Wednesday, April 01, 2020

On Motherhood, Sexism and Intelligentsia
IFP Bureau | First Published: February 26, 2020 10:10:12 am
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A rejoinder to Dhanabir’s sexist remark(s)

-By Kulajit Maisnam

The recent public comment on caesarean procedure and motherhood by a self-proclaimed ‘social scientist’ Mr Dhanabir Laishram, who happens to be a man in position of power, and who often pronounce his opinions on a wide range of issues beyond his domain of expertise (an unfathomable task to any ‘regular’ student of social science) has sparked an interesting debate on women and motherhood. Many could not digest the ‘facts’ as proclaimed by the ‘social scientist’ as observable from the rebuttal(s) published in local dailies, social media and private conversations which have called out his outright sexism and misogyny. On listening carefully to the short viral video word by word, Dhanabir has undoubtedly placed the decision to choose for a caesarean delivery towards the woman for her sole desire to remain a ‘maiden’ implying at having an ‘intact vagina’ post the delivery of the child by not opting for a vaginal delivery. Responding to the uproar by women group(s), Dhanabir further made a problematic ‘clarification’ in a morning television program which is no less sexist than his earlier viral remark(s), gaslighting those who have called out his outright sexism and misogyny. By beating around the bush, going beyond the tenets of logic, Dhanabir has ‘clarified’ that by the use of the word ‘maiden’ in the context of his speech, he meant that those women who have given birth by a caesarean procedure have “lesser chance to lactate” and they “remain free of work” as they don’t have to breastfeed their baby which implies free of household chores which is “usual for a maiden”. Further he claims himself to be “free of patriarchal notions” and “sexism” for he has worked ‘for’ women for more than thirty-forty years. Unlike the self-proclaimed ‘social scientist’ Dhanabir, I as a regular student of social sciences will leave the issue of caesarean procedure and (non) lactation to the students of medical sciences and will focus on the ‘social’ nature of the debate.

Academia is one such space which is no less governed and dominated by male Intelligentsia: a male bastion. No doubt sexism within academia and knowledge production has been and is a concern which is challenged and critiqued every day. We have our own share on this issue and the current unfounded sexist and misogynist remarks and further ‘clarification’ by Dhanabir is a testimony to sexism within academia, and which is completely un-called for. The current issue should not to be seen as an isolated comment by a self-proclaimed ‘social scientist’, but rather a manifestation of a patriarchal academia, knowledge production and praxis. In our discourses, we have enough glorified the toiling women mass, the foot soldiers in any social movement who are ultimately often barred from any key decision-making processes. Our glorified Meira Paibis, The Nupi Lan(s) and Ima Keithel dominate the discourse on women at the expense of overlooking the nuances. Our current methodological paradigm has obscured the nature of patriarchy operating upon each one of us. We often employ ‘comparative methods’ while trying to ‘understand’ the patriarchy which govern us, ultimately de-contextualising, de-historicising and invisibilizing it. We have never attempted the intersectionality of gender, class, indignity and colonialism to come up with a standpoint of our own. Our ‘history’ is majorly his-story of feudalistic nature. In short, we in social science have never critically engaged with the patriarchy as it is in our socio-political and historical context(s). It is within this context that the rebuttal(s) to Dhanabir’s sexist and misogynist remarks by many women needs to be appreciated and carried forward for they are necessary for a dialectics in order to thrive and achieve a state of democracy in its truest sense.

Excluding Dhanabir (since he declared himself as not ‘patriarchal’ in his ‘clarification’), all humans are governed by patriarchy which has an element of universality. Patriarchy as an institution and as an ideology is operational in every space, even in those societies which are matrilineal. Our thought processes, our everyday social relations are dictated by patriarchy in which women and other gender minorities remain oppressed and subjugated compounded by the intersection of class, nationality, race and ethnicity. It is within the frame of patriarchy that the current remark(s) by Dhanabir on childbirth and motherhood should be located and analysed.

First and foremost, blaming women for opting caesarean procedure is outright misogyny without considering the medical complicacies arising during pregnancy which requires to opt for caesarian as the best option under the prescription of doctors; further such a blaming on women nullifies women’s self-determination over their body and health. Dhanabir has never considered the medical-industrial complex and shying away of the state from public health care services as a crucial factor for doctors in force prescribing a caesarean procedure. Instead the blame went to the woman and her desire to be a ‘maiden’. It is surprising for a social scientist who has written and often talked on neo-liberalism to not put such political and economic structures in forefront as an analytical optics in his recent remarks(s).

 Secondly, and the most interesting part in his remark to be critiqued and debated upon is his ‘clarification’ on the word ‘maiden’ and on motherhood. Debates over motherhood have been central to feminist discourse and movements. Under the patriarchal socialisation process, women are essentialised as having ‘instincts’ that make them ‘selfless nurturers’. Hence, they are automatically assigned as care-givers and thereby restricting household works and child care to them. There is a conflation of biological and social motherhood, assuming it as ‘natural’ and ‘innate’ for women, making them bearers and rearers of children. Child rearing has never been considered as ‘work’, as it is supposed to be performed by women ‘naturally’. One can imagine the amount of work a woman is burdened with if she happens to be bread-winner of the family and which is the case of the women mass in Manipur. This conflation of biology and the social has made prominent feminist like Simone de Beauvoir to consider the uterus as a symbol of oppression and takes a position to do away with motherhood. Instead of problematising the issue with motherhood, which is a job of a social science student, Dhanabir went on a sexist rhetorical spree in his speech and his further ‘clarification’. Dhanabir in his ‘clarification’ has understood ‘maidens’ as “usually free of work” which is a complete contrast to the empirical evidences. A girl is socialised as care-givers the day she is born while boys are not. With age, they are assigned with household chores and trained to become an ‘ideal mother’; girls are never ‘free’, we overlook it as it is assumed ‘natural’. We see this every day in every family but project it as ‘natural’. Dhanabir’s remark(s) is premised from this ‘naturalised’ assignment of social motherhood with women which is often performed since the day any girl child is born in a family. It is in this premise that women are restricted from achieving their dreams and aspirations.

Glorifying such institutions and practices is unbecoming of a ‘social scientist’ and should be condemned and critiqued.

My job here is just to highlight Dhanabir’s recent sexism and misogyny, condemn it, and discuss the issues pertaining to women and motherhood within the frame of patriarchy, which I have done. I currently cannot place a position on the question of motherhood like those of Beauvoir in Manipur for the state and its people is structured under layers of oppressive regimes: external or internal. To take an organic position requires a thorough dialectics, a historicised and contextualised empirical research works on gender and intersectionality. I hope such incidents spark the feminist in our young and dynamic students of social sciences and by undoing Dhanabir type ‘social sciences’ produce more critical discourses on the question of gender, patriarchy and its nuances, subjectivity in our everyday social and political life.

(The writer is a research scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai)

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