“Men are more intelligent than women, he is a chhakka, a hijra, she is a slut. All these statements will not be tolerated in academic spaces now, at least academic spaces. And these were freely supported here in these very institutions 30 yrs ago..” our Professor said as he took his class on Gender and Society.
Feminism receives mixed reactions nowadays. Not only between people, but within ourselves too. Whatever the reception is, it arouses anxiety in us nevertheless. Simply because it attacks the status quo and we don’t want anything and anyone to challenge it which is quite natural.
My friend quoted one of my professors as saying that first matriarchy should be established and then men will fight for their rights and after that absolute equality shall we witness. I must say I am not a fan of this 3 step revolution. Whatever the case with feminism is, I found the Desi male so apprehensive of it that it worries me. It worries me not because of the shape the movement is taking, or the viability of the future it projects but simply the backlash of the Desi Male against such rocking of age old foundations.
The Desi male is a volatile creature. We all know who he is. He is around us and maybe within us. We come across him daily, in our homes and outside, in colleges and work spaces. A few decades ago, the Desi males’ existence was quite natural in terms of the conditions we had then. If we go a few centuries back, we will see that his position was only necessary to hold the hierarchy and social order in place.
When everyone was involved in agriculture and the laws of inheritance highly biased, men were in control of nearly everything. Theoretically, women do inherit property (which wasn’t the case earlier) however what do we see even now? Are they in control of the property they inherit from their fathers or is it just another gift for their husbands? The husband is still the de facto property owner. I doubt if most women can or dare to exercise their property rights even now. It is more like an accepted convention which goes unchallenged.
There is a reason as to why men have and still dominate women. With education not allowed for them, women naturally found themselves in a sticky situation. Even if they wanted independence, they still depended on their husbands for their needs and financial independence was an impossibility because the society very cunningly blocked that prospect for them.
The world has now changed. J.S. Mill would have been pleased. He ultimately narrows down his objective to capitalism in his essay The Subjection of Women (1869) but one cant altogether dismiss his point just because he happens to be aiming for increase in labour force through inclusion of women.
In his play “Aadhay Adhooray”, Mohan Rakesh has potrayed the transition we witnessed 30 yrs ago in a very subtle manner. Savitri, wife of Mahendranath (The Desi Male) is educated and works. It’s bewildering to imagine this prospect in the 1970s and 60s. She is heralding the coming of a new age. However she is stuck in the past too. Savitri not only earns and feeds the entire family (because Mahendranath lost his job), she also carries out the duties of a traditional wife. She comes back home and tidies the house and prepares tea for everybody. Here is a women in transition. But that was the 70s and the 60s. We are now living in a post-transition world.
I am only concerned with the question of the Desi male. The Desi male, it seems has still not come to terms with this reality. He works and earns but now the situation has changed. His wife works too and is educated like him and in some cases better than him. Women are now, at least in the cities, allowed and even encouraged to study. This may not be true for every household but the most important thing is that a girl studying now does not give rise to social censure. There is no social consensus now that girls shouldn’t study. The Desi male finds himself in a precarious situation. He wants to be the patriarch but his authority does not go unchallenged now. Simply because the economic base is not solely in his hands. He may have to ‘tolerate’ a woman as his boss even though he still believes women are dumb and simple. In his heydays, he used to exercise his machismo nearly everywhere. But now because the world does not tolerate his attitude of domination in the public space, he vents his frustration within the four walls of his house. Now the ‘subjects’ are his wife and his children. What he does not realize is that his position as a patriarch is no more relevant in today’s world. This is the very bone of contention between the wife and the husband. Both fight for the centre of power as both are equally or nearly equally equipped with the same ammunition. He orders his wife and his wife has to comply apart from working outside too. He scolds his children not realizing the reality of urban life where the more distance there is, the more peaceful will it be. The middle class strata is a classic case of such a tendency. With small houses, a life of anonymity in big cities and long working hours, the Desi male fails to recognize the need for revision of the relationship between husband and wife and father and son. Why I club together husband-wife and Father-son relationships is because in both the cases, the man acts as a patriarch. The relationship on a psychological level is that of slave-master relationship. The mentality which drives the male to order and exercise his right over his wife and children is that of patriarchy. That is why conflicts do arise between a husband and wife and between fathers and their children. The power dynamics have changed. The Desi male is not able to grasp this. The feudal structure is deeply entrenched in his mind. He believes that when he calls his wife, it is the duty of his wife to come at once. Otherwise, the wife will suffer humiliation and rebuke and he feels it is justified. The core problem is his believing that it is his right and it is her duty to obey and acquiesce. The society has ensured such a hierarchical structure within the family by having a good age difference between husband and wife. In the garb of seniority, the patriarchal authority is perpetuated. The Desi male becomes furious when he is not obeyed. The bigger problem is that despite experiencing a change in circumstances, he is not ready to bow down. He is not ready to acknowledge this and still persists in exercising his authority. This is the very thing which worries me. His counter reaction to not being obeyed becomes much more serious than it actually was earlier. The friction is all the more greater now.
In a conversation with an engineer and a scientist, I had to vehemently defend women’s equality when both of them were coming up with hideous examples like the number of women scientists and poets to prove their point that women are inferior than men. This conversation took place not in a university. But in academic spaces too, you will be able to hear educated men like professors speaking about women in a derogatory manner. Although their voices are silent, they are still there.
There are many instances, many examples where in we find people changing themselves but the hard reality is that people are still not ready to accept this transition. Maybe it is not a post transition world and the transition is still taking place. It might take another half a century for the Desi male to actually acknowledge that he no longer is the patriarch of his house.
The author blogs at www.typerioter.blogspot.com