By Paras Arora:
Chhake! Sala Gay! Trans kahi ka! (Eunuch! Bloody Gay! Bloody Trans!)
All these words resonate with the childhood and adulthood of ‘effeminate’ guys like me. It’s sadly true that in an ignorant and a fundamentally patriarchal society like ours even abusing a guy takes up such an apathetic and grossly generalized form.
Any ‘biological’ male who shows ‘feminine’ characteristics must be taught the right way and made into an ‘Asli Mard‘ (real man). And the best way to go about this process of ‘normalizing’ is calling the effeminate guy: a chhaka (eunuch), a transgender or more often than not gay. What’s noteworthy is how misinformed and ignorant these verbal remarks are. The reason being that all these ‘unnatural’ sexual and gender identities are starkly different. But they are generalized as unnatural and chosen as the best remarks which can be used to refer to effeminate men so that they feel disgusted, because being a part of the LGBTQ+ community is a taboo big enough for one to change something unchangeable: one’s identity.
This is not to suggest that females do not go through a process of gender construction but this article explores firstly the relationship between men and feminism and secondly dimensions of effeminacy in a patriarchal backdrop for a number of reasons. Firstly, my own subjectivity makes me write this article; secondly biologically being a ‘man’ and ideologically a feminist I find the engagement of feminism with men imperative for the fulfillment of feminist goals. And finally, there has been a single minded obsession with research only on the process of gender construction for females. Both the sexes haven’t been given adequate if not equal attention.
Leela Dube, a renowned Indian anthropologist and feminist scholar in a breakthrough article ‘On the Construction of Gender: Hindu Girls in Patrilineal India‘ published back in 1984 in Economic and Political Weekly discovered the process through which women are produced as “gendered subjects” in patrilineal and patrilocal India. I do not intend to (and cannot) take up a laborious empirical analysis like Dube to discover this process of gender construction but what I intend to analyze is the process that goes on in constructing gender for boys in a patriarchal society like ours through my own experience and what’s happening in the status quo.
Dube suggested that gender differences between men and women which are culturally produced are invariably interpreted to be rooted in biology. And one of the many social institutions that go on to interpret and perpetuate differences between the two sexes (only two because patriarchy cannot handle more) is family.
Even according to radical feminists like Kate Millett, family is ‘patriarchy’s chief institution’. Family that rejoices in our best and supports us in our worst times is also a production of a patriarchal society that we all reside in. The social conditioning that goes onto classify two sexes away from each other in two watertight compartments begins at home. Since the social conditioning that goes on to mould boys into breadwinners and the rulers of home and the world and, goes on to make girls ideal woman that is married mothers the process seems to be skewed towards boys. The process of gender construction sideline girls as “the second sex” and give preference to boys as the rulers and proprietors of the world and is thus seen as favoring boys (and by consequence men).
This imbalance in gender construction has lead to a single minded obsession that translates into a scholarly inclination (‘bias’ being too strong a word) towards a rigorous analysis of gender construction of women and a complete ignorance of men as gendered beings. This inclination has indeed been fruitful in bringing out the subtleties and complexities of the process of growing up female in a patriarchal society but it has some dire consequences too.
This imbalance doesn’t end here. This goes onto effect feminist scholarship as well. Gender is only seen as a rival to women. And men are projected to support this gender bias. Which invariably leads to alienation of men from feminism. Women and men become rivals in a power struggle with bras being burnt on one side and rapes taking place on the other. But who wins?
This battle which is constructed by historical misfortune and isolation and exclusivity of feminism leads to the victory of the ultimate enemy: Patriarchy. The battle against patriarchy needs men and women on one side and patriarchy on the other.
It needs to be understood by fellow feminists, men and women that men are also victims of patriarchy and they aren’t the enemy.
From being given the scepter of the family to the sword in the battlefield men are produced into gendered subjects too. Subjected to patriarchy and gender norms and thereby subjugating women. The ones who refuse to wield the scepter are destined to be sidelined as impotent or as eunuchs. They are strains on the fabric of manhood and are to be immediately cleaned off. Men and women are to be casted in moulds which patriarchy permits for the penetration of a normative social order where on dominates the other and the elder dominates the younger. But was the dominant ever asked whether he wants to rule? (Here the equivalence of dominance to rule or governance might be seen as problematic but is invariably true)
What if some men do not want to cast themselves in moulds manufactured by the society? Just like women don’t.
A very simple example of society’s intolerance to this possible defiance of gender norms by men is evident in the reverse prejudice against male Kathak dancers who are ridiculed not only by society as effeminate and impotent but families discourage men from dancing as it is in the ‘female realm’.
Another example of this social resistance is boys not being allowed to cook in many households. Boys entering kitchen is a humongous taboo. Though researchers might argue that most professional chefs are male what researchers won’t deny is the role played by family in gendering each and every aspect of children’s lives by restricting and moulding their choices thereby sowing seeds of acceptance to gender norms in their young impressionable minds.
The men who face the onslaughts of the public world cannot cry their problems out. Because crying is not for ‘real’ men. Just like the social conditioning makes women accept their subjugation in name of pativratta (the ideal woman for whom her husband is god). Similarly men internalize ideas like Asli Mard or manhood which makes them not only dominant, apathetic to women of the family and takes them away from maximizing their potential.
This process of casting sexes into only ‘pink’ and ‘blue’ watertight compartments where violet or any other colour cannot exist, where blue loves pink and vice versa and everything else is ridiculed as unnatural leads to ignorance of those who might not fit into these categories and there subsequent normalization. Shock therapy, forced marriages, killing dreams are some of the many ways to achieve this normative order.
If this compartmentalization needs to be overthrown then men have to understand that this process is deteriorating their creative abilities and concealing their true self not only from the society but also from themselves.
For a man who shows ‘feminine’ attributes a constant reminder with coercion is required to bring him ‘back’ on track, the track to patriarchy. What society and the proprietors of our cultures need to internalize is that men with feminine attributes aren’t impotent, aren’t necessarily homosexual, transgender or men who ‘need to be castrated’. One can be effeminate and yet be volatile in bed. One can be effeminate and posses the gender identity of a woman. One can be effeminate and be attracted to women or men or both.
The recognition and celebration of the principle of diversity is imperative for the growth of society. Or society will end up housing individuals regretting their gendered decisions and shall go bankrupt of talent in name of a ‘natural order of things’.
Women’s movement cannot end and succeed just by ensuring women’s access to public realm, breaking the public/ private divide and women emancipation in the personal realm. Women’s movement has to ensure that the roots of reverse oppression and prejudice do not find the wet soil of a patriarchal society where men are considered to be the heartless enemies. Feminism’s goals cannot be achieved in isolation to men. Since patriarchy has sustained itself for many years by either silencing women or by the policy of divide and rule. Feminism needs support of men and the LGBTQ+ community to fight against the common enemy for a mutual good.