We live in a country where patriarchy is so culturally embedded in our consciousness that we often find it impossible to question it and begin to take it for granted. As we grow up and develop a critical consciousness, we learn that an institution such as patriarchy need not only make its presence felt with brutal violence and the direct infringement of women’s rights.
We see patriarchy unveil its ugly face in the form of inhuman and discriminatory practices against women – in the form of female infanticide and foeticide, dowry-related harassment and death, molestation and rape, denial of equal privileges and opportunities to women both in institutions and communities and so on and so forth. However, our maturity will lie in our observation of patriarchy as a form of symbolic violence, as a kind of ideological hegemony that may not be visible to the naked eye but is nevertheless always present in myriad different forms.
One of the most striking and contemporary examples of this patriarchal hegemony is when the culture of popular mass media – films, music or advertisements – propagates a particular symbol of womanhood, reducing the woman to a mere consumer, a shopaholic, an obsessive narcissistic creature or simply one with all the glamour and looks but with little or no agency.
Billboards around the city, lyrics of popular Bollywood songs in recent times, narratives of several advertisements – those of deodorants, diamond jewellery or even condoms – show women as nothing more than passive recipients of male mercy. Today, patriarchy has collaborated with hyper-capitalism to attain a very seductive avatar which does not look brutal and crude like traditional forms of patriarchal oppression but are, in a more nuanced and sophisticated sense, playing the same game against womanhood.
We live in an age where we allow fairness creams to set the standards of what composes beauty; we allow slim, perfect figured women celebrities to make us uncomfortable with our own bodies; we make it acceptable that a woman finds ultimate solace in only shopping, that a perfect man is one who buys her diamond jewellery on valentine’s day and opens the door of the car while she gets in – the image of the woman today is one that attracts the modern woman because of its apparent glitz and glamour. But at the root, it defeats the very cause of women’s empowerment and liberation in the true sense of the word.
We have to urgently pose a counter-narrative to this hegemony of capitalism and device our own agency to rethink the real essence of feminism. A woman must break free from the shackles of erstwhile patriarchy and misogynistic pride. But simultaneously, she has to look beyond the trap of modern consumerism which again sees her as nothing more than a compulsive consumer.
Women have enormous capacities in terms of their artistic creativity, their intellectual rigour and their vitality and versatility in all aspects of socio-cultural and political life. Thus, any form of regimentation, whether patriarchy or capitalism, should not be allowed to stereotype and limit her.
An old woman, a construction worker, a sewage cleaner, a housewife need not suffer from the complex that their bodies are not like the perfect ‘bodies’ of the supermodel who endorses a luxury soap. They need to acquire the confidence that if their skin is not white, it is still as beautiful as anything ever made. If they don’t own the latest handbag or don’t use makeup, they are not inferior beings and they have in them the potential and the agency to think beyond shopping, decorating their bodies and acting like dolls to be pampered by their men.
I am a woman who is growing up in this extremely challenging climate where being a woman is constantly about being under the surveillant eyes of the market, that seeks to commodify us all into standardised models of beauty and behaviour. My feminism reclaims my agency and shouts out loud and clear that neither the patriarch nor the market can boss over my life or the choices that I make.