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The F-Word and the Fight against Patriarchy

On June 30, 2020, UMRAN hosted the second U-TALK session. It was carried out using the ZOOM Platform as part of the weekly ritual of carrying out the Cultural programme. ‘U-TALK’ or ‘Umran-Talk’ is a platform that promotes conversations – an understanding, an exchange of ideas, and the development of new perspectives on various issues. The second U-TALK session, ‘The F-word and the Fight Against Patriarchy,’ was led by Nazreen Mussarat Fatima, an undergraduate student studying Sociology at Culcutta University in Kolkata, India.

Nazreen’s talk explored what Feminism actually stands for, its importance in the fight against patriarchy, and why we need to get over our aversion to the F-word. We decided to add a creative dimension to the talk before it started by asking our participants to write two lines defining feminism. This was done to gain insight into the participants’ preconceived notions of the term and how deeply ingrained the misconceptions were.

She began by briefly defining which is a philosophy that stands for equality of social and political rights between men and women. It refers to a social movement or a political ideology that advocates an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.She then went on to focus on how the concept of feminism emerged over time and is still evolving. The paradigm of Feminism has changed from time to time with women offering resistance to various practices in different times. She emphasized on the fact that there are various strands of Feminism. The first wave of feminism began in the late 19th century and continued till the early 20th century. It includes Liberal feminism and Marxian Feminism. Liberal Feminists advocate for equal rights of the women in terms of education, property and legal rights like voting rights. The second wave of feminism began from 1960’s onwards with Radical Feminism. Radical Feminists view Patriarchy as the first structure of domination and submission. Central to Patriarchy is violence or physical cruelty. It views family as a root cause of women’s oppression. The second wave feminism also includes Socialist Feminism, which brings together both Radical and Marxist Feminism and views both Patriarchy and Capitalism As a source of women’s oppression. The third wave of feminism saw the rise intersectional feminism which questioned the category of women as one. The focus here was on the social location – class, caste, ethnicity, race etc, and the different experiences of the women belonging to certain groups. In the context of class, it would mean, that upper class women can only stand with the lower class women in her struggle but not speak for them, because of the differences in their experience.

After briefly giving an idea of the various strands of feminism, she went on to provide an understanding of the concept of Patriarchy as provided by Kamla Bhasin which literally means the rule of the father, or the patriarch. It generally refers to male domination, to the power relationships by which men dominate women, and to characterize a system whereby which a women is kept subordinate. She then threw light upon how women face violence throughout their lives from the womb to the tomb. Apart from violence they face discrimination, disregard, insult, control and exploitation on a daily basis.

Female foeticide, which is the abortion of female foetuses after the sex of the foetus is determined through sonography is very common in India. If the female foeticide, the girl child she is killed after she is born which is called Female Infanticide or the deliberate killing of newborn female children. As the child grows up, she is always more vulnerable in to physical violence, incest, sexual violence within her family. Differences in food, education – A girl is less likely to be sent to an English medium school.Even in the classroom, a boy is more likely to be encouraged than a girl. In most households, women and girls of the family eat after the men and boys. The girl socialized in such an atmosphere usually has the tendency to inculcate similar attitudes and in turn socialize her own children in similar submissive way. Boy and Girl interaction is schools are not spontaneous they are mediated by notions of shame, modesty and fear and for boys, aggression and awkwardness. Women are always encouraged to go for soft disciplines – Education, English, Fine and applied arts Women prefer to stay out of male dominated fields because somehow, achievement is equated with aggressiveness and masculinity. They fear they might become less feminine.

She went on to explain the Internal stratification in the field of Medicine and pointed out how it is a feature of almost all fields. All fields are characterized by pay gap and have an organizational structure where there exists very little or no opportunity of promotion for a women.She also highlighted on the differences in the performance of the roles by both the genders within the same field. For example the differences in the conduct of a male waiter and a female waiter or Steward or an air hostess’ as demanded by their occupational roles.

Within the framework of marriage women are exploited in numerous ways  like women are not allowed to study or realize their full potential after marriage, torture from the in-laws due to Inability of the women’s family to pay adequate dowry, Dowry deaths, domestic violence, Marital Rape, no choice over reproductive decisions – whether to have kids or not , how many kids to have and when.

Women have to face various forms of sexual violence throughout their lives like, Rape,  sexual abuse, enforced prostitution, sadism in pornography, abuse of widows, Female Genital Mutiliation. She highlighted a very pertinent point as emphasized by the Radical Feminists as to how to concept of ‘violence’ must not just be limited to physical violence but also psychological violence,and the very ‘FEAR OF VIOLENCE’ which limit women’s mobility on a daily basis and does not allow them to realize their potential.

She also touched on the issue of Rape used as an instrument by the state. She provided an example of Kunan Poshpora of Kupwara district in Kashmir where on the night of 23rd February 1991 when the Indian army had engaged in mass rape of atleast 40 women according to the estimates. These women later faced  ostracization by the village. History is a witness of how time and again, states have used rapes as an effective instrument of crushing dissent and terrorizing the population. In most societies of the world including India, women are seen as mere bodies – objects or possessions, meant to be either protected or violated by men. It explains the attitude of the patriarchal societyto invoke ideas of shame and honor to distant itself or worst discard women that they have failed to protect and it also explains the tendency of the other side to almost always attack the women physically, as if to prove that they have harmed the possession of their enemies.

She also explored how Patriarchy is harmful for men too. She began by focusing on the idea of ‘Hegemonic masculinity’ which is one version of masculinity that is sanctioned by the society, that men must adhere to. If men don’t confirm to that they are shamed for example a man is not considered masculine if he does not have muscular body or beard, or is not violent enough. She also pointed out to the vicious cycle, where women in the society are never taught to be independent but always be dependent on the man and how at times men are forced to give up on their passion, because of the family pressure to get married, to look after their wife and children. 

Patriarchy functions through many institutions like Family, Religion, legal system which favors men and economically powerful classes. In the context of economic system, Women are almost always denied Property rights and control over resources. In context of the Political systems, while women do assume important positions, in most cases they do so because of their association withpowerful male figures, policies like reservation of seats for women are often misused by the men who are associated with them( Husband, Father, Son) with actual power being exercised by the men themselves . Projection of women in Media – in movies, lyrics of songs, advertisements is degrading. In most cases, it normalizes violence against women and their portrayal in submissive roles.

She tried to explain how the Capitalists have hijacked the agenda of Feminism and how the entertainment Industry has institutionalized social expectation of sexualisation of a women’s body. She asserted how clothing is not a measure of empowerment. Empowerment is the freedom of choice. What might actually be portrayed as empowerment by the media might actually lead to further objectification of a women’s body. Your clothing is just one aspect of your freedom. Economic independence is the base of empowerment.

She ended on a positive note on how it is important for both and women to have a deeper understanding of the term in order to fight Patriarchy. She focused on the need to derive information from authentic sources like books or from the internet where proper references are provided rather than using social media – facebook and instagram pages as a source of education on this particular topic. She tried to explain how it is important for both the genders to fight the evils of Patriarchy. The first step for women must be awareness and realization while for men it must be understanding and empathy. Men have to be a part of this struggle to fight Patriarchy, this struggle must not isolate them, but rather actively engage them, treating them as allies in the realization of the cause. Apart from women’s issues, Feminism talks about issues of third gender and how men themselves are a victim of Patriarchy. The primary reason for the greater focus on women’s issue within feminism, is that since time immemorial their concerns have been ignored.

In order to make the session more interactive, she went on to ask whether there was a single women participant present who had not faced any sort of discrimination or sexual harassment in the course of their life. As anticipated, not a single women from among participants had been free from being subjected to discrimination or harassment in their lives.

When the same question was posed to the male participants with a specific focus on the issue of sexual harassment , there were two forms of responses. One, among the male participants who had actually faced sexual abuse or violation at any point in their lives, three of them chose to at least to actually open up in the chat box, though not about their experiences explicitly, but just saying that as a matter of fact they had been abused. Second response, which came from a few male participants was questions whether a safe enough environment had been created by the platform for men to share their experiences. While, some felt that it was not possible for men to open up as they have been “conditioned” not to do so. The former gives an insight into a very pertinent requirement that is the creation of a safe environment for any victim to open up. The latter response was nothing but a mere reflection of the societal arrangements which are highly Patriarchal. The Patriarchal structure not only works to deny the very existence of the fact that men can be victims of sexual assault but also condition men to not see it as important enough to open up about their experiences for the fear of being shamed for not being man enough. It also conditions the women to not believe the experiences of a man or even going to the extent of making fun of him for opening up. In fact, women themselves may go to extent of questioning the masculinity of the victim rather than being empathetic to their experiences.

Following the talk, a significant number of questions on varied issues revolving around Feminism were were raised by the audience in the Q&A session. This rounds of free flowing questions and answers is a part of a greater tradition in UMRAN which fosters interaction and a deeper understanding among the participants. The session was a success not only in terms of the numbers of participants but also in terms of the level of interaction. The session was joined by 60 participants, most of whom were a part of the UMRAN Family. Throughout the session, messages with questions and comments kept popping in the ZOOM Chat Box. Infact, the participants were engaging in active dialogue amongst themselves throughout the session. The cultural programmes are usually conducted for an hour, however, this session went on for around 2 hours. Despite certain instances of misconduct that occurred during the session which were effectively dealt with, the session succeeded in providing a platform for such crucial issues to be raised. The session conducted was highly informative and provided an insight into the essence of Feminism while keeping with basic objective of the U – talk of successfully spread ideas like importance of dialogue to deal with stereotypes and values of empathy, tolerance.

We thank Nazreen Mussarat Fatima and all those who became a part of the session for making it a success. We hope to conduct more U-TALKS in future and encourage dialogues around issues or topics that are usually misunderstood or are not given enough attention. We hope to foster a creation and existence of a platform where we all agree to disagree and foster humanitarian connect and understanding based on values of freedom of speech, constructive criticism and tolerance.

-Nazreen Mussarat Fatima, MA Student in Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi



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