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Another patriarchy: Feminist men

Farzana Versey (Gender Issues) / 8 March 2011

Feminists are in self-denial. They donít 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. 

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.

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.

Equality is a non-sequiter. It is only if men are willing to understand feminine values will they be able to deal with the issue of domestic violence as a disease. How can a group of men sitting in a room discuss the oppressive behaviour against their spouses and solve the problem of disparity in status? Are they comfortable with women’s economic and political rights and their realisation?

As regards feminism as an ideology, it would be better if they left it alone. Today when they have no choice but to accept its existence, they are willing to join the 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. 

Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based writer

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