hijacking of woman’s womb in the name of ‘chastity’ and motherhood’ is the dominant scheme of this arrangement.
This is the manner in which the patriarchal society ensures that the entirety of a woman’s life is submitted to men. In such a scenario, it is obvious that a polygamous woman would be the biggest threat to this system. But that challenge has never arisen in this society as yet, because as soon as a woman tries to step beyond her defined periphery, she is labelled as ‘characterless’. However, the question is- ‘why should we comply?’ This question is rare, especially coming from a married woman. What happens if a married woman tires from her routine sexual relationship in her marriage and seeks extra marital pleasure for the sake of her own body? No one has the answer to this. Because we are accustomed to sweeping such uncomfortable questions under the carpet of morality. But does that really suffice? The answer is ‘No’. It is not the question of a man or a woman, but that of a human being. Every human’s individual desire, need and choice is dependent on his education and culture. His sexual emotions are also dependent on these. The complete blooming of these sexual emotions is the primary demand of nature. Thus, a society must also ensure the same so that the natural rights of all individuals are established. The main problem here, is that we assume that ‘marriage’ is a permanent arrangement. This assumption is also an instrument for ensuring the smooth perpetuation of patriarchy. We conveniently forget, or, would like to forget, that nothing is permanent in this world. This impermanence is the true reason for the vibrance of the universe. We forget that this vibrance dies in a marital relationship as we enforce the idea of permanence in it, for the sake of perpetuating the male bloodline or keeping the family intact. In case of unhappiness within this arrangement, a man is given liberties to dodge the liability of fidelity, but the same is extremely difficult for a woman. That liberty is prohibited to her. What if a woman can strike a balance between achieving sexual pleasure and satisfaction from an extra marital relationship and can actually be happier and more inspired in her marital duties due to the satisfaction, she gains from it? The society has to face this question at some point of time. There is a definite mechanical tediousness in believing that our age-old ideas are self sufficient in handling such issues. The mindless repetition of this exercise leads to stagnation of the society. We keep circling around these irrational ideas. In our society, marriage is a similar notion, which fuels patriarchy and its perpetuation. we must remember that marriage is the main pillar on which patriarchy stands. It is time that we strike a balance between natural and social laws.
If a woman gets the same liberty as a man to break the routine monotony of sexual tediousness in a marriage through gaining sexual gratification from extra marital relationships and if that helps in re-establishing a freshness in the domestic environment, then that would only help in sustaining the marriage. It would profit the family immensely. Why can’t we look at it from this perspective? Just as our hearts need understanding, our body also wants understanding of its needs. In a marriage devoid of sexual fulfilment, either for a man or woman, why is it wrong or unacceptable to seek sexual fulfilment in another partner outside of marriage? Is it considered wrong because it will hit the very foundation of patriarchy? Why not let that happen? If that ultimately leads to the collapse of this unjust system, then it would be good news for the society. Feminism has to increasingly work on this ground reality.
Copyrights reserved by Nilavronill Shoovro
***Translated In English From Original Bangla By Antara Banerjee
ANTARA BANERJEE is best known for her two books, ‘The Goddess in Flesh’ and ‘To be a Woman’. Recipient of the prestigious Sanmarg Aparajita Award 2019 as a Young Achiever for her contribution in the field of literature, she is Masters in Image and Communication from Goldsmiths College, London and a graduate from the Presidency College of Kolkata. Apart from being a novelist, she is also a poet in three languages. She writes verses in English, Bangla and Hindi. In a language that is marked by boldness and passion at the same time, she endeavours to transport her readers to a world that can only be described in words, a world that is shrouded in charming intrigue. Because, words can evoke imagination, that is constrained by nothing!