Saying no to the patriarchy role model
By Daya Dissanayake
The Mitochondrial African Eve, who gave birth to the first Homo sapiens sapiens, somewhere near Lake Victoria in East Africa, could most certainly be the first member of the genus Gyna sapiens, introduced to us by Dr. Leonard Shlain, in 1998. Shlain claims Gyna sapiens is higher in the evolutionary ladder than Homo sapiens.
The 3.5 billion members of Gyna sapiens around the earth today do not need any additional labels. They do not have to call themselves 'feminists' or use terms like 'feminism' and 'femininity'. They have their identity, they have their power. They should be able to place the men in their place so the men would have to identify themselves as Masculinists or whatever.
In cyberspace I met a true member of Gyna sapiens. A writer from Orissa, who writes in her mother tongue, Oriya, and also English. Dr. Sarojini Sahoo, is a humanist, in the sense that she is writing against the domination of human-over-human, as described by Murray Bookchin. The feminists talk about domination of man-over-woman, but in reality there are women who dominate other women too. Sarojini's struggle is not just for the women in Orissa, or the Dalits and the scheduled castes or the women in India. Her struggle is for the emancipation of all who are under domination, men, women and children.
It is because as a woman, she feels. She feels the pain and suffering of the women and children, and even the men who are less equal and less powerful. Women have to lead this struggle.
Women are more intelligent, more capable, more courageous than men. They also live longer than men, everywhere on earth. If Gyna sapiens too behaved like Homo, humankind would have disappeared from the face of the earth thousands of years ago. They would not have been able to survive. Even today the woman outlives the man, under most conditions, in the most sophisticated social conditions in a city of a 'developed' country, or in the most underdeveloped village in an Asian or African country.
Critics and the media try to compare Sarojini Sahoo with Simone de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf and Judith Butler. But she responds, "I consider myself more a writer and as a writer, I think I am always a genderless entity. A writer should not have any gender." Having said that, she puts the question to us, "But still, patriarchal society has prevailed; is there any possibility to have a genderless society?"
Sarojini believes that "BOTH (her emphasis) men and women are subjected to oppression and stereotypes and that these oppressive experiences have a profound effect on beliefs and perceptions." She is "against the patriarchy role model of society but says it does not mean that she wants to replace a matriarchal role model of society in place of the existing patriarchal one."
It could be that she wants to go back to the society we had long ago, where men and women enjoyed equal status, mutual respect and did not suffer oppression in any form.
On the idea of marriage, she says, "marriage must be taken out of the social realm and fully put back into the private one. Society should withdraw from marriage and allow the adults involved to work out their own definition of justice in the privacy of their own homes".
On marriage, she often touches on monogamy, polygamy, polyandry and polyamory. Polyamory has a respectable term, 'consensual nonmonogamy' in the West, which is now getting openly accepted, like gay marriages. But in our part of the world, it is mostly a one way arrangement, where only the male partner has the privilege, so it is only polygyny, once more. Kings had harems, and Sarojini wonders if Draupadi was in love with all five Pandava brothers, which too could be considered polyamory.
A very important issue which Sarojini has raised often is on pornography. She has written, "Porn is a misogynist attitude which promotes the idea that women are shown in a subordinate role. Pornography contributes to sexism, violence against women, is a cause of rape, and also eroticises the domination, humiliation, and coercion of women."
Probably this is an issue which should be considered by all of us. Yet the difficulty would be because porn is big business. And today porn is accessible by anyone anywhere on earth, even on their mobile phones. And there is enough of it free, which gives a taste for the porn user, who will then get addicted and will start paying for more and more. It is the same way young people get hooked on drugs, and how we all got hooked on tea. Unfortunately porn has invaded into Sinhala literature once again after a few decades, that they are even considered for literary awards too.
The modern day concept of beauty takes her to the issue of the skin colour of women. Here too the cosmetics industry is raking in billions by duping women with products to make the skin fairer. Sarojini sees the irony in the fact that these same cosmetic industry is now targeting men too, offering them a fairer skin. The skin colour also has become a part of the racist attitude among some Indian communities.
Woman is the only female animal who tries to impress the male of the species, while with almost all other animals, it is the male who has to impress and attract the female. The females of other animal species never needed any Chausath Kala (hetahatara mayam). Every process by which the modern woman tries to look more feminine, is an act against nature, and the raw material used, the processing, the waste products, and finally the end product itself harms our environment, at every step of the way. And in the end it harms women too, because men get used to seeing the external, synthetic beauty of the woman. When it fades away, when cosmetics and technology could not hide her fading beauty, man turns away from her in disgust. Had the woman been able to attract the man with her inner beauty, with her natural self, which would grow with age instead of fading away, man would get closer to her. If we are to achieve that we should ban all advertising where woman is used as a sex object, to promote more and more cosmetics for the women.
With the fashion and cosmetic industries targeting men more and more, in the near future we could see a narrowing of the external appearance of men and women, and we may have a problem identifying the gender from their appearance, clothes or make-up. We could all end up like the person at the airport in Brigid Brophy's 'In Transit' (1969). Even in the field of education and earning power the women are already leading. In America the latest statistics show that the woman of the house is becoming the major breadwinner, and sometimes the sole breadwinner. Women are also proving they are more capable of being employed, running the household and bringing up children, without a man in the house.
Gender's role in language
As a writer and a Gyna sapiens, she has taken up the issue of the role of gender in language, because most languages evolved under a patriarchal control. Her own language, Oriya, has gender-neutral characteristics, like several other Indian languages, Tamil, Assamese and Bengali. Because she writes in Oriya and in English, she is faced with the practice in the English language to use the masculine gender where it should really be gender-neutral. When it comes to professions, the name implies the male, and when referring to a woman, the usage has come to be 'lady doctor' or 'lady lawyer', not 'doctoress' or 'lawyeress'. She points out that Chairman, Postman, always meant both.
Sarojini is conveying her message to the world, not only through her essays and speeches, but through the more popular medium of creative fiction.
Her short stories and the novels reach a much wider readership, and get talked about more.
And her message is getting through. Sarojini Sahoo need to be translated into our languages, Sinhala and Tamil, too, including her novel, 'The Dark Abode' and her short stories in English. And someday perhaps, her novels in Oriya and Bengali.
Soon we could expect a new sex-reversed culture. The real sex-reversed culture had happened in human society sometime in our history when the woman began to demean herself by trying to attract the male of the species. But Margaret Mead was also thinking like a man when she wrote about the 'sex-reversed culture' of the Chambri society in New Guinea, just because the men were adorned with make-up and ornaments.
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This article was published in Sri Lankan national news paper ‘The Daily News’ in its September 5, 2013 issue.
The author is a Sri Lankan fiction writer who won Sri Lanka State Award for the Best English Novel 2013 for his book 'Miracle Under the Kumbuk Tree.'
He can be reached at email@example.com