When I was born a girl child, being the first born in a family of sparse fertility, my parents decided that never in my life as an adult they will allow my gender to get in my way. Thus while I have known moments of long hair and short hair, flowing clothes and plain trousers, pierced ears and been shorn of adornments, one thing I was certain that I was going to pursue my personhood despite my gender. My mother warned me to choose my marriage partner with care and to avoid types that try to push women indoors and enslave them into child rearing roles. But my father was the more radical one, as a man he knew for certain that one could not fight patriarchy while being within its institution. Marriage, he knew was organized for the benefit of men, and like his class fellow the now celebrated Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, my father opined as back as in the 1960’s that matrimony and family life cannot but oppress women. Never marry, he said, because you like to be the sole ruler of your own life, a man would never allow that. These words stuck to me and as my parents encouraged me to stand on my own feet, build my own house with my self earned income, I left home at the age of twenty two with a single bag by my side to Delhi to make my own living. I could have gone to Mumbai, then called Bombay but my father’s head office was located there and I was sure that I could not lead my life as unchaperoned and as anonymous as I could do in Delhi.
In all such ventures, my parents were misled by Dev Anand movies and I by Amitabh Bachchan films. Like film stars I was searching for my personhood; nameless to begin with but end up as kings at the close of the journey. It was in such an endeavour that I made my discoveries. My training in sociology and economics and especially sociology in Indian Universities where the discipline is close to anthropology helped me understand the world better in terms of stereotypes. It is not important who you are, you are never rewarded for your identity, but on the basis of how others look at you. I had to create the right kind of an impression. It was during such times that needed me to walk miles all alone in public transport thinned of its crowd in the late hours of the evening that I discovered that I needed to work on an image that would ward off possible dangers over my body. Yes, I sacrificed a lot. I sacrificed late night movie shows, late night parties, late night wine and cheese cocktails in embassies; I did compromise on my liberty for what was my safety. In all of this I saw that I was jeopardised only because women are never alone out in the streets in large enough numbers because they hardly ever lead their own lives being tied to routines of husbands, children, kitchen and cleaning. The lack of liberty for women was brought about by women being hemmed enclosures off the public space. Women marrying, settling down into routines clearly reduced my liberty as a person beyond her gender; my gender was stereotyped in the statistical regularities of their occurrences.
Later in office, my state of not having a family has been a matter of silent discrimination and were it not for my unabashed intellectual aggression, I could also have been harassed. Reason, I was not a married person, rich, educated and not also a prostitute; my total unavailability to men was an issue of utter disbelief because women are generally available to men in some measure or the other; as wives, as mothers, as girlfriends, as call girls, as girlfriends. All these categories of women jeopardised my pursuit of personhood hopelessly leaving men imagining who the lucky man in my life would be. After my hysterectomy, which has to be public because my medical expenses are paid for in office, my status in every which way has slided down to being totally ignored at work. The covers of my papers are torn off and replaced by other names and though I might be a part of a team, I am never called for in meetings. It is only as a mentor that I am valued because there it is a different space with a different economy.
The institution of the family has drained my chances of being accepted as an individual in my own right; the inhabitation of the public space which has no backing of a private sphere of commensurate importance becomes an issue with the significant others. My travels on work is frowned upon, I am never sent to attend seminars until and unless I am presenting papers; and on one occasion my privilege of being a person who has no dependents can claim travel allowance each year to visit her hometown was struck down because I was assumed to have no family. The prevalence of marriage as a preferred state jeopardizes chances of a dignified life of anyone who wishes to remain out of it. In a similar fashion, when call girls and prostitutes inhabit the public space claiming full dignity, women like us who travel by late evening flights, emerge from official dinners or even go to attend a musical performance are jeopardized. The image of a woman being in the sexual trade is socially learnt and this jeopardises asexual women like us. The crux of a woman’s problem is her gender, her sexuality is the basis of discrimination against her in a world which is constantly accumulating the masculine principle and eroding its feminity. What happens when the value of a commodity declines? Plain economics restrict its supply. The supply of sex must be retarded to raise the value of women; more women must come out of institutions of patriarchy, marriage as well as prostitution.
In every idea of emancipation there is a sacrifice. To become a progressive and secular bhadralok, propertied men of Bengal had to let go of their concubines, socialism requires enormous sacrifice of the propertied, universal society must let go of privileges of slavery; what does feminism let go of? What does it sacrifice? Nothing. Worse still in its post modernist avatar, feminism clings on to sexuality as its life belt in a stormy sea, the very basis of gender oppression. The warnings of climate change and imminent ecological danger tells us that we need to restrict the reproduction of our species, then what is the use of female sexuality for civilization? The need for the feminine principle in our Universe is declining, this is why women is such a surplus, women looked upon as women are killed as foetuses, left to die as infants, abandoned as girls, trafficked as adolescents, burnt for dowry, murdered by beating, abandoned as widows, and all of this because she is repeatedly being defined in terms of her sexuality, something whose instrumental reason in the world is only waning. Therefore, if woman has to survive, she must emerge into personhood, beyond sex. Otherwise feminism will continue to do the impossible, be at two places at the same time, a life of compromise that never left the world any better.