By Aliza Zaidi:
We live in a society obsessed with notions of patriarchy, manliness, and masculinity. And yet we call ourselves free? Are we really free? For a complex society, terms like free, freedom and religion vary from person to person and are prone to discussions. The level of insularity in which we are drenched is visible through our actions, where generalising people is in vogue. This generalisation or let me put it clearly, creating ‘otherness’ differs and it depends on expressions. The root cause which helps in creating the otherness is ‘body’. Be that caused by gender or religion.
The body has been a central theme of the world. It has been seen and used as a structure. It has been exploited to evoke ‘notions’ to standardise and normalise the difference within society, where it is not seen as a mere biological structure, but a sociological one, surrounded with norms and codes. From time to time, this particular aspect has dominated the worldly politics of empires and kingdoms. The body has remained a pivotal point of gender difference.
What role does this body play? What are its politics all about? The way, the body, as a structure has been carried over to legitimise gender differences socially, is not new to us. The politics of body is evident in terms of state formation, division of labour and confinement of roles – to endorse the pseudo-behaviors between the two sexes in order to dominate the ‘other’ sex completely. “Everything starts with the body and ends with it, hence it is supposed to be cultivated” – this was the need of the hour and to achieve this, a number of expressions were created to legitimise the sociological divide.
Equality between the two sexes was hardly given importance on a large scale, until the rise of the feminist movement in the West. After the same, gender differences were made more stern and rigid with the use of codes, norms, and behaviors. These ‘notions’ play an important role in making the politics of the body more rigid. Be that the Victorian norms of a ‘lady’ or that of an ‘adharsh nari‘ (ideal woman) in post-colonial society, the only factor that was driving or normalising such codes was to control.
Controlling the body was not an alien thing. Akbar and his institutionalised Mughal harem can be cited as the best example – where the body was given importance as a structure for state formation and universal kinship. The body remained central to Mughal political, court, military and medical culture.
This controlling and disciplining of the body is just not about cultivation but about the obsession with the ‘sexuality and body’. It is more than just taming, it about asking submission and to conquer upon the same.
I used to wonder why the whole matter of ‘virginity’ gets so much attention. Is it just about hymen or blood? When talking about the first night if there are no stained sheets, the ‘chastity’ and ‘virtue’ of the bride are suspected. Was it really about the blood which is used to tie a link with the ‘character’ of a girl who might have lost her hymen back in her teens due to different reasons!
It was not just about the blood. Breaking the hymen on the first night means a lot to the manliness and masculinity of the groom. The first night is not just about the husband winning the wife’s heart but masculinity winning over femininity. Not in terms of ‘checking’ the girl’s ‘chastity’ but to victor upon her body when blood spills out. The psyche makes him feel his manliness superseding over a feminine sexuality and it makes him feel superiority over the opposite sex. It makes him feel that the tamed body has submitted in terms of her broken hymen with the thrust of the penis.
Where the vagina doesn’t seem to be a vagina but a structure which makes you feel either like a winner or a loser. Where you can sense submission, control, discipline, and of course, tameness all in a go.
Had it been just an intimate process, the story and its related notions would have been drastically different. Alas! It’s not the case, a topic of attention and gossip it is – where other women keenly await the red-stained sheets in order to authenticate body politics and their ‘otherness’.