The date will remain etched in the memory of every Indian, and beyond. We are inching towards the completion of a year, and nothing has changed. After the gang-rape in Delhi, a spiritual guru in India called Asaram Bapu said that the 23-year-old girl wouldn’t have faced the predicament that she did, had she referred to the men who defiled her as her brothers. Recently, the Director of the Central Bureau of Intelligence, India, said “… if you cannot stop rape, enjoy it.”
While incidents of sexual harassment and rape have woken the nation up to work to get legislation and policy changes in place, we are clearly missing the point. What change can we effect in the letter of the law if we can’t change our mindset? As much as posters and slogans began to read “Don’t teach your daughters not to get raped, teach your sons not to rape”, the paradigm shift in the mindset is still found wanting. Is it a woman’s duty to “not get” violated or raped or harassed or ogled at? Is it for a woman to do everything she can so that a man can “keep his urges in check”?
Starting at the top, this mentality feeds heavily on the first lessons in one’s upbringing that stems from culture. Through this, patriarchy is ingrained and instilled. From there, it is reinforced by media and mainstream public outlets that are increasingly popular because everyone can get their space and time in the limelight of expression.
Patriarchy needs no definition. Understood as male dominance, it is simply a construct that suffuses rhetorical verbosity to the notion that men are superior to women.
Our first lessons in patriarchy commence with our families. Specific roles and conduct are ascribed and are expected of children of both sexes – and with that, a subliminal understanding of the bifurcated statuses is inculcated. This is then systemically built upon with time, as children grow to become adults that encourage and perpetrate the same beliefs, and a continuous cycle is then created.
Now here’s the tricky part. Changing patriarchal attitudes is not about changing just the men’s mindset towards women, but also to themselves. That patriarchy affects men as much as it affects women is a given – although the manner in which it affects both sexes varies considerably. Men have been taught to believe that there should be a strong sense of masculinity in them – masculinity that decidedly manifests itself in the form of dominance, force, a violent streak or a roughened attitude.
This is then picked up by the media. Only reflecting what we truly are, whether they be Robin Thicke’s lyrics or even Ford’s retracted advertisement – they are all actually portrayals of what we let society continue to exist as. The media in every form only represents women exactly as we see them.
For society, the good natured simple woman who keeps house is the ideal. For society, the woman who wears anything she wants and knows what she wants is the anomaly. And the media picks up on that. While we are blaming the media for making us look at women as chattels, we are the ones to blame.
Patriarchy is often studied in its observance vis-a-vis women, and men have been absent from the rhetoric except as perpetrators or abettors. Reading women and women’s issues into any gender rhetoric is not wrong – but excluding the male narrative from the gender rhetoric has negative ramifications on the social fabric.
The “processes that confer privileges to one group and not another group are often invisible to those upon whom that privilege is conferred.” By leaving out the male angle from the rhetoric, the cycle of patriarchy continues to be perpetrated.
This is not to say that importance should be taken away from the process of empowering women, but that emphasis must be made upon the inclusion of men in the process. Reiteratively encouraging the notion that women’s empowerment must come at the cost of men’s empowerment, or that women must hate men to promote their own cause denigrates the very essence of true feminism. The “‘invisibility’ of masculinity in discussions of development has political dimensions”. The continued absence of the masculine perspective in gender rhetoric continues to keep alive the gender equality that it should be seeking to do away with.
The parochial mindset that prevails vis-a-vis women is our creation. We can blame in many places but the root cause, is each of us. We are all human. Respecting the differences and celebrating them isn’t hard at all.
As Audrey Hepburn’s lines as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady go:
“You see, Mrs. Higgins, apart from the things one can pick up, the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated. I shall always be a common flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me like a common flower girl, and always will. But I know that I shall always be a lady to Colonel Pickering, because he always treats me like a lady, and always will.”