By Arjuna Seneviratne –
I like the idea of the Hindu deity Ardhanarishvara.
Ardhanarishvara represents the synthesis of the masculine and feminine energies of the universe and depicts illustratively, the idea that Shakti, the female principle of God, is inseparable from Shiva, the male principle of God. The union of these principles is exalted as the root of all creation. I particularly like the fact that the vehicle or mover of the feminine part is the lion and that of the masculine part is the bull. While I can have a huge chuckle explaining the rationale behind this juxtaposition, for the purposes of this particular post, it is less relevant and therefore I shall desist. *heh*The keyword here is “inseparable”. As I mentioned in the previous post, attempting to understand systems that exist dependent on the right juxtaposition of a very large number or even an infinite number of parameters by breaking things down has only one practical outcome – it breaks them. Separating complex organisms merely separates them. No more and no less. While this is true with quite a few forms of human segregation, for this particular post, I will only concentrate on the segregation of “nari” (female) from “purusha” (male).
The ideas behind the buzzwords of the gender debate such as identity, traits, roles, relations, etc. have, to a large extent been based on segregating and separating females and males anatomically and these days people are creating new and improved versions of the very stereotypes that such differentiation is supposed to eradicate such as discrimination, rights, equality, mainstreaming etc.
Human beings are far too complex and far too diversely and contiguously graded in the integration, weightage and juxtaposition of the psychological and physical parameters that constitutes their existence for that sort of simplistic treatment.
All is not quite lost though. At least from around the early nineties, there has been some awareness if not conviction that the fundamental life-dynamic created out of the interaction of men and women is an infinitely complex one that cannot be treated adequately through segregation. There has been a slow-dawning realization that breaking down the social entwine into its component parts along anatomical and/or age related lines cut through an extremely complex web and when it was put back together, it just didn’t come back up alive or, if it did show signs of life, then that life was comparable to that of the Frankenstein monster.
Yet, amusingly, segregation dies hard. It’s almost as if that particular train has gained so much momentum that no amount of pressure on the breaks is going to have much of an effect on its onward rush over the societal precipice. I am amused that quite a large percentage of the summit attending global trotters, video conferrers, researchers, activists, writers, blog readers and email users seem to think that attempting to find fairer sets of life-rules based on what is essentially an unnatural cleaving of social inter-networks into groups such as “women” and “men” (or “youth” or “children”) actually works. The amusement stems from the fact that it is not that hard to understand that the synergy of a society overarches the individual potency of its components and extracting those out of a family, group or community for segregated treatment simply weakens, damages or destroys the cohesiveness and energy of the overarching phenomenon.
This is true for 66% of the world’s population who do not have Facebook or Twitter feeds, do not have email accounts, do not read online newspapers and blogs, do not respond to posts such as this and do not jet around the world attending conferences and debates on gender. These are primarily the rurals and pastorals of the planet and they really don’t give a rat’s bum about such issues. They have far more life-threatening problems to solve than go ballistic on the percentage of female representatives on a governance council. Such issues reach stratospheric proportions only for the former “segment” of the human population which is in the minority.
However, that minority, primary made up of relatively urbanized components of the global population is powerful enough to change governance and policy based on their segregation-focused ideas of fairness.
One can’t really blame them when one sees where they are coming from.
Their life-dynamics differ from the rurals and pastorals. Urbanization is a relatively new phenomenon and urban travails equally so. They have had to adjust on the fly and that pea-soup is still a “work in progress” that is yet to reach any semblance of stability. Indeed, stability is not even a consideration for it since it primarily operates on flux. Its chief social signature is the breaking of classic norms used for social engagement and replacing those with legislative ones. Their social web is constructed out of legal rules and not cultural, traditional or spiritual ones. Therefore, as a matter of life-and-death, they must have access to constitutional guarantees, they must have access to social institutions, they must be able to engage the legislative frameworks of the nation, region or planet and they must have trust in enforcement agencies. And they do!
As a direct result of their history, their ideas of what constitutes life-security and an equitable share of that life are driven more by the idea that the individual should be able to help herself as an individual than the idea that a community should be able to help itself as a collective and their colleagues in these types of engagement naturally tend to be of their own segregated kind since every other type of relationship is both relatively unknown and/or relatively irrelevant in comparison.
And they are right, in their own societies where legal and institutional safety nets are in place. That is the caveat that gives credibility to their claims and makes their standpoints on equality, rights and recognition of abilities valid since to all intents and purposes, the extra part or missing part between a human being’s legs should not have significant impact when all are made equal when measured against the building block of their society – their law. And if, constitution forbid, their specific framework of safety is compromised, of course they have a right to shriek. And shriek they will, as they did in India recently where the safety of urban women became hit-headlines across the world as trust in constitutional guarantees, trust in legislative frameworks and trust in enforcement agencies failed in urban Indian environments.
And they are wrong, in presuming that such systems are applicable across all societies and that their shrieks on everything from equality to discrimination to rape should resonate with all women in all social groups in all parts of the world. Despite the fact that for a majority of those howls, there is no such empathy, these people own the powerbases of the planet, and move quite aggressively trying to subsume all other norms, believing firmly, mostly ignorantly, definitely honestly, that their framework is not only the right one but should also be the only one.
It doesn’t need a great deal of thought to realize that each social grouping has its own unique mechanisms for assuring stability, its own modalities of governance and its own systems of understanding who does what to whom, where and why, how many times, next Saturday night. Each needs to be treated as such and engaged as such. These societies exist because of their ability to integrate differences into a cohesive whole, not because they subsume those differences under an empirical framework of legal instruments.
For example, a very general rule, applicable to most rurals and pastorals, was articulated brilliantly by a young Afghan woman whom I interviewed last year on women in conflict (not Malala who is a spokesperson in a different type of skirmish albeit on a related battle field- heh). I believe (unconfirmed) that this young woman had links to or was at one point a member of RAWA .Her response was along these lines (I am trying to quote this verbatim as her translator stated it because it was powerful testimony stated in short sentences like one-second bursts from an Uzi machine pistol):
“Why do women take up arms? Why do women have to do (emphasis hers) anything at all? It is only because their men are weak. When their ability to protect us is gone. When their ability to feed us is gone. When their ability to support our children is gone. This is why movements like RAWA happen. Because we did not believe our men were strong. Because we believed our men were hurting us. Islam did much to protect women. Shariya did much to destroy women. It is a good tool in the hands of a strong man. It is a terrible tool in the hands of a weak man. To do, for many women in this world, is not something that comes out of choice but something that comes out of necessity. This is why we help in the field. This is why we help in the fishing. This is why we do not farm or fish ourselves but keep at the side of our men when they work and support them. They in turn protect us. This is why we are amused by western women going to war in other countries. Their men are strong enough. Their weapons are strong enough. There is no necessity. We see a person who can be safe, protected and a good wife. So why fight? I think Hussain was right when he said the aggressor has brought his wife with him. When our women fight we have no choice. When their women fight they have no reason“.
Clearly, the life-dynamics here are different and based on societal norms, not legislative ones and is rooted in creating a balance of differences, not reducing everything to an equation. None of them feel that equality in life is essential for ensuring high quality of life. For them that type of reasoning is fallacious. None of them consider their interrelationships stereotypical. They consider them rational. They consider them valuable. They consider them critically important. Why? For these communities, the harmonization of societal inter-networks is far more important than rights. Why so? Because they have little or no access to constitutional guarantees, legislative frameworks and social institutions and they trust enforcement agencies not at all. Anyone attempting to shove “rights based approaches” down the throats of these communities is actually doing far more damage than good since the base requisites necessary for their validation do not exist.
One thing is pretty clear here. One must engage a group of people as a cohesive whole. Try to give them women’s rights, youth rights and child rights and all that one manages to do is remove their cultural, traditional, spiritual, familial and communal rights and replace them with hollow spaces that are essentially useless in providing them with either safety or equity. Working aggressively and/or earnestly along such lines is basically an amusing cop-out at best and mostly selfish in its target. It is the exercise of tired minds and weakened insights and little academic tricks like “nuancing” which presume that the base reasoning is right but that it needs to be tweaked contextually just don’t cut it. One must realize that the base reasoning is wrong and an entirely different rationale unique to that specific gathering needs to be understood if one desires to read it. Luckily, there are some people who are aware of all of this and are attempting to stop this mad rush towards societal suicide.
Trying to get men and women to work together has its place in some types of social grouping but they are anathema to those where men and women work with each other. The later majority is deeply and justifiably rooting for norms that are based on alternative cosmologies and in almost all of their cases; they would rather work with the idea of Ardhanarishvara where two halves make one composite and not nari-purusha where two individuals make two individuals.
For the majority of this world, the former is exalted as the root of all creation. The later is debilitated as the root of all destruction.
Ardhanarishvara understands how a cow manages to suckle a lion and why a lion manages not to eat a cow whereas Nari-purusha will wonder “why the effing hell is the male on the right and the female on the left in that illustration”. *grins*
(Some of the assertions are based on nine years of work in rural development and social activism, part of this was based on a blog response to women soldiers in American armies and part of it was based on a research exercise on the use of women centric gender models in development projects. Oh, and, as I was searching my mind for the name of the Hindu deity mentioned in this post and I was pondering aloud, my 15 year old daughter who is an expert on Hindu Polytheism pipes up “Ardhanarishvara you goose”. Given the type of deity, that was entirely appropriate *winks*)