Regulating sexualities and the emancipation of women
[I wrote this article for The Thinker (TNA Media) about two years ago.]
How far have we come?
Regulating sexualities and the emancipation of women.
By Shafinaaz Hassim
“It is not enough to inquire into how women might become more fully represented in language and politics. Feminist critique ought also to understand how the category of ‘women’, the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought.” Judith Butler: Gender Trouble.
Is a notion of emancipation to be seen as an attack on religious structures, and capitalism? It is on the unfair balance that patriarchy presupposes, and on any such readings of structures that order behaviour in a primarily gendered way. Further, one may ask if the structure of society and the construction of the state is in any way threatened by the equal defining of women’s place in the economic and political sphere. Historic presupposition affirms that both in exclusion and bondage to the forces of production is to be found the basis of all forms of oppression.
Let us first begin by taking into consideration that contemporary readings of gender identity might be a self-ascribed label. Notions of masculinity and femininity are regarded with far more fluidity in the post-modern social sphere. Gender in its traditional sense is a reflection of a cultural explication of sexuality and what it is deemed to mean within a given context. Simone de Beavoir in The Second Sex, suggests that gender is constructed, albeit within the conditions set out by a culture, i.e. a compulsion to culture. It is significant to make note, then, that the identification with particular modes of thought regarding how we construct gender and take meaning from this construction, and how this might define a sense of abject difference in the overlapping versions of its cultural construction makes for what can be seen as the basis of exclusivism that easily borders on social intolerance.
The advent of the Sarkozy lament on the headscarf in recent weeks has brought about debate regarding the choice to express religion by way of a particular dress code, and the structures that may or may not enforce or restrict such behavioural codes and fashions. But whether or not this is a stylistic statement or an act of legality, what can be seen to emerge from these dialogues is an increased display of gross social resentment and hostility between the amalgamation of cultures that exist in the post-modern social landscape. We are made to ask whether it is the imposition of a code or the banning of it, that is in fact two sides of the same coin of patriarchal domination and a toppling of anything that might even remotely suggest women’s autonomy in the decision-making process, in the forms of expression that they may engage with.
These contemporary challenges raise important questions about the underpinnings of a progressive demarcation of women’s place in society. The post-World War II socio-political landscape is riddled with indiscriminate labour security of women who were newly displaced on the factory floor, being paid less than male counterparts and enticed to once again remain at home where they belonged. Adding to that, against capitalist forces, Marxism saw the notion of a feminist position as reactionary and a way of separating male and female labour forces. On average, women around the world are still being paid less than their male counterparts. This is a central and pressing issue. Domestic labour in SA continues to be low bargaining – a primary example of the exploitation of women in low paid jobs. The feminization of poverty is compounded by the increase of HIV/Aids orphans relying on older generation caregivers who are women on below the breadline subsidiary grants. The rhetoric of a gender bias in structural poverty occurs as ample evidence to suggest that our readings of the gender dynamic are impoverished and leave much work to be done.
The battle for equality has a long history and is likely to rage on, especially in the developing world where resource and other structural inequalities already present a dynamic that challenges the articulation of pendulums of change.
At the roots of inequality are still to be found the insistence on affirmative regard that resorts to nothing more than ways of overlooking the underlying features of discrimination, be it racial or gender or any other. For example, establishing quotas serves as a form of eventual tokenism rather than digging at the roots of the problem. All it serves is a show of effort but it doesn’t solve anything.
A big resounding question remains as to whether representation of women in the body politic is in fact a holistic one that is both empowering and sustainable in its momentum to further encourage the demand for skilled women professionals, academics in all walks of socio-political and economic life as we know it.
Shafinaaz is a sociologist, artist and poet based in Johannesburg, SA. She is the author of several works of non-fiction and fiction, and has been listed in HayFestival's Africa39 category of top 39 authors in Africa under the age of 40 at the London Book Fair 2014. Also see www.shafinaaz.co.za
I write. As I must. Words are my paints of expression on an otherwise bland canvas, my rollercoasters of delight on otherwise dreary roads. Entertainment or derision, they manifest in my varied states of being. Until theres silence. Even then, theres a dialogue of sorts that continues... in spirit? Who knows..