Act like a Man, Act like a Woman – Roles defined by Gender

Twenty-six-year-old Parvez casually slaps his wife Shabana, 23, on her head while saying, “A woman is a woman and a man is a man. The very language tells you that the position of a woman is below that of a man”, he says. He underscores that the relationship between a woman and a man must always be that of domination (by the man) and submission to that (by the woman).

The United Nations Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index ranks India 130 out of 155 countries. There have been huge demonstrations in India in 2012 following the rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey. But while gendered violence has moved to front page news, not much has changed. In 2016 horrific incidents of mass sexual harassment against women took place in Bangalore, again bringing out protestors on the streets. Movements like #WhyLoiter and #IWillGoOut are ongoing campaigns that aim to reclaim public spaces.

Why then, despite so many conversations and voiced concern is the inherent inequality of patriarchal subjugation of women so all pervasive?

Shabana says that she never enjoyed any freedom of movement like her brothers did at her natal home. She was also not educated very far.

‘I was the honour of my parents. So I couldn’t go out because people might say something untoward. It’s the same after marriage–now I am the custodian of my husband and in-laws honour’.

She sees nothing wrong that he hits her or punishes her if she makes any ‘mistakes’–’It’s his right as my husband. I cannot say anything to him, it’s not my place to question him’. In short, she has internalised the norm that she is an inferior and unequal to her husband. Are domination and subjugation the only way we can define relationships between men and women?

Patriarchy operationalises power through the entrenched notion that women are not just different, but subservient and therefore their sphere of work-care work and household chores-is naturally inferior to a man’s work out in the world. The notion of ‘honour’ embodied in the person of a woman becomes the logic of limiting women’s mobility, their education and indeed their aspirations.

‘Honour’, as Jacqueline Rose puts it, is embodied in women but the property of men. Therefore, it serves as the perfect tool to rob women of their agency over their own bodies. This honour is damaged by others’ (men’s) actions and the only way to protect it is to make themselves inaccessible, through veiling, through being confined, through having all sorts of limitations imposed on them and in turn self-imposition.

To challenge patriarchy then, we need to hit at the root of this concept of honour. Surely taking back the night and loitering are not only the privilege of urban middle-class women. All women irrespective of class, ethnicity, location, caste and religion should have the tools to question patriarchy, inequality and break the barriers. The day a thousand Shabanas are able to voice their demands at home and in public will be the game changer in dismantling patriarchy.

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