Our face, a genteel masquerade. Sometimes opaque, at other times transparent. Beneath, a scarier, second face. Which the face, which the mask, can we tell?
Like online trolling, anything can become the norm if enough people have grown used to it, approve and give it mass approbation. Even an evil like misogyny. But unlike online trolling, misogyny has been manifest, as a form of offline trolling so to say, for centuries perhaps aeons. So much a part of us now, it’s a bio-cultural entity we have absorbed and turned into a second face. For some it is feudally grotesque, angrier than most. For others, it’s an urbane facade.
Hillary Clinton is no damsel in distress. Julia Gillard the former prime minister of Australia was called a witch during her tenure as that country’s leader. Listen to the former prime minister speaking in Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist Historypodcast. She talks of the gendered attack she faced while serving as the first woman prime minister of Australia. She famously called it out in the Australian parliament in what is now known as the ‘misogyny speech‘.
Humans: we can be strange. Take for instance, how much we enjoy labelling ourselves then stage-managing our lives to adhere to chosen monikers. Clever, stupid, left-brained, right-brained, hindu, muslim, christian, brahmin, conservative, liberal. These labels like magical mantras possess subliminal powers of suggestion over us. But maintaining the personae suggested by said labeling is hard work, sometimes involving complex ritual and even violence. The reality is that we are a mix of so many changing characteristics it’s hard to adopt any one label at any given time.
Symbolism hidden in every day functions can be like ghosts haunting us, whispering in our ears as we go about our lives. We sleep, wake, eat and we cook. As I go about the last of these every day activities, I sense a disturbance in the force. I have an absurd love-hate relationship with cooking. The symbology bound to it masks a focal point that should be called the feminine hearth.
The act of sleeping seems to paralyse vocal cord functions. When fear grips me in the dark of the night I call out in my sleep. But no words come forth from my sleeping form. What comes out instead is a ghoulish primeval sound akin to the word for mother, a sound that goes back to the evolutionary origins of the human species.
Last year, a friend told me that as feminists, women are sisters and we need to help each other as much as we can. I was a little taken aback. Where I am at, very few people even help a person lying bleeding on the side of the road. Over the years, I have learned to keep my mouth shut as stray expressions of feminism or agnosticism only invited looks of hostility from women and men in my world.
Far too many women are like that young woman who popped up on BBC a few days ago during a debate about film-maker Leslee Udwin’s documentary India’s Daughter, now sadly, but quite predictably, technically banned in India. The Indian woman panelist was aggressively patriarchal, pouncing on anyone who didn’t agree with her, accusing them of betraying their country for criticising the ban, repeatedly questioning the channel for defying the Indian ban, and asking why India was targeted when rapes happen in other countries? She also kept reiterating a common refrain we hear bandied about in Indian families: “this is an internal problem, and we need to deal with it internally”. I wish someone could have pointed out, for example, imagine all those years ago if South Africa had said Apartheid is our internal problem, go away world. Well, probably they did, as does every country when the rest of the world imposes sanctions on it. When the young panelist termed it an internal problem, she was speaking the language of patriarchy, and often you need interpreters to understand its skewed and stilted phraseology.
If I were an astrologer or a mentalist eking out a living, partnering people to planets and constellations, I would want to examine the moon-woman connection. Now it may be a coincidence that cycles of woman and moon match up more or less, and if not serendipitous, I would put it down to evolution not astrology.
It had to be evolution causing some cells whether in human or coral reef to synchronise, react in a given manner to the periodic light given out by planetary bodies in space. If the cells that swim the dermis-bound seas of my body treat the moon like a calendar, then accident or not, it is to do with the way our body clocks look for a reliable anchor in the dimensions around them.
If I am to be connected by a blood grip to any pockmarked rock out in space let it be to this one; Luna, so close yet so far.
The hardest thing to do is to come out from behind the glass walls of the tribe. You become so good at covering up, appeasing, never telling on its members, even when you know there is something wrong with the picture. As members of a tribe, glass walls of silence are built around us, the dominant among us think it’s safe to do what they want, get way with it, anyone who has felt their tyranny know to keep silent as they will be violating an unwritten social contract by telling.
You can scream, but no one can hear you through the glass walls. That is where feminism came in a generation ago. It broke through and told on everyone. But there was a price to pay, to come out and tell, for trying to upend the social order. Blowback. Things have come to such a pass that even the word feminism is now tainted with unflattering nuances. It now needs UN campaigns and celebrities to reclaim its place in the world.
I write in search of expiation. This is a piece I had wanted to write more than any other, but one that turned out to be the most intimidating to attempt. The effects of a lifetime wracked with guilt for not doing what is the norm won’t easily wear off. A norm that instinct tells you is deeply prejudiced even if socially sanctioned.