Of Pedestals, Prisons And “Personhood”

Posted on July 16, 2013 in Society

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.