"We ask to be regarded, respected and treated as human beings, of full age and natural abilities, as equal fellow sinners, not as infants or beautiful angels, to whom the laws of civil and social justice do not apply."
— Lucy Stone
Particularly during times when much of the world and my role in it is fluid, uncertain or even downright absent, I have had to ask what and why and more importantly who. What forms my personal identity? Questions about my qua personhood, as it were. The most important reflection of social or personal or simply identity theory is of course asking – What matters?
I do not want to lapse into a humanistic exposition, so I'm going to talk about the only identity that I have known. That of having been a woman. So when someone tells me that a promiscuous woman is not a 'woman', I'm revolted. Not only because sexual freedom is something that is private or not to be judged and not to be curtailed. The painful part is the 'gendered' attitude. The idea that a good woman or a woman is essentially asexual. Or at any rate if not so, must conform to that standard at some point in time.
Gender roles too are particularly alienating. I'm not sure what a gender role is at any rate. If I am to understand that people's societal roles are expressions for their gender identities at one level that is acceptable. Merely acceptable because, by its very definition the idea of a gender identity forms a certain kind of exclusivity. The exclusivity is artificial. My being an activist is not independent of my identity as a woman activist. The only other explanation is that society allocates social burdens on the basis of external genitalia. Neither explanation is comforting.
The trouble is that unlike closed systems, social systems are open and dynamic. Just as the left-right political spectrum is insufficient in terms of mapping political belief, the 'male' – 'female' categorisation insufficiently addresses gender and sexual identity. There are no single answers, and newer and consequently more restrictive gender categories are not really the solution. Anti-feminism points out the disturbing anti-feminist ideology in the academia — yet another gendered 'identity'.
Literature in the form of Oscar Wilde in the meantime brings me to some further questions. Oscar Wilde's characters do not fit normal gender roles, the men like flowers and worry about their hair for instance. Does that mean that they weren't men? Is there something typically female about flowers?
The question is still fluid. If I were to accept the premise that women and men are to be paid equally, in terms of a fair and equal distribution, what forms a fair and equal distribution? Unequal people measured by an equal standard strikes me as a strange conception.
The fight is so much more than just about liberty and choice. Its about placing women at the centre of cultural discourse. An intersection of social movements.
It is about lives and modes. The politics of culture discusses the historical hegemony and embodiment of the sexual/gender, the ethnic factions, the division of labor, the class relationships as much as it tells tales of pleasure and performance. It asks for a radical democracy, demands an articulation and escape from disciplinarity, communicative action and the public sphere.
I'm not sure if the sexual subaltern in India yet has a voice, especially where 'feminist' politics is considered tragically derogatory. If I were to acknowledge that womanhood is constructed, that such conceptions are propagated by dominant ideologies (patriarchy, mass media, imperialism) and that there is nothing that can translate desire into a guilt free existence, then I would rather make the personal the political. The coercion as they say begins when you violate my six feet, regardless of whether its at the policy table or my bed.