Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Women Often are the Most Brutal Gatekeepers of the Patriarchal Order

There can be no doubt that patriarchy, like insurgency, is a “state of mind” first and then only a physical phenomenon. That is to say, the substances of these notions are more important than their forms. Sadly, the tendency has always been to identify them with their forms mostly, and seldom or never with their substances. The result is to end up addressing the symptoms of the diseases that cause them, rather than tackle the diseases directly. On the question of insurgency, this needs little elaboration as so many have said this in as many words. This acknowledgement of the non-physical aspect of insurgency is inherent in statements after statements by political leaders, academics and even a former chief of the army staff, that the final solution would have to be political rather than military. It is however on the question of the feminist movement as it is understood and interpreted in Manipur, and the patriarchal order that it is supposed to challenge at least in stated objectives, which deserve more discussions. Because Patriarchy is a “state of mind”, it can easily cross physical boundaries within which it is believed to be traditionally confined. Hence, a man can be a feminist at heart, believing truly in female emancipation, as much as a woman can be a defender of oppressive patriarchal values.

Little documentation has been done but nonetheless our literature, cinema and theatre all have spoken loudly on this “state of mind”. All of them have in some form or the other have indicated an archetypal tension between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law in which the former is always portrayed as the gatekeeper of the patriarchal order. Hence, only if the daughter-in-law conforms volitionally to the patriarchal order – which often is the case as she too would see the patriarchal order as “common sense”, having probably been raised by parents who too have internalised the patriarchal order to ultimately believe its values are indeed “common sense” in the sense of an insidious hegemony that Gramsci meant the term – or by force if the conformity does not come by volition, would the tension between the two be eased. A good daughter-in-law in our context hence is somebody who adores her husband to the extent of subservience, reveres her in-laws, apart from being a biological washing machine, dish washer, rice cooker, microwave oven, children tutor etc. In many families, she is also somebody who is expected to be contented and happy within the confines of the four walls of her husband’s house. In enforcing this oppressive social order, although originally it may have been at the behest of a patriarchal social order, the truth is, more often than not, it is the female gender which has emerged as patriarchal structure’s most prominent and faithful   gatekeepers. No indeed, the idea of the venerated “Sati” which this social order seeks to have the dauthger-in-law conform to, is not about strength of the feminine at all, but about the hegemony of the patriarchal order.

Patriarchy is also today been distanced from any direct cause-effect dynamics. It remains as an abstract all omnipresent force in the society, unmistakably partisan in favour of the male gender, and its values so deeply normalised that except for a few very conscientious, male and female, see even the most atrocious social mores determined by it as wrong. A recent short video on the social media of a just married girl on the evening of her wedding demonstrated this. This girl was required to eat leftover food from the plate her husband had just eaten, with a horde of women watching as if the traumatised girl struggle not to puke was an entertaining spectacle. If there was any shred of empathy from any of the women watching another go through this humiliation, it was limited to a single voice commenting that the girl was feeling repulsed. All of them other simply watched with anxious anticipation for the ritual to be accomplished, none even tried to intervene and save the girl from this humiliating crushing of her self-esteem, spiritual and temporal. This particular patriarchal order has successfully created its own “organic intellectuals” who are informed by their “common sense” in the Gramscian sense that this natural and therefore nothing wrong in it. In fact, the “common sense” of all in the audience as the girl struggled would have informed them this is only natural and in fact good in preserving a social order – one which without their being conscious of it, is the patriarchal order. We see this willing self-humiliation by women in so many other social practices, sometimes seen as not desirable, but still not as a cognizable offence. The practice of polygamy is one of these. Without divorcing a married woman, the man, especially if rich, can and have taken more wives. It would even been have been understandable, though not by way of approval, if somebody had a secret extra marital affair, but to give this philandering an official licence should have amounted to taking the matter too far. The insult this would be to the women concern should not have missed anybody. However, in most, or all of these cases, these unfortunate women end up fighting and grudging each other for the humiliation each suffered, and not their wayward husband. From the vantage of the Gramscian “organic intellectual” in this environment, the practice though an aberration is considered acceptable for it does not threaten the patriarchal social order. The hold of the patriarchy is so complete that even statutory and non-statutory institutions which have pledged to fight for human rights and gender emancipation have not made a squeak on the matter. Probably this also has something to do with the fact that some of the most powerful men in the society, including many ministers, are given to this practice. It is also quite imaginable how all of these activists and adjudicators would have responded had this been about women keeping more than one husband.

It is said the oppressed are much more oppressive to their own fellow oppressed, this probably is what we are witnessing in the phenomenon of women as gatekeepers of the patriarchal order, often brutally enforcing its oppressive standards on other women. In his preface to Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth”, Jean Paul Satre calls this a self-hate syndrome. In reference to the colonised mind, he explains that the oppressed detests his self-image so much that he would inflict cruelty on anybody else who shares this self-image, much more than their common oppressor master himself would. The patriarchal order has also been a coloniser of the mind. It has successfully dehumanised the woman so much so that instead of understanding and sympathising, the mother-in-law has often been the one cruellest to the daughter-in-law, more so if the latter is non-conforming to their common oppressor, the patriarchal order. This same visage is often what the Meira Paibis put on too. Our so called emancipated arts and academics too are not free from the hangovers of this patriarchal syndrome. The provision in the traditional feudal Meitei society where the willingness of a convict to be “humiliated” by covering himself with a phanek to win a pardon, is often portrayed as a respect and empowerment of the feminine gender by the social order then. This same colonisation of the mind is again evident in practice of women agitators stringing up phaneks on the roads during bandhs unknowingly causing self-inflicted injuries to themselves by agreeing that this feminine apparel is impure and no men would bend to pass under them. It is time now for women first of all to answer this call for gender emancipation by no longer seeing the feminine gender as subhuman and that there is nothing polluting about their bodies or their dresses.

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