Shafinaaz Hassim
Shafinaaz Hassim

On sexuality and freedom

“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.

At first read, one might assert that it’s rather simplistic to read the quest for freedom and equality as an attack on society and social structure as we know it. A more moderate view suggests that negotiating an egalitarian society requires carving a space for mutual co-existence, opportunity and equal visibility of all genders.

But it begs the question: Is a notion of gender emancipation in particular 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 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 postmodern 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 ie a compulsion to culture. It is significant to take note 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.

Global laments ala Sarkozy on the headscarf 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 emerges from these dialogues is an increased display of gross social resentment and hostility between the amalgamation of cultures that exist in the postmodern 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, and 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 sociopolitical 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 feminisation 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 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 sociopolitical and economic life as we know it.

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