Good women are dead women, at least metaphorically, in a society which upholds the view that human agency is gender dependent. Since in human context one gender, male, is superior to other, female, the role of human agency isn’t universal. Consequently, what is considered universal is what is prevalent; male domination expressed in various subtle and not so subtle ways.
Male power as shown by the crimes against women in recent times has become phenomenal; it has little check on it either by society or the state. The road to hell - for women - is paved with good intentions of good men. Multiple factors have created an excruciatingly painful situation for women, young and old, even for the dead ones. Prominent among them are traditional patriarchy patronised by the state and society, streak of misogyny inbuilt in the contents of public and private education, political rise of the religious right promoted by the state institutions and supported by hegemonic western nations and last but not least, the unprecedented population explosion.
Interestingly, all these factors are interrelated. Let’s start off with the last factor - population explosion - which is rarely taken into account in the context of gender violence. Exponential population growth is related with and has bearing on other factors. Increase in population not only remains unchecked but is also encouraged by patriarchy, religious right and the state. The logic behind it goes somewhat like this: children are products of a natural process and expression of God’s blessing. The increased number adds to the strength of Ummah [whatever it means] which epitomises the ultimate truth. Ummah’s swollen number would lead to its domination at global level. Concerning its economic implication, they pronounce that a child born has one mouth and two hands. Above all it is God that is the guarantor of provisions to all who come to this world. The state supports such an ideological stance by enforcing syllabus and curriculum in the educational bodies which endorse such a view.
Young men and women who after finishing their education join practical life generally carry the worldview imparted to them; young men convinced of their superiority and sense of entitlement, and young women resigned to being an appendage doing their subservient role in a male-dominated world. Subsequently patriarchy is reinforced as a longstanding regulatory mechanism and is projected as something natural born of socio-biological process. The alliance between the state and the religious right underpinned by ideological imperatives isn’t as holy as it’s made out to be.
Convergence of the forces of status quo is clearly aimed at perpetuating the traditional oppressive structures with a view to have the present and the future as replicas of the past. The past is not considered as something that having contributed to the birth of the present is passed but rather as self-perpetuating, to the self-generated satisfaction of the traditionalists. Thus the past assumes sacred tinge in its afterglow.
Society is believed to have already reached its summit at some of time in the past. The ideal is to replicate it. The paradox is that social evolution is accepted but to a certain point where it is thought to have come to fruition. The ideal for the coming generations is to relive and recreate what has been, totally disregarding that ‘one cannot step in a river twice’. The bid to resurrect what was once considered ultimate point of human development inflicts the grievous injury on woman because she was never accepted as fully human or equal in any past dispensation. So the holy noise raised by the pious and the state in upholding the past as ideal has disguised male chauvinist edge; men have to be what they have been, dominant and women have to be what they have been, servile.
But surfeit of population in an underdeveloped society surrounded by complex contemporary world that offers innumerable consumables makes the realisation of such an ideal extremely difficult. The notion of economic well-being of individual has assumed paramount importance. Look around to realise how frightening is the youth bulge. More frightening is youth’s lack of assets required to lead a decent life in our times. The increased number in a class society like ours, which rests on power and privilege, makes the provision of meaningful education, medical care and job nearly impossible. So the young men and women are left to fend for themselves. And they cannot fend for themselves as they are quite ill-equipped to tackle modern life built on knowledge and skill.
Parents and families following the given norms let their boys loose and restrain their girls. Whenever boys and girls come across by accident or compulsion, the situation becomes taut, almost explosive. They are abnormal in demeanour and behave as if they are driven by uncontrollable passion. However, it would be wrong to solely blame them. They hardly have any experience of interacting with one another in normal conditions. They don’t share social space. What they really share is repressed emotional and sexual desires. Girls have been taught to restrain their passion but not the boys who feel every girl that comes their way is an opportunity ripe for the picking. So when an egregious crime is committed against girls/women, a hollow moral outrage follows in a society steeped in hypocrisy and double standards. This in reality is impotent rage that gnaws at nothing.
The factors, as enumerated in the beginning, that protect and promote misogyny are interlinked in a historical process that reveals religious, ideological, social and cultural entanglements. In order to rectify the historical mess our men and women face, we need first to disentangle all the factors involved with their varying levels of influence. This will eventually help us discover their interconnections and grasps the totality of the situation. Corrective measures without diagnosis of the malady are little more than moralising. Let’s not forget moralising about young people hasn’t helped in the past. It won’t help in the future either. Indentations left by moribund social structures on the mud of our societal values need to be carefully traced for a future with less friction between men and women. — email@example.com
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2021