March issue 2009
The “end” in Gender
While I do not doubt the importance of International Women’s Day, I argue that, more than a cause for celebration, the creation of such a day brings to light two very important and unfortunate societal features that occur globally. For some, this is a day of celebration, highlighting the victories and triumphs belonging to women over the decades. For many others, this highlights the fact that the other 364 days of the year boast of male prowess, patriarchy and the power of the phallus. For still others, this reemphasises the sex and gender dichotomy, and furthers the idea of heterosexuality as the norm. While an issue focusing on women is celebratory, and perhaps even necessary, what of the individuals whose sex and gender fall outside this category, and hence the many people whose existence goes unacknowledged and unheard?
Each time an issue is rendered a ‘woman’s’ issue, it is seen as just that: a woman’s concern. It is withdrawn from being a human concern and a human pursuit. It is a struggle that primarily rests on the shoulders of women, another obstacle that they (often) alone must overcome. All discourse on women’s rights reaffirms their status as women, a word that comes with its own traits and stereotypes. Woman, in our culture, is emblematic of all that is frail, passive and dependent. It is difficult to shed one’s master status, especially in the struggle to be seen as something more and something different. Women, as Simone de Beauvoir argues in The Second Sex, are believed to be inferior because of their constant connection with their bodies, which is further linked to the material realm, or a state of immanence as Beauvoir terms it. Men, on the other hand, are argued to be bigger than their minds, and bigger still than their bodies, and so they have the ability and the power to transcend the material realm. Beauvoir’s ideas of immanence were reiterated by radical feminists such as Shulamith Firestone, who also argued that women’s ability to procreate and their roles as potential mothers, is what leads to this link with nature. However, nature is trumped by culture; this is a binary that is a product of the Enlightenment period, an era where categories and dichotomies were created and embraced more than ever before.
So when one single day becomes a day for women, it serves to reify the concept that every other day a woman has little or no reason to celebrate, for no other day belongs to her. For women, it is back to the harsh realities of life come March 9. While I do not dispute the significance of this day, I wonder if it seeks to justify a status quo that dictates women as an oppressed, and/or a marginalised, group. Moreover, I question the significance of any day and any event that further promulgates the false notion that heteronormality is in fact the norm, and normal. I find it curious that any oppressed group would willingly surrender to the idea that an event that furthers a divide is worthwhile. While queer groups have one day of the year allotted to boast and parade their beliefs, this, I argue, is vastly different to a day dedicated to women.
Queer individuals (and here I am referring to those individuals whose sex, genders, sexualities and sexual practices fall outside of the heterosexual/heteronormative framework), are far from obtaining even the most basic of human respect that most people are given instantly. Moreover, despite women’s lack of privileges that still exist in Pakistan, a queer freedom is much further away from existing. Perhaps, today, more people are breaking out of closets, but the fact that these closets still exist is the real concern. Judith Butler, queer theorist extraordinaire, argues, and I concur, that each time someone breaks out of a closet, it solidifies the existence of the closet itself. So each time someone is bold and ‘brash’ enough to admit to a non-normative style of living, it reiterates the fact that there was a closet that needed breaking out off. This is, I argue, a legitimate and pressing concern.
While it could be argued that queer activism has no place in a country where women are still treated cruelly, and often inhumanely, I question why the two activisms are seen in conflict with one another.
Why is it that multiple revolutions cannot occur at once? Why is a revolution seeking gender justice not the concern of each one of us? In a country where religion, politics and access to wealth and power continue to divide and destroy us, now sexualities and sexual preferences too have been employed by many to serve that very purpose.
Although I have nothing but the utmost respect and gratitude for the many women who paved the way and made it possible for my pursuit of life and education to be an easier one, and although I do value International Women’s Day, my struggle is in attempting to understand why and how a choice in one’s personal life can be used as a source of dispute and disunity. I fully support the need for the emancipation of women, but I support further a gender revolution that encompasses that and much more. In our heterosexual and heteronormal framework, we refuse to see the injustices meted out to those that do not fit into our neat (and socially constructed) boxes of ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ Is it not unfair that people who cease to fit into preconceived categories go unacknowledged and therefore unrepresented?
While the struggle for women’s rights is still a pertinent one in Pakistan today, I see it as much more effective (albeit impossible at this point) to start a revolution that does not see gender/sex differences of any kind, at all. The existence of the various sexes, both biologically and socially, in any society cannot be denied. It also cannot be argued that individuals learn and perform their genders, parodies of which are present on screen, in theatres and on the streets of Pakistan. Understanding what it means to belong to a marginalised group, I seek a revolution that does more than give rights based on one’s gender.
I seek to theorise a revolution that is bigger than its parts, and encompasses various people, while never labelling them as the same.
This is a revolution, which struggles to put an “end” to “gENDer” and all gender disparities.
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