Feminists are in self-denial. They don’t wish to be associated with a stereotype. Fair enough. Then, why can’t we add fresh perspective instead of completely negating the terminology? This has provided a foothold for men. Male feminism goes contrary to women’s empowerment – it is an external support system that grants women freedom. In effect, they become patrons. Rather than being women on our terms, this liberal male gaze seeks to envision an androgynous harem where men can be softened and women hardened.
Every new International Woman’s Day brings a fresh spurt of men who believe in feminism and women who don’t want to be tied down to it. One may attribute it at the superficial level to product placement where men may use creams and women leather, which in turn is about men’s freedom from tough work and women’s to enter the stable, so to speak.
This is at best simulation and at worst a cunning caricaturisation. By entering feminist territory there is every possibility of men distorting it to suit a male pattern of thinking. This is not the equivalent of women entering male professions; it is hitting at the core of a movement. It might seem like feminist insecurity, but the idea behind feminism is not to get men to pat our backs or fluff the pillow beneath our heads. We are not looking for ‘pseudo women’.
Yet, despite the airbrushing in glossies, serious issues continue to hold on to set ideas. Women activists who intervene in domestic issues are termed cantankerous whereas men out to fight for similar causes become good Samaritans, even if they are the victimisers.
Imagine a bunch of men discussing about how they can give dignity to women after having indulged in wife-battering. This has happened in the past and I was witness to the charade of a group such as Men against Violence and Abuse that reeked of self-pity and even superiority: “We are not targeting our crusade at cure, but at prevention of the cause. And the cause is a disease that afflicts men.”
What such groups are saying is that they are helpless before this awful virus that has deposited itself in their system which is debasing women. Such projects can be detrimental. Inviting former abusers to share their experiences could very well amount to vicarious satisfaction for the audience by this form of catharsis. The male order is so designed that it thrives on exhibitionism and rationalisation, and a weird sort of male bonding where an honest tormenter is not recognised as an oppressor but someone to be admired, however grudgingly.
The causes of domestic violence are pretty clear: Patriarchal stereotypes, male insecurity, male ego, male frustration, male fear over female sexuality. Marilyn French in a very perceptive study concluded that while all females are women not all males are men; the underlying note is always about how to learn to be a man.
As the male perspective refuses to accept these subliminal realities it needs to find someone to blame and who better than women – whether it is jokes on the female anatomy, the patronage of prostitutes or the role of the wife as chattel or social hanger-on?
Blaming women often reaches absurd heights. It was said during Richard Nixon’s presidency that a member of his cabinet attributed the energy crisis to women because of their use of household appliances. Ronald Reagan blamed the high unemployment rate on working wives. And one criminal whose victim was a woman confessed to the murder and asked the jury to give him the death penalty for if he was let off he might do it again. His explanation was, “I am motivated by women.”
Violence against women is often explained in the same ‘inspirational’ tone. There will, therefore, be a tendency to expect women to tame the brutes just as they have been taming the shrews.
These organisations seem to have a clear directive. As one of them believes, “Domestic violence not only tortures women but emotionally scares children as well and at a larger level affects society as a whole.” This is a typical benign tyrannical response where women’s welfare is secondary – you spare the rod against the female to save the child and heir.
It would be prudent to posit this against some of the norms prevalent among the Amazon women, the extremist feminist wing.
In the area of procreation:
The Amazon does not mime the male principle but denies it in order to unite the two fundamental forms of life in paradoxical harmony which has been divided by the great mother…In the mother clan, there was a constant progression of great mothers begetting more great mothers. Amazons, however, reproduced the daughter type, which practically skips a generation and is something altogether different. They were conquerors, horse tamers, and huntresses who gave birth to children but did not nurse or rear them.
For the contemporary feminist giving birth is seen as an act of control, not contrition, even if it means dipping into a sperm bank. This ‘maternalisation’ would be impossible if women were not ready to nurse and rear their daughters. However, is it desirable for women who want to promote the daughter culture to expect these daughters to perpetuate themselves? Would not forgoing the prerogative of contraception defeat the purpose?
Besides its symbolic validity, such selectivity would contort contemporary feminism and fall into the masculine biker-chick-available-for-a-vroom fantasy trap.
The mildest form of Amazon aversion to men caused them to engage in a quick assignation with their male neighbours, totally indiscriminate as a matter of principle, every spring. Female offspring were retained; the male was sent to their distant fathers. The more radical kind of administration did not send any babies away but crippled the newly-born boys and rendered them innocuous for life through the twisting of one hand and one hip of their sockets. Despised slave cripples were never touched erotically by the masons. They were used by them for the rearing of children, the spinning of wool, and domestic service. In the most extreme anti-male society, the male offspring was always killed and sometimes the fathers were too.
Today, women and female infants are killed. However, the idea is not to give it back, but to see the impossibility of such a scenario. Indiscriminate sex would only belittle a woman – she cannot finish off with the man and then rush to hunt or to war; she has to face the morally-tinged social consequences of her purgatorial promiscuity.
Is a female kibbutz the answer?
Amazons also owned their own land and lived on it together. This is very different from our only examples of women living together in jails, in ghettos, in Islamic purdah, or in schools while still ‘growing up’. Women live together only in states of shameful default or absolute necessity.
While a case may be made for women living together in harmony based on choice, it is highly unlikely. It might be difficult to even come across a commune of gay women (which would again be a form of ghettoisation). Lesbians would have been an Amazonian force except that their identity is sexual, whereas the male homosexuals are a political and social force as assertive as any heterosexual brotherhood.
How can a group of men sitting in a room discuss their oppressive behaviour and solve the problem of disparity in status? Are they comfortable with women’s economic and political rights and their realisation? Equality is a non sequiter. It is only when men are willing to understand feminine values will they be able to deal with the issues of violence and abuse as a disease.
It is to the credit of today’s woman that despite having such strong precedents in the Amazon women she has chosen to adapt and change, even at great cost to herself, unlike the male who harks back to the caveman days with more than a degree of nostalgia. It is all about survival. Today when they have no choice but to accept its existence, they are willing to join the feminist bandwagon. Some analysts have gone to the extent of saying that it liberates men from the pink versus blue syndrome or from holding back their tears. Seriously, since they were the power centres, they could have swapped colours and colonised the lachrymose glands. A few attempts have been made to glorify men in nurturing and prettifying professions, though again the object remains women.
It’s a bit late in the day for the benefactors in the garb of diamond merchants and beauty product sellers to tell us about self-esteem. We found it when we became the glass ceiling. If feminism is indebted to anyone, then it is women.
(c) Farzana Versey
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An abridged version has been published in Khaleej Times, March 8.