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Feminist discourse in Naga society and the fear of patriarchal backlash

By EMN Updated: Oct 08, 2014 11:13 pm

Sira Kharay, Advocate, Delhi High Court

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he world is still run by men and I kind of think we can do it better,” quipped the Facebook COO and author Sheryl Sandberg. Naga women admittedly are fairly circumstanced as compared to their counterparts – woman in the traditional Naga society being conceived not as mere human embodiment, but deified as divine companion, violation of whose modesty by any form of physical violence is considered a serious social shame – however, the relative absence of domestic violence in the Naga society alone cannot elude the existence of gender inequality and dichotomy in variable dimensions.
While the “egotistical man” is still jealously infatuated with the nostalgic memories of his “traditional woman” who is docile and submissive, the feminist discourse in the Naga society still lacks the anticipated guts and confidence due to fear of patriarchal backlash, social disapproval and rejection. The notion of womanhood and what is appropriate for women are still dictated by the subjective notion of masculine preferences and expectations. Women in order to be socially acceptable must conduct within the behavioural norms validated by patriarchal approval and acceptance, i.e. the conduct of women in order to be morally appropriate needs man’s approval and validation.Societal structure expects man to dominate his woman and the use of violence by men is even validated to affirm this traditional gender hierarchy. It is impermissible for women to altercate with men and women are blamed eventually for the truth they defend and assert.
This arguably explains in part the relative absence of domestic violence in the Naga society. Consequently, activist assertiveness and outspoken trait in women are often rejected as aggressive and unfeminine. Thus, women “among men” (“among men” because women’s role in public spaces are still thought to be out of men’s chivalrous concession and not as a matter of right) in public spaces are expected to maintain certain passivity and it is inappropriate for women to openly confront men on issue-controversies.
These asymmetrical moral standards explain what it is socially assumed appropriate for women to think about, do, eat, drink and wear, while literally permitting men to do whatsoever without any social reproach or condemnation. What is socially assumed “moral”, “appropriate” and “decent” in the Naga society are constructed from the gender-power notion of patriarchal choice and sexual dominance. This bias moral structure consequently receives any assertion of femininity and individuality with social disquiet and suspicion. However, most women are either indifferent or unaware of how gendered expectations have been shaping their own individual perceptions, attitudes and choices in life.
Sadly, Naga women organisations today find themselves in a moral dilemma and women’s rights movement in the Naga society still remains to assert its true activist presence. More often than not, women bodies in the name of enforcing community “morality” and “decency”, blindly slip into an apologist stance of defending the patriarchal structure of gendered moral dichotomy. Aggressive patriarchy is often seen in the form of public sermons against wearing of skimpy dresses as break-down of Naga traditional values and Christian ethos.
Indulgence in violence is likewise conceived as inappropriate for women, but what constitutes the term “violence” is left undefined and is conceptually confused with any trait outspoken, assertive and activist by traditionally associating the term “violence” with the masculine world. Thus, women by stereotyping their own gender role often curb themselves from active social and political participation by constitutionally and conceptually limiting their movement to the traditional role of home and peace-making.
To make it even worst, the Church eternally remains stuck in the static past and the humanist jargon “gender justice” has nothing to do with the teachings of gospel. The idea of women participation in policy-debate likewise still remains a strange proposition to the traditional community authorities and institutions. Shockingly, women deprivation and inequality are mistakenly at times assumed as personal rather than institutional and structural.
Women are no less gender than men. But the nation that does not care her daughters’ gender interest is a nation made of depraved men. While the world awaits the proposed Fifth World Conference on Women (5th WCW), 2015 to re-energise women’s rights movements, it remains to be seen how Naga women’s movement would reconstruct its conceptual and organisational frameworks, principles and constitutions as in line with global women’s gender narratives. To end this deep gender dichotomy, it is not necessarily that every Naga should become a feminist, but a slight perspectival shift of viewing women’s problems as social, political and historical would mean a societal transformation to women’s equality.

By EMN Updated: Oct 08, 2014 11:13:26 pm