Is every norm a normality? That is the question

The transformation of a community to a society is based on formulating a set of rules in accordance with its constituting individuals’ inherited culture, celebrated traditions and allowed space for progression. This implies that every society, whether civilised or crude, is known by its carefully excogitated principles known as its norms. Mankind has witnessed passage of time, evolution of perception and technological advancement in facilities and has tried to progress at an equal pace in terms of approach and ways of dealing with problems at hand. Nevertheless, one facet seems to remain untouched and turned a blind eye to and that is the social niche of women in any community. This claim is not unwarranted because witnesses include history, literature and comparison of different spans of years.

It was not before Jane Eyre that a woman was discussed as a strong protagonist. No matter how harsh the setting of the novel and incontrovertibly savage treatment with women was to be narrated, it was by and large described from man’s perspective. It had become a norm of one sort to tell the world about a woman’s feelings through the words spoken by a man. In short, men have always tried to remain the advocates of issues pertaining to women because the amusement they would get by listening to these stories when narrated by women would just not be acceptable to the superior sex.

The present time has shown what wonders women could do as vindicated by the presence of Arundhati Roy, Sabeen Mahmud and other female activists’ works on the same bookshelves that simultaneously bear the burden of books and articles authored by fellow men. Even then there exists a glass-ceiling effect, a term that surfaced and became a Twitter trend right after the United States presidential elections in 2016. While majority of the journalists and analysts held corruption allegations against Hillary Clinton responsible for her defeat in the elections, there did and does exist a fraction that compares her corruption with President Donald J. Trump’s immoralities and assume the latter’s pan of the balance to be heavier. To this fraction, the only crime ever committed by Hillary was to be a woman. May be at some point in time would the world’s biggest superpower be ready to welcome the first female president. But that timely surely is to be awaited more.

Turning to the east, one finds a complex, yet intriguing, blend of cultures and nations. With Iran making it compulsory for its women to wear headscarves and Saudi Arabia punishing its female population on showing a single strand of hair in public, one thing can be easily deduced – all divisions formulating the Muslim Ummah continuum and the resulting poles named Iran and Saudi Arabia apparently converge to one point and that is their women. Why is every society’s gauge of liberalism set on the extent to which its female members expose in public? This question might never get its answer but does help in understanding the role allotted to women in any community’s social fabric.

This status given to women in societies is further elaborated when we take a closer look on the history and changing dynamics of the Indian subcontinent. Foetus killing, because of the unborn having an organ which she did not even ask for, is a common practice. This entire region enjoys privilege of practising the burial of neonate girls and killing of girl children in pursuit of eventual happiness of being parents to a boy. What yet remains to be unanswered is the reason behind eyeing girl child as a deplorable responsibility, bundle of grief and useless collection of flesh and bones. Is it because of her morphological protrusions and depths, or the cost of marrying her off upon reaching puberty?

This kindles yet another debate on the procedure of marriages in this part of the world. It is but obvious to discuss the problem with reference to only that region where it is existent. Personal accounts of different girls of marriageable age give us a generalised idea of the modus operandi of the groom-seeking culture. It is a norm that girl’s family is visited by several suitors and their families during the course of finding the most suitable life partner. It is a norm to fill the entire turf of dining table and trolleys with different foodstuffs whenever a family visits. Frequent visits by the same family but with different members every time is also a norm. Dressing up the girl with the fanciest dress is also a norm and so is presenting her to be scanned like a sacrificial goat. Shutting the mouth of a talkative girl, taking off the headscarf of a hijabi, and changing skin complexion by applying inches-thick of face toners are also our social norms. The suitor, on the other hand, is seldom present because this system gives him the privilege of staying out of the procedure for as long as he wishes to. His appearance and looks, like his presence, seldom matter in finalising the deal between both the families. It is the way it is because these are our norms. But is every norm a normality? That is the question.

A lone man, to some extent, fears to be only dispossessed or, in the worst case, killed during incidents of robbery. A lady of whatever age, however, has several layers of vulnerability surrounding her. Being alone, not have any material possession to offer, being a working woman, being needy, belonging to lower social stratum, hailing from a village, belonging to a religious minority, and being handicapped are a few examples of the several layers of vulnerability that make her prone to be attacked by the superior sex in a ‘justifiable’ manner. With 2,509 reported cases of rape, 666 murder, 173 honour killings and 22 acid attacks across Pakistani Punjab in 2015 and 2016, according to Office of the Inspector General of Police of the province, would we still blame our women for the agonies they are being subjected to by our society? With an Indian Deobandi cleric raping a married woman to “help her conceive” and a Pakistani Muslim cleric subjecting a four-year-old girl to sexual assault, what norms do we refer to while dictating our women the dos and don’ts?

None of us has forgotten what this nation did with Mukhtaran Mai. A rape victim was lamented on asking for justice from state institutions after she was gang-raped and that, too, as a ruling of a tribal council in exchange of her brother’s crime. She paid the price even when she did not want to.

She was subjected to sexual assault, rendering her father incapable of doing anything else but to take his daughter, wearing only a torn qameez, back home after four men had taken turns to satiate their lust on her for at least one hour as a form of ‘honour revenge’. She stood for herself when the prevalent system failed her. And what did the fellow countrymen do? They reported the book written on her to be the bestselling book of that year and shamelessly prefixed and suffixed her name with foul abuses.

Almost a decade had passed and rationalists had started believing on the occurrence of long-awaited evolution in this part of the world; however, all beliefs shattered when the citizens of this country united once again to criticise Mukhtaran Mai on show-stopping a designer’s fashion exhibition.

People could not help themselves from looking through her clothes and recalling the entire scene as soon as they saw her fully-covered figure walking on the ramp. Who is to be held responsible in this case? The victim, like always, was the point of convergence.

We, the dominant inhabitants of this planet, have to date failed to understand feminism in its true context. Persecuting women in the name of social norms is still prevalent; replacing women with men and subjecting the latter to similar agonies by looking for its justifications from history and religion is what is deemed as and confused with feminism; asking for equality in terms of responsibilities, obligations, contributions and rights on the basis of belonging to the same species and comprising almost similar proportions of flesh, bone and blood is what feminism actually is.
Religions might have made one sex an authority over the other, but no right comes without an obligation. This is the key to interpreting religious philosophy and excogitating the set of norms that would allot women a more serious role in the society other than subjecting her to others’ will.