The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

Power and women representation

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Ever since the formation of society all those millennia ago, power has played a major part in social construction. Indeed, it is power that brings about every level of segregation within any social structure. This segregation may be of a technical nature, i.e. the separation of the employer from the employee, or it may be of a social nature, i.e. husband from wife. But what one must keep in mind is that it is the exertion of power, and its maintenance that brings about this divide.

The workplace has always been thought to be a ‘man’s domain’, but this point of view is being challenged on many fronts. After the introduction of women in the labour force, in the post-World War era, more and more women have joined the labour-force in ever equalising ratios, but this is not to imply that the treatment given to them, or the prestige and wage value attached to their work, is by any means equal to that being given to men. It is common knowledge that women have to work twice as hard as men, and yet are paid half as much. This view is supported by the observation made by Shulamith Firestone in the article, ‘The women’s rights movement in the USA: New View’, published in 1968, where it is said:

“The average woman earns approximately $ 2,827 annually, a little over half the average man’s earnings ($ 4,466). Despite the talk about businesswomen, how many businesswomen do you ever see? How many women in any managerial or decision making position? How many professionals? Ninety five percent of all professionals are still male. Academic opportunities are shrinking, not growing; even the women’s colleges and magazines are run by men. Nor does anyone mention the fact that future prospects look even dimmer. The routine jobs that were granted to women, a lollipop to appease their hunger for real and important work, will be the first to go, come automation. Perhaps men will have their way after all, and women will go back to the home they never should have left.”

Society is not merely an abstract concept of the greater whole. It is composed of individuals, with individual needs, wants, rights and duties. Whereas needs and wants may be individually determined, rights and duties are socially ascribed. This is to say that society decides what individual rights are, and what duties or qualities that individual has to perform or correspond to, in order to be eligible to those rights.

This is the concept of the social contract. This is the theory that forms the basis of social justice and is supported by almost all religions and philosophers. The founding premise behind the theory of the social contract is one of equality, as presented by Rousseau, “Political authority and obligation are based on the individual self-interests of members of society who are understood to be equal to one another, with no single individual invested with any essential authority to rule over the rest.” While the essential observations made according to the study of ‘the social contract’ remain true, the notion that “some men are more equal than others”, cannot be discounted either. Even Hobbes accedes to the monarch having absolute authority as a necessity for social existence. ‘Unquestionable’ power, must therefore, in Hobbes opinion, be a prerequisite for the current social reality. Indeed, Lenin himself accounts for the unequal statuses of individuals in a pre-socialist society when he says, in his book The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegate Kautsky:

“Secondly, it is obviously wrong. It is natural for a liberal to speak of ‘democracy’ in general, but a Marxist will never forget to ask: ‘For what class?’ Everyone knows, for instance (and Kautsky the ‘historian’ knows it too), that rebellions, or even strong ferment, among the slaves in ancient times at once revealed the fact that the ancient state was essentially a dictatorship of the slave owners. Did this dictatorship abolish democracy among, and for, the slave-owners? Everybody knows that it did not.”

This ‘unquestionable’ power, finds a correlate in the social construction of gender identities as well. This is the power of the male, the patriarch, the leader. The father, the husband, the brother or the son. The power is absolute and undeniable. One has merely to glance at supra-patriarchal societies like Pakistan to learn that laws such as the Hudood Ordinance or like the concessions made to killings made in the name of ‘honour’, to realise that it is almost as if the system conspires against the woman.

And it does.

The continuance of such a system of hegemony propagation entails some necessary conditions. These are as follows:

The classification of the act of demanding rights as deviance,

Strict and immediate retribution against such a demand,

Institutionalisation of such retribution, and

Carrying out retribution in such a way that it reinforces popular perception.

If one is to examine the truth behind all these statements, one must try and find real life examples for such systems of oppression. And one does find many real life examples for this. I will attempt to explain two of these.

Honour killing in Pakistan has been rampant for as long as one care research. A woman killed in the name of family honour and pride, tortured, shot, knifed, axed or plainly beat up by her father, brother, husband or son is so ‘usual’ that it does not even elicit a base revulsion from an average middle class Pakistani. The myth of the family honour being carried on the shoulders of the family’s women is so perfectly ingrained that there is no breaking out of the cycle. This, coupled with the manner of drafting of the laws, and dispensing justice, i.e. the proceedings of the legislature of Pakistan are at odds with women’s rights. A popular but relevant example is that of the previous rape law, where a woman had to present four men of good social standing to testify in her favour for the charge of rape to be established. This, in an age where such clarification can easily be made with DNA finger-printing and forensic medical testing. Although this law was changed after the Hudood laws were amended, but does this not represent an institutionalisation of the oppression of women? In my opinion it does.

One is ready to call a female a member of the ‘fairer sex’, but one should ask oneself, do we mean pretty and beautiful or fragile and weak?

Similarly, at the workplace, we see that the dynamics of interaction are much different. At informal meetings, such as those carried on in the office café, we find that men will talk openly with each other, liberally using slang and swear words as they see fit to suit the situation. A great amount of physical contact is also seen between peers of the same gender. This situation is drastically changed with the introduction of a female in the group. Suddenly, the spines stiffen, the words become more formal and physical contacts next to disappear. The most visible account of this occurs in vertically sectioned hierarchical meetings, i.e. boss and employee meetings, which may be informal or semi-formal in nature.

These observations lead us to ask this question: does the communication between men and women vary according to their economic status and the class they belong to?

The answer is, invariably, yes.

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