By Irfan Bashir
When I read Audre Lorde’s essay – “The master’s tool will never dismantle the master’s house”, there was a line that caught my attention. “Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women”. When I think about it, a lot of thoughts come to mind. It is true that in a patriarchal society women are dominated and are never in a position of power except when they become mothers. Becoming a mother automatically elevates the position a woman has in a patriarchal society i.e. all societies. Even in popular religions one can find quotes like “Heaven lies under the feet of your mother (Ahmad, Nasai)” which give mothers higher positions in the society, but otherwise if you look at the general positions of power for women, they are usually non-existent when we talk about the ground reality i.e. outside the spectrum of written religious rules and constitutions. But if we shed more light at the power and respect that mothers enjoy, we realize the field of this power extends only to her children and not to anyone else. So, even though mothers do have a sort of social power, it’s limited, to say the least.
In a patriarchal society, women face oppression in many forms and that oppression when translated into language becomes a tool to define weakness. For example a lot of slangs that are used to define female genitalia are used as derogatory terms against men to express weakness. Men who are obese are mocked for their bodies by being referred to as having ‘man-boobs’ which is done to symbolize weakness or deformity. So what happens in a patriarchal society is that men themselves suffer from the peripheral effects of misogyny. Hence, the power they want to exercise over women becomes the very tool for oppression/degradation of men. Thus, a patriarchal society at one point doesn’t just become oppressive for women but men too. Such power structures render men emotionless as they have to live up-to-the definition of ‘being a man’. Bell Hooks puts it in the best possible way, “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”
How many times have we heard terms like “Be a man”, “Don’t be a little girl”, “Men don’t cry” and “Men will be men”- as usual, the devil is in the details. Our language has become one which normalizes rape culture, our entertainment industry thrives on objectifying women and our morality swells when we blame women for all that is wrong with the society (Remember the comments women had to endure after the 2014 Kashmir floods?).
Has it sunk in yet? It should, because in no way have we spared objectification and sexualization of women. When we see a woman wear Hijab, we use terms like, “Burqay wali hai yeh…” and if a woman is dressed “immodestly” aka according to her comfort, then we unleash the train of derogatory vocabulary that we take pride on using. Meanwhile, the silent majority helps perpetuate the effects of patriarchy by being bystanders and doing nothing. When we hear about politicians who defend rape and blame the victims, the first curse word we use is also symbolic of the patriarchal nature rooted in us. From laughing at the misogynistic Bollywood jokes to perpetuating gender stereotypes, we have become mini human institutions of patriarchy.
So, what is the end game in a patriarchal society? Understand, it simply creates a feedback loop where if men don’t cut the connection with their feminine side, they are subjected to ‘assault on their self-esteem’ as Bell Hooks rightly says. And women at the same time face oppression and enjoy no power in the society. We are left with a scenario which is horrible for both men and women. As long as these power structures exist no one will be free from oppression. Feminism is, therefore, necessary to eradicate the patriarchal power structures and establish gender equality, a concept we are yet to truly comprehend or simply don’t want to.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Kashmir Scan.
1.) Hooks, Bell. (2000) Feminism is for everybody: Passionate politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
2.) Lorde, Audre. (1979) Master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house: comments at “the personal and the political” panel