The Obsession of Men
Aasha Mehreen Amin
One of the most intriguing questions in the history of humankind is why men are so obsessed with women. Yes yes, we know all about the biological needs and evolutionary inevitabilities that require females to be sexual objects and baby-making factories. But leaving all that what is really mystifying is men's preoccupation with controlling women--how much they can do, what they can say, what they can wear and even what they should be thinking. It is as if we are the biggest threat to their power and their feeling of superiority and must be constantly bullied and confined. Just so they can feel better about themselves.
The most obvious manifestation of this obsession is the concentration of religious clerics to choke a woman in mind, body and spirit so that she may completely forget that she is an individual, capable of independent thought. In most societies women are considered lesser human beings, second-class citizens and a species that need to be kept in their place.
The biggest weapon used against women has been religion, rather the male perception of religion. Which is why religious clerics are overly concerned with the so-called morality of females in the society. In most of the sermons given by self-righteous religious leaders, especially in congregations predominated by men, the emphasis is on how to make sure that the women are kept in check, that they are not allowed to go out of their confines, that it is sinful that women should vote or work outside the home, that they should be covered from head to toe… Funnily enough not even a whisper of dissent is heard from the male audience who listen in rapt attention. Not a word is uttered from the self-important cleric about the morally reprehensible acts of rape, abuse, dowry killings, etc that men commit against women. Nothing about the sinfulness of child abuse, the shamefulness of abandonment and unlawful divorce. All such injustices are dealt with in the religious dictates and offer reasonable solutions. But they do not serve the purpose of squashing the spirit of women, do they; so why bring them in? The practice of religion therefore is largely influenced by the prevalent culture. Unfortunately for us, the culture we belong to is parochial and gender discriminatory. With male domination sponsored by the misinterpretations of religion and the superiority complex of males sponsored by the overall culture, it is no wonder that women are deprived of their basic rights, are constantly pushed aside, physically and mentally tortured and worst of all, made to believe in the lie of their inferiority.
When the west was in the Dark Ages, and long after that, women were considered inherently evil beings being eternally culpable for Eve's original sin. Witch hunts and witch burnings of any woman found deviating from the societal norms were common practice in the medieval western world. With modernisation and advancement, men in these societies have wizened up to the fact that they do need their women to be part of the development process. Thus women get more or less equal opportunities to be educated, to work and to participate in most public affairs. But it would be utterly naïve to think that men in developed societies have turned over a new leaf and truly believe in this notion called gender equality.
Women in developed societies have come a long way from their witch-burning, chastity-belt-wearing pasts but a new and most surreptitious kind of male domination is calling all the shots. It is the idea that a truly liberated woman must expose her sexuality in every possible way, thus showing her defiance of the old norms of being hidden in shrouds like 'those backward Moslem countries'. Happily immersed in the myth that this is their choice to 'be what they want to be' women in capitalist countries (western or eastern) bare their bodies in beauty pageants, wet T shirt competitions, show business, sport and even day-to-day interactions. Of course the 21st century, western-minded, 'progressive' person will say that it is up to the woman whether she wants to show her body or not and moralistic criticisms should not be imposed on her. But this misses the point, that it is a delusion that the woman is making the choice. Her choice is dictated by male perspectives and male interests. Men like to see half-naked women strutting along the ramp, men think it's fun to watch women tennis players because they wear miniscule skirts that show legs and a bit of underwear, men love to see hundreds of exposed cleavages in an award-giving ceremony, men can't really hear a woman sing unless she is in skimpy clothes and swaying seductively. Fashion is undoubtedly a creation of mostly men, with the women desperately trying to keep up. Fashion is often associated with the level of body exposure: the more flesh seen the better. The question that keeps bursting in one's mind is why men's fashion is still so conservative, why so little showing of the male skin. Men will say it's because women's bodies are more beautiful and it just isn't the same when it comes to a man's. The real reason why men don't show their belly buttons too often is not because we don't really want to see them but because men are not too comfortable about such exposure. They dictate what they will wear unlike their female counterparts.
Women, therefore are caught between two extremes. On the one side they are smothered by ultra-conservative, sanctimonious pseudo-religious norms and on the other end they are brain-washed by a culture that condones and even promotes sexual exploitation as integral by- products of modernity and progress.
Again naiveté may prompt one to ask: But isn't there a way out? Ideally women should be perceived as individuals with equal intelligence, abilities and therefore rights, as their male counterparts. Of course we are far from such utopia; but we can change the way we perceive ourselves. We must be sure that the choices we make are our own and not prescribed by men. There is little difference between a society that confines a woman, orders her to cover herself so that she can 'enjoyed' only by her husband and a society that dictates that a woman must look sexually pleasing for all and sundry in order to be acceptable and modern. Either way, we are victims or slaves of the male-obsession to dominate, possess and control.
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