The Radical, alas, is a wannabe

On Saturday the SC told off the Army and asked it to step up on the issue of fully commissioned female officers. That’s a great step. But where exactly do oppressed gender and classes stand philosophically in relation to their roles in a super patriarchal institution?

women, self-limiting biases,
Despite a favourable SC ruling, the army had denied a permanent commission to all (female) short commission officers who met the service conditions

One of the lead headlines in Saturday’s newspapers in Delhi is: ‘Army blinks after SC warns it of contempt’ (Hindustan Times). The introduction quotes the Supreme Court (SC): ‘The army may be supreme in its own authority, but the constitutional court is supreme in its own jurisdiction.’ The issue here being that the army, despite a favourable SC ruling, denied a permanent commission to all (female) short commission officers who met the service conditions. The army then blinked, which augers well for women soldiers.

All this is good on the part of the SC and the 36 brave female officers who filed contempt petitions against the army. But it makes me wonder, though the wonderment will not be welcome in many progressive quarters.

Nevertheless one must reflect. At a very crucial level, the army anywhere, though it defends a country against its enemies and without which no country could survive as an independent entity, is the epitome of masculinity. It represents ‘masculine’ tendencies: extreme order, the cult of a band of brothers, unquestioned nationalism, ignoring another human’s pain and life; obsession with victory. And so it goes.

It is a Man’s world yet, such as Man is. And women should have parity everywhere, no question. But why would they want to partake in an institution that represents a fundamentally masculine worldview? Why become a partner in the crime? Why not boycott the army, and refrain from contributing (or legitimizing by participation)?


Also read: After SC warning, Army to grant permanent commission to 11 women

In my college days— far away and long gone—the three books that made me think twice were The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir, One Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse, and Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia.

De Beauvoir’s main idea was that men oppress women by characterising them, on every level, as the Other, defined exclusively in opposition to men. Man occupies the role of the self or subject; woman is the object, the other. He is the Will. She is merely a manifestation of it, an instrument.

Marcuse’s thesis is that an advanced industrial society (evolved now as a post-informational society where thoughts and consumption patterns are controlled by big data, a democracy of numbers if you will) co-opts even the under-privileged in one way or the other into the system of production so that critical thought and action essentially are transformed into a struggle for being relatively a more functional or successful part of the system.

A ‘guerrilla scholar’ and a stimulating writer, Camille Paglia’s great work is Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. Her basic contention, as far as I can recall, is that the often-fluid sexual identity of men and women down the centuries exercise a shaping influence that is as forceful as Nature itself and that in art and western culture, its primitive but vital role has never been quite recognised.

She considers the Mother as a fundamental force that condemns men to lifelong sexual anxiety, from which they try to escape through rationalism and physical achievements. The pornographic aspect of civilisations is inseparable from its accomplishments. She emphasises biological differences between the genders and the consequent but inescapable conflicts. But this, she seems to imply, is the driving force of civilisation.

Back to our point. In one way or the other, the army represents in varying degrees a model of what the three books critique. The masculine will (De Beauvoir), the protection and co-option of aspirants toward an industrial and capitalist system (Marcuse), and the perpetuation of a macho if necessary idea of sexual personae as represented by men in uniform and their weapons as phallic extensions (Paglia). So, why do women as an oppressed gender want to be part of the army and perpetuate the values it represents?

Also read: What Shah Rukh Khan can do to bring hope to India’s undertrials

Somewhere in his vast and continuous outpourings, Professor Jordan Peterson says the division of labour and its rewards evolved not so much from gender specificities as competency. The more competent among us will rise to the top in any given structure. So merit in this sense is the organisational principle of all kinds of evolution. That there should be women (and other underprivileged) represented in all walks is a fair demand, even if equality of opportunity is not quite the guarantee for equality of outcome. This is why even in male-dominated structures, a few rises to the top.

All this makes our question pertinent. Do the oppressed gender and underprivileged classes fight for a share of the pie, or do they want another kind of dessert?

Because the oppressed gender and classes sharing the power does not ensure that the quality of power itself will change. Because, once again, power is gender-neutral. If the lion is a symbol of power, then he retains that status only because he behaves in a certain way. Power exacts a protocol. In any given situation of acquisition and consolidation of power,  Indira Gandhi, for instance, would not drastically be different from how Narendra Modi or any other leader would. If at all, the difference would be in degrees.

Therefore, why do women, as commissioned officers or just as plain soldiers contribute toward a patriarchal value system by participation? My limited submission, Comrade, is that our corrective movements, in general, may be guilty of association by adjacency. The radical, alas, is a wannabe. Just like you and me.

(CP Surendran’s novel One Love And The Many Lives of Osip B (Niyogi Books) is now available on Amazon and at all leading books stores)

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