Oppression of women is one of the many symptoms of our diseased society. It is important to remember that oppression is not just restricted to women but extends to many other “weaker” sections of society. People with limited financial resources, people of certain castes or race, people with little or no formal education and also children are some sections that are prone to become victims of oppression. If you are a girl born to a poor family belonging to a caste labeled untouchable then you are at the lowest point in the web of oppression.
So, what is the cure for this disease? Any one who has kept an aquarium full of pet fish learns soon enough that most of the diseases that affect fishes can be cured by treating the water. Culture is to us what water is to a fish. The causes of many of the diseases afflicting our society can be found in our culture. Culture is very complex and dynamic and in this blog I will try to touch upon the culture of power which I think is contributing significantly to oppression in general. Power is defined in a certain way in our culture. When thinking about power we think of power to compete, to dominate, to control, to command, to have an upper hand, to be superior and to rule. There are unwritten rules to this game of power and those who have imbibed the rules are higher up in the ladder. In this culture, empowerment is defined as giving someone the ability to rise up in the ladder of power.
We are all too familiar with this culture of power. The manifestations might differ among different societies and even within society but it can no doubt be found in every aspect of our life. Within our family we might have seen this game of power being played all too often. The eldest earning male member of the family is often the decision maker of the family and also has the veto power to change anyones decision. Women who often look after the affairs of the house are reminded that their wisdom doesn’t compare to his experience and so should listen to him. Any threat to this power is thwarted with a loud angry voice and sometimes even with a swing of the hand. But it is not just him playing this game. This game is on between parents and children, between different members of family and even between sibblings.
Our schools are like the powerhouse of this culture. The relationship between the teacher and the students has become a relationship of power. A certain kind of attitude of the teacher assists her or him in maintaining a position of authority. How often have we heard a teacher say “I don’t know”?- perhaps never. Questioning a teacher is akin to questioning his authority. The teacher is the all-knowing and the students empty vessels. The more mystery there is surrounding a teacher the more authority he or she seems to have. Teachers also play this game among themselves. Backbiting is a common feature of this culture. Putting someone else down is one way of putting yourself higher. Getting closer to people in authority is a common tactics. In higher standards it is not uncommon to see a student trying to gain ascendancy over an authoritarian teacher- perhaps by defying the teacher’s command. Even students play this game among each other. There are students who wield power by trying to be the highest ranking and there are students trying to appear physically strong. Doing things many others fear is one way of showing who has the power. As we grow older and are ready to join the workplace we learn a certain way of shaking hands that show power. A poker face with very little emotions accompanied by the walk of pride is important to let others know that you have power. A certain brand of aggression is propagated by media through advertisements. This is how a alpha wolf or a lion wields power within his pack. Humans too have adopted the same rules in their own relationships.
Success is equated with having power. Everyone wants power and there is only one rule- everything is fair in the battle of power. Having power is not like money that you can count. A person can earn enough and say “I have enough for the rest of my life” but power is never enough. The feeling of power is a fleeting thing and must be constantly fed. The problem with such a culture of power is that not everyone can have equal of it. In my oppinion, oppressing others is one way of feeding this feeling of being powerful. Everyone is trying to oppress the section less powerful.
Women are one of the victims of this hunger for power. A rapist feeds his hunger for power by being capable of destroying the life of a woman. Our society feeds this power to the rapist by calling the woman “a victim”. Why should a woman lose her “izzat” after being raped? Shouldn’t the rapist be the one with no “izzat”? A man throws acid on a woman for rejecting his “love”. Why? Rejection is loss of power. How does the man regain his power? By making the woman hide behind veils by taking away her freedom. Even I used to catch lizards and pull out it’s tail when I was a kid. Now i know why. Destroying something gives us a sense of power.
Changing culture is a very long and laborious process. We need to initiate a new discourse on redefining the definition of power. It might sound naive but I think we need to bring in the concepts of “power of love”, “power of justice”, “power of truth”, power of unity”, “power of humility” into our discourse of power. What would our relationships be like if it were characterized by a firm belief in the nobility of each human being? What if we redefined power to mean the ability to walk together with others in a learning process? What if power meant power to assist others in developing their capacity? What if power was not associated with position in society but with our deeds for the betterment of society? Wouldn’t then power be such that everyone could have equal of it?
One might argue that trying to solve the problem of violence against women from such a broad perspective might dilute the issue but I believe that having a holistic perspective prevents us from adopting fragmented methods and approaches. This is not to say that this is the only solution. The problem is complex and therefore every dimension must be given due consideration.