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Of Pedestals, Prisons And “Personhood”

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By Urvashi Mitra:

This title is undoubtedly vague and admittedly an attempt to grab the readers’ attention by confounding them. It gives no inkling as to what the article is really about and only gives away the author’s preference for alliterations and inclination to; in a sadistic fashion, club seemingly unrelated elements together to sound smart.

Add to this yet another element and all of it will make sense in a flash; however that one word may also cause you to:

a) close this window, maybe because you feel like you know all there is to know or

b) sigh and surf for something that interests you because this doesn’t concern you in any way.

I’ll take these risks and tell you, its women– and that you can never know ‘enough’ on the matter and that being a person is reason enough for you to start caring.

Of course, patriarchy is the reason for women’s degraded position in human society and this is a fact well known. And what effects such a system has on women, the kinds of oppression faced, the physical, mental and social violence done is also well-documented. But between these two, for the general reader, what we seemed to have missed is the link between the system and its effects- broadly called objectification. Patriarchy is power to the man, which leads him to treat women as objects which then entail the injustice of sexual discrimination and disadvantage. This can also be seen as ‘denial of personhood’.


Women as a category are seen in dualities; placed on pedestals or locked up in prisons. A woman is a virgin or a slut, a Goddess or a vamp, an ideal or a disgusting old joke. Notice how only women are referred to as home-wreckers. In a case where the man goes off with another woman, it is the woman who enticed him and when a woman leaves a man, it is she who doesn’t care for divine domestic duty. The multitude of Goddesses worshipped in India and the hopeless condition of women in our society is testimony to the pedestal/prison duality the Indian mentality faces. A woman is never a person and is always defined by the other. Consider this, in public pleas to respect women, we are continually reminded that she is ‘someone’s daughter or sister or wife’. It is almost as if people can comprehend a woman’s existence only in terms of her male relative, or as male property, as the case may be. A foolproof way of getting a man to back off is to tell him you already have a boyfriend, because till a woman is single and saying ‘No’, she will be pursued till she is driven mad and it is the man’s covenant to his brotherhood to back off from another man’s property.

Sociologists have pointed out how we as a society cannot recognise women as people and need to attach tags to them to make their control over power and resources seem more acceptable. Take for instance these women in power who have somehow ended up with convenient kinship terms. Didi Mamata Banerjee, Behenji Mayawati, Amma Jayalalitha and the projection of Indira Gandhi as the daughter of India. These are hardly terms of endearment and seen in the light of ‘denial of personhood’ theory, seem more condescending than ever.

Patriarchy needs to go, along with racism, terrorism, homophobia and everything which stops us from realising the dream of a free and equal world. Grand schemes and grand speeches don’t do much. It isn’t enough to say, “We gave you suffrage and have promised equal pay.” Viewed as people, women get the dignity they deserve, freedom which should be theirs and the scales of sexual justice seem more balanced. Let’s stop dehumanising at will.

See the disadvantaged lot as people and let’s start rebuilding the world from there.

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  1. Raj

    I was attracted by the lovely lady in the photo. But now that I’m here, I would like to appraise you the horrible treatment that men have endured and bust this myth about “patriarchy”.

    While what you say about women is somewhat true, men too have been oppressed and objectified as slaves whose job it is to build and defend the society. Men have been forced to fight countless wars, be it against wild animals or invaders or even at the work place. Since childhood, they are dehumanized by the society in order to “toughen them up”, so they make take risks in order to serve their wife and children, and the society as whole. Even today, a man’s life is casually thrown away ; after all who are the ones who do crappiest work, serving in the police and military, and other dangerous professions? What is the gender-ratio in such professions? Who suffer the most violent crimes, rape included?

    A man is not allowed to have off-spring until he proves his value to the society. He must acquire wealth and status, otherwise he isn’t going to get married. Contrast this to the chronically unemployed cute bride who has no dearth of suitors. After marriage, it was (and still is) his responsibility to die providing for his wife and kids.
    But does this man really want to be a slave of the society? What if he wants to pursue his own happiness instead of killing and getting killed for the sake of the society? Is he allowed to do so? Or is he shunned by the society, given no respect by men nor women?

    Who brainwashed him and made him this monster? Who told him to detach himself from his feelings and scolded him for crying when he was growing up? Who told him to take part in violent sports, told him that there was honor and glory in sacrificing himself and killing others for his country, for his religion and for his community? That same evil anti-women society which you talk about.

    See the men also as people and let’s start rebuilding the world from there.

    1. Urvashi

      Dear Raj,
      I completely agree with you. Men are dehumanised too and become victims of what society thinks men should do. Thats where hegemonic masculinity comes in where we teach our sons not to cry or to toughen up and be macho. The idea of macho in itself is highly disturbing and confused.

      I did not mean to insinuate that men are not victims of societal standards. They are. But the degree to which women are subjected to the same is much more greivous.

      Thanks for taking out time to comment on the article but I need to point out that your comment itself is flawed in many places(where you talk of men suffering the most violent crimes of rape(?) and your gender bias so apparent when you talk of the marriage between the cute bride and the dutiful husband)

      I have mentioned terrorism,homophobia and racism along with patriarchy in my last paragraph and surely, you must know that these are damaging to People as a whole and not only a sex.(Yes, Patriarchy creates most of the pressures men find themselves under.)

      I have asked for disadvantaged ‘lots'(not women) to be seen as humans. I believe in gendder equality. I hope you do too.

      Next time an article on Men and Patriarchy. 🙂

    2. Raj

      @Urvashi : Excuse me! Don’t call everything bad and oppressive as masculine and patriarchal. Both these words have pretty well-defined meanings.Both these words unfairly blame men as a group. Please start seeing humans as individuals by themselves and don’t try to make them a part of some group. Use a more appropriate word as regressive or traditionalism.

      Even mothers teach their sons to be strong and brave. The society as a whole wants men to defend and build the society. And men are equally subjected to the same grievous societal standards.

      Men do suffer far more violent crimes, even if rape is included. How is this even controversial? And regarding male rape, check out the jails. There is simply no concern about that.And a female raping a man, the sexist laws don’t even define such a thing! Apparently the our judicial system doesn’t think it ought to make a law against a woman raping a man .

      My gender bias is non-existent. I was commenting about the society’s double standards when it comes to a cute housewife and cute househusband wrt. marriage.

      And no, a “Men and Patriarchy” article won’t cut it. Once again, we are all individuals and just because a few % of men at the top have all the power, that doesn’t mean all men have.
      I’m not denying the suffering women have undergone. I’m merely highlighting the suffering the vast majority of men have also undergone.

    3. Soumya Raj

      So you are saying dangerous jobs are crappy? It is only in the case a handful of countries who are financially challenged which cannot take the responsibility of women in military and police departments. Since a women is “expected” eventually to start her own family, get pregnant, have a household, be tethered to whole lot of responsibilities..and also required to join the forces and save the society and the nation, and hence by such countries, a woman in the force is considered a liability. Women aren’t allowed in Air Force, Navy or Army in India, other than for the “backstage” work because the country refuses to see potential in them and spend money on the training equipment which causes a lot of money. A man has all the choice in the world to step away from his responsibility. Do not refute that. Why, the former president of our nation is a very content bachelor, and no one has questioned his single status till now. Please do not raise the level of patriarchy and bear illusions about it, if any. patriarchy thrives on the glorification of females as frail, helpless good for nothing creatures. Even evolutionary wise, woman is expected to be chaste and virgin, why is a man not? Why is there such a big fat question on “hymen”? why is a man’s sexual history not brought into question during rape trials? I would like to ask you, men suffer rape but to the most horrendous extremes? Really? Can you point out one incident where the extent of pain inflicted upon a victim of rape was so high, it was never heard or,never imagined about? Nobody brainwashed the man as you put it. When men could renounce worldly affairs and take hermitage or “sanyaas”, for a long time women weren’t allowed to even read the scriptures because they were deemed unfit. And before you quip up with more instant replied, let me assure you, Gautam Buddha has been quoted saying that women are the root cause of all evils, at a time when women were just “domestic slaves” and not allowed the privilege of knowledge or religious scriptures. When until the Victorian age women did start writing it was under pseodonyms and anonymously because educated literate women were considered “harlots”. I don’t think the male dominated society has anything to be oppressed about, given his own impeccable record in oppressing others.

    4. Raj

      @Soumya :
      I fully support the introduction of women to each and every job a man is eligible or forced into including military, police, mining etc. I am against the sexist laws that prevent women from killing and getting killed while defending and building the society. I am with you on this issue!

      Most men do NOT have a choice to step away from marriage. The vast majority of them are pressured into marriage. And what happens to those who do not? They are usually unable to find intimacy and companionship because (in most cases) women do not pursue non-marital relationships , and if they do, they expect the man to marry them. It may be relevant to note that many rape cases are registered against men of good standing who have consensual sexual relationships with their girlfriends but refuse to marry them. Worse, I have heard educated feminists trying to make “sex under false marriage promises” covered under rape! See how badly these gender-fanatics (feminists and masculists) are destroying the fabric of our society!

      What you call patriarchy, also glorifies men as sacrificial suicidal slaves.

      Why are women not expected to be virgins? I personally wouldn’t care! Are you asking me this because I am a man and I am expected to answer for all men? Because I don’t! But I can theorize it has something to do with getting pregnant and being unable to take care of the child. Anyway, I don’t think its relevant today.

      And I don’t see why heterosexual young single men would have a problem if women are more sexually liberated. After all, heterosexual men by and large do enjoy sexual intimacy, but have a very hard time acquiring it, thanks to the regressive mindset which women have when it comes to their bodies and their sexuality. By and large men have been trained to be disposable so their virginity too is worthless. Not so for women.
      I am with you completely with you when you talk about women being sexually liberated.

      Regarding women not being allowed to read the scriptures, so were a lot of men not allowed. And in general, men were educated so they could earn more and feed their families. In any case I support none of this nonsense. All individuals should be free to pursue their careers.

      And Gautam Buddha and the Victorian(Mind you, Queen Victoria was the regent during this time) era, once again, why are you blaming men in general for that? What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see the person’s gender is NOT an ideological choice one makes and that you can’t blame anybody with the same gender for the crimes of a few individuals? You can’t take your hate for the past and bring it in the present and blame men today. And I’d like to point out that many men fought for women’s rights too and still do!!

      It is as stupid as blaming all men having mustaches for the crimes of Hitler and Stalin even though men with moustaches fought against both of them.
      It is as stupid as blacks trying to kill whites today for the oppression the blacks faced in the past even though many whites fought against slavery and for civil rights.
      It is as stupid as the hindu rioters trying to kill unconnected muslims for the crimes of the few miscreants who burned the train at Godhra even though hindus fought against the rioters to protect the muslims.

    5. adya00

      Raj, you are not wrong in saying that patriarchy has done a lot of harm to men as well. I’m pleasantly surprised that you consider such cultural values as monstrous, because lets face it that they are.

  2. Baldeep Grewal

    I don’t mean to boast but the moment I read ‘pedestal’ I knew it was about woman. And the feminist in me couldn’t stay away. The traditions of our country place women on a pedestal and leave their rights, freedom and individuality on the ground.
    I loved reading this article and you have brought up all the points concerning ‘pedestals and prisons’. me likey (y)

  3. adya00

    Very good point urvashi!
    Its the same case when women are eve teased, molested or raped. You see these poster’s saying don’t do this because “she is someone’s mother/sister/daughter”. We forget she is someone. Period.

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