No Country for Old Man
Feminism – good ole feminism – has been on my mind, since I attended Gloria Steinem’s recent talk at JNU on the abolitionist stance on prostitution. As also the recent collage of rape-exposes on Tehelka. Gloria Steinem said at JNU that for every cordoned-woman that is produced, another prostitute is generated somewhere else. For every virgin, a slut. It has been a while since I read feminist theory, participated in feminist debates. I have even become squeamish in the past few years, of calling myself a feminist. There were too many instances of feminist outrage in the Indian scenario in the past few years, that had a neoliberal rejoicing against the vernacular, boorish man that troubled me. This man does not know the hip ways of sexual approach. He is implicated in shock-and-awe narratives of rape and murder. The urbane, good-liberal could only condemn his unthinking patriarchy, his boorish rampage across the expanding city. Cities like Bangalore and Delhi expand into formerly small-town on agrarian fringes to build idyllic homes for the returning NRIs, expats and triumphant professionals, and landscape, economy, social order suddenly moves around in a kaleidoscope. I was moved by the Tehelka interview of a seventy-something old man, on the fringes of Noida asserting his fragile patriarchy against a social order gone astray. Young people drink and dance and sexuality flows about without the check of marriage and other social control mechanisms on Noida wastelands. He says all the things that patriarchy can say about rape – women who drink are responsible for what happens to them, women who wear skimpy clothes have no morals. Much as these things cannot be tolerated and must be spoken against by women who live, work and struggle to access freedom and safety at the same time in cities, a helplessness struck me to be at the root of this old man’s misogyny. He was crying out not at the vibrant sexualities of boys and girls swooning at Noida clubs, but importantly, against this sudden kaleidoscopic spin in landscape, aesthetic and morality that has made him an obsolete citizen, an obsolete man. We have reached a crossroad in liberal-conservative argumentation, where a demand for an insular social order, selective accessing of the fashionable freedoms offered by capital, are almost laughably irrelevant. These characters of the fringes of Noida are presented veiled Priyanka and Sonia, at the time of elections, as these men are revealed to an abashed Indian metropolitan citizen, and a sad-and-awed Western audience, as the man who will never be modern. Whose political sensibilities will be woven around traditional networks of patronage, whose spoilt sons will roam Noida with no understanding of sexual agency of women, whose mothers and daughters will forever remain numb to fashionable feminisms. By no means am I pulling attention away from the seriousness of the demand to make cities safe for women accessing transport and public spaces. Although, I am worried that perhaps the narrative production in the liberal media that goes into making this point about safety and freedom, contributes to a large network of words, images and action that go to fossilize the Indian un-modern man. One that will never know his table manners or dating cues. In doing so, the popular feminist texts one accesses in blogs and magazines effaces significant new faces of patriarchy that are produced in the world of fashionable freedoms. I find very little written and said of the new patriarchal underpinnings of dating and sexual liberation, and ones that produce a twenty-year-old happy internet stripper. At no point am I arguing for censoring of Bollywood or other media portrayals of sexuality. I am simply pointing towards this constellation of forces that create the peculiarly neoliberal gender-anxiety about body, liberation, hedonism, sexual overstatement, constantly marking the obsolete periphery. The seventy-something was probably pointing to the same thing, except in pointing to the cutout of the Noida partygirl as a metonym, he implicated himself in a string of illiberal sins.