Thursday, October 25, 2007

Arbitrary musings on male chauvinism etc.

A few days ago, I had a weird argument with Mr. Sriram. I argued that he doesn't come off as a male chauvinist in the true sense to me, when he claimed that he is a male chauvinist with no reservations whatsoever. And, he came up with some reasonable points to back up his claim: he expects his wife to cook and maintain the house and all that jazz. Of course, well-informed folks know that most of his gibberish is vetti scene, but let me not cop out in that direction for the moment; instead, for the sake of the argument, assume that he's in fact being honest. My counter-argument was that it's only his way of getting away without doing that sort of work. Which only makes him a lazy ass. An escapist at best. Responding to this, he insisted that he truly believes that it's the wife's duty to cook food for him (and herself, I presume), but he confessed that he won't advocate it to anyone else. This total refrainment from the advocacy of his own notion of a wife's "duty," I thought, was a clincher to my case. (To his defence, he added that he won't advocate anything to anyone for that matter.)

Of course, whether or not he comes off as a chauvinist to his readers is irrelevant to me in all possible ways, but this got me thinking about male chauvinism and gender bias in general, and specifically in our social context.

[Please note, this fruitful discussion happened before he wrote that lousy post about saving rate, aachaaram etc. where he defended theettu, pathu and echchal, and justly earned the wrath of a well-meaning, unsuspecting lady who unfortunately expected him to make sense, no less. In fact, if I may play Freud for a moment, I'm positive that it's his defence mechanism that must have made him come up with something as weird as that post, after having been unable to convince me.]

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So much for my musings on advocacy of one's beliefs. I don't really have a rigid notion of what's chauvinistic and what's not, and perhaps more importantly, who's chauvinistic and who's not; especially in a social setup like ours where the difference in the treatment of the two genders are so pronounced and deep-rooted. There's more to anyone's life and the man-woman relationships in it than what can be deduced by passing a judgement on what the person thinks about gender roles. There is more to a woman's life than what can be deduced by passing a judgement on how she is "oppressed" and "confined" to the role of a housewife in a patriarchal setup. It's even bizarrely high-handed (and insensitive) to even suggest that these unsuspecting women are definitively subordinated by virtue of their role as housewives.

To my mind, male chauvinism and gender bias exist in all shapes and sizes across all social stratas. Likewise, I am tempted to believe that some form of "real-world" feminism exists across all social stratas. It'd be incredibly naïve to suggest that mere societal conformance or yielding to a conservative mindset (or even possessing one) automatically translates to "oppressing" or "being oppressed."

[On that note, here's a somewhat related and even more incomprehensible post, where I had mused “on how words (especially if it is ‘one word’) can’t completely describe any man,” among other things. To grasp the the degree of incomprehensibility therein, sample this: “The validity quotient of any statement is definitely statistical; and that statistics differs with any physical parameter one can think of.” Wow. It's so much fun to quote oneself, I say.]

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Let's take our own Tamil cinema. There is this superb folk duet, Kai Valikkudhu from the movie Kunguma Chimizh. (I haven't seen the film, nor the video of the song.) Now, the lyrics of that song will make many liberal feminists tear their hair out. (For better results, try directly reading the lyrics than listen to the song.) The lines of the song espouses many of the broad gender archetypes of our society. "Ammi araippadhu pombala velai dhaandi," the husband says, and if at all he chips in, it's said to be only a favour. Now, for a true feminist, this would most probably be deeply offensive, but I don't find it as problematic. In fact, it's these kind of portrayals that represent the reality of our society and the way it works. And, frankly, it'd only be naïve on anyone's part to judge the relationship between the two on the basis of what the two think about the gender roles and man-woman equation. On the other hand, I find the portrayal of the educated woman in a seemingly modern film like Kaakha Kaakha quite chauvinistic in the way it tellingly reduces the role of the woman (pun intended) to someone who the hero has to protect, who makes him vulnerable. Not to forget the way the film ends -- the hero's ladylove is dead ("killed" by the writer so as to make a martyr of him), but the hero has to go on. (Well, I am not accusing Gautham of being chauvinistic here, it's probably just bad writing.)

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Some time back, a close acquaintance of mine (who, to my knowledge, is significantly liberal in her ideas) offered me a serious advice that I should go for an arranged marriage. Why, I asked. Because, in that case, the wife "will listen to me," she said. At the same time, she was all for a girl to go for a love marriage and found it only fair that she "does the talking" instead of "just listening to her husband" out of the marriage. Effectively, she advocated love marriages for women because the girl will be an equal partner or even have the privilege of "dominating the proceedings," even as she advocated arranged marriage for men. Needless to say, I was deeply perplexed. It's the same person who thinks it's appropriate for the man to "dominate" in an arranged marriage but also finds it as appropriate for a woman to "dominate" or at least "be equal to" the man in a love marriage. Now, is she a feminist, or one who reinstates -- inadvertently or otherwise -- the patriarchal system?

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One is probably better off without making a point, but I am afraid I've made a couple of them in this post.

15 comments:

  1. All men are chauvinists and all women are feminists :P

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  2. Uh-oh, Inlivenout, that is utterly reductionist! Wait, it even disallows me, for one, to be both a man and a feminist, even if I'm not one at the first place.

    P.S. I'll leave it to Sriram to declare that I must be gay.

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  3. Hey, when did I say all men are not feminists and all women are not chauvinists?

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  4. Oh yeah, point taken. Someone like the lady I talked about in this post can tend to be both.
    But still, you deem me to be male-chauvinist . Show some sensitivity, no?

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  5. Uh, pardon the typo. You still deem me to be a male-chauvinist, I meant to say. And, I still wish you showed more sensitivity.

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  6. Come on, Chauvinism is a virtue. Be proud ;)

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  7. I can't be proud of what I am not. Which means I can only be proud of what I am, which in turn means I can't be proud of anything at all.

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  8. Inlivenout is right, Zero. Male chauvinism is a virtue like virginity. even if you don't have it, you should sport it.

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  9. Zero, indha I payyan ellam madhichu chat panriye, unna sollanum.

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  10. Zero, idhellam apdiye varudhu dhaan illai?

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  11. Zero, idhellam apdiye varudhu dhaan illai?

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  12. male-female equation in any marriage doesn't depend on the kind of marriage it was... this is my humble opinion. As long as the two of them respect each other as human beings and be there for each other (& at the same time give each other "space", for lack of a better word), life will be ismooth.
    -viji

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  13. Hi Viji,
    Long time no see. You can spare the humility. I share exactly the same opinion with enough arrogance!

    Strange. Just now I was just going through some of the old posts myself. And I see a new comment being made.

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  14. Your acquaintance's wisdom is quite unnerving. Power-la ennanga aaN pEN.... prachanai ellAm oNNu dhAn. Very perceptive of her

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