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Patriarchy - the role and suffering of men || Acharya Prashant, at AIIMS Nagpur (2022)

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

15 min
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Questioner (Q): Sir, it is often perceived that females are affected by a patriarchal society. But do you think it affects men as well? And what according to you are the problems faced by men due to the patriarchal society?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, patriarchy is a great bondage. Patriarchy is a state of mind. And what is its state of mind? Please, pay attention! Patriarchy is to believe that your job in life is determined by your gender. Now, patriarchy is oppressive both ways. Men have been told that your purpose, your station, your movement, your activities, your thoughts, your emotions, everything has to be determined by your gender. And women have been told much the same thing. So, it's not men versus women; it's wisdom versus ignorance.

We take feminism as men versus women thing where women are trying to get away from oppression and being victims of men. So, we take men as the victimizers. Well, apparently true. Apparently, obviously, men are the ones who exploit and oppress. But if you go a little deeper into it, as Vedanta encourages you to, you will say, “No!” No, it’s not that men are oppressing women, there is a common enemy and the name of the common enemy is ‘ignorance’. It is because of ignorance that men continue to be men and women continue to be women.

The fact is that as human beings, your nature is pure consciousness. Why do you call yourself a man? Why do you call yourself a woman? Why have you made the body so important to yourself? Now, you call yourself a man and accord yourself some privileges. That is as debilitating as calling yourself a woman and according yourself certain duties or certain rights.

The body cannot be the centre of your existence, please understand this. Whether you are a man or a woman, if the body is the centre of your existence, then all you need is the jungle. There the body rules. Each species behaves exactly as per its genetic conditioning — that is called the jungle. Genetically, we are conditioned and we behave as per our conditioning. That's what makes human beings unique. We have the potential to go beyond our genetic configuration. We have the potential to see that we do not behave exactly as per our body's mandate.

You are sitting here. Let's say, the five of us are here at this stage. Not all of us would be comfortable, physically comfortable with everything right now. I am, for example, feeling a little cold in my feet. You might be feeling something else, but how much importance are you giving to your physical demands right now? Please, tell me! Somebody in the audience might be feeling a little sleepy post lunch. But you are the only species that can decide to overrule the body.

The body is saying ‘sleep’ and you say, ‘I don't sleep, right now is not the moment’. An animal cannot make that decision. If an animal's body says, ‘eat’, it will eat. You are the only one who can fight fear. You are the only one who can fight greed. If an animal feels attracted towards something, it will go towards that. And that is the reason why the entire feminist narrative needs to be cleansed of the words ‘want’ and ‘desire’.

Feminism cannot be about doing what you want to do — “Let the girl do what she wants to do,” that is not feminism. Just as patriarchy has said, “Let the boy have lots of rights, let the boy do a lot of what he wants to do,” and that kind of patriarchy has been very, very bad for everybody. Similarly, if you let the woman have her way and say, let her do what she wants to do and that's called women's emancipation, that's not taking you anywhere. That's what animals do, they just do what they want to do. Human beings are human beings because they can go beyond their wants, because they can go deep into themselves and find out what they are here for. This power to self-respect, this power to get at the core of their identities, is what makes us human beings. Otherwise, there is no difference between us and animals in the jungle.

Q: Sir, does patriarchy affect men also?

AP: Obviously, we are all in the same boat.

Think of a family where the wife and the girls and, let's say, the mother-in-law are all in shackles. And when you are in shackles, what do you do? Do you radiate joy? Do you make everybody blissful? What do you do? When you're in a bad mood? What do you do to your friends? Do you give them flowers when you're in a bad mood? What do you do? So, how can the man prosper or flourish if the women in his life or the women around him, who constitute half the world's population, are not doing well?

So, obviously, it's bad for the man, not only because it is bad for the woman. But because the principle that oppresses women, also oppresses men equally. And that principle continues because we do not see that the principle is the oppressor. We think that man is the oppressor. No, it's not the man that's the oppressor, the principle of ‘ignorance’, Vedanta calls it Maya , is the oppressor.

I'm not trying to absolve man, I'm not speaking as a man on women's day, please! I think I'll have to clarify that again and again because a lot of what I'm going to say would not sit well with the existing definitions of feminism. You see, I get bashed from both sides. Men think that I lean just too much towards women and women say, “But you are not directly trying to give us rights, instead, you tell us about our real identity and such things.” So, a lot of women do not quite like what I say. But since you have been courageous or adventurous enough to have me here, I'll do what I do.

Q: As you have stated that feminism is often misunderstood as battle of sexes, however it is not, it aims to understand why there is gender inequality amongst the people in the society. It is the idea that the fight for the equality that exists in our society would somehow erase the masculinity or disempowerment that strangely is insulting to some men who do not identify themselves as offensive to women.

So, my question is, how would deconstructing contemporary masculinity would help the movement and what can men do to contribute to achieving equality in society?

AP: See, men are doing exactly what the apes and the chimpanzees and the gorillas have been doing right since the first day. What are men doing? Men are running around, trying to grab this, gobble that, eat, consume, make merry, have sex with as many women as possible, accumulate a lot of territories — that's what men have been doing all throughout history, right? What else are the men doing? What does a typical man do that is very distinct from what a chimpanzee does? Please, tell me.

We glorify mankind as if it is some divine thing, but that which we call as mankind, fundamentally what is it? How is it different from what happens in the jungle every day? What's happening in Europe between Russia and Ukraine, is it not happening in the jungle all the time?

Do you know what dogs do? You must be having maybe a few dogs on your campus. You know what dogs do, right? They mark their territory, wherever they go, they raise their legs and mark their territory. Is that fundamentally different from what those world leaders are doing? It's just that given the power of intellect, you just don't raise legs, you raise nukes and you threaten the other — “I’ll nuke you; I’ll finish you; I’ll obliterate you.”

Now, that is what men have been doing all the while. Why do women want to be equal to men? What’s so praiseworthy in men that you want to be equal to men? Men are captives to their biological role, men are in bondage of their bodies.

When a man runs after a woman in a sexual way, is the man really running after the woman, or is it the biological mandate? Please, tell me. And if you take away the biological mandate, will the man still run after the woman? You are medical practitioners and students of medicine here, and you very well know what a single shot can do. A few mg of a particular hormone this way or that way, injected or take it away, and you very well know that the entire masculine behaviour will change, right?

If you want to make someone angry, what do you do? You just feed him a pill and he can become angry. You want to placate someone, what do you do? What are all these anti-anxiety pills? So, our behaviour is determined by our biology. Our behaviour is very much chemical and biological. So, the man is the gorilla, why does the woman want to become a female gorilla? There is no glory in that. Therefore, equality is a misplaced ideal.

What we need is Liberation and Liberation is not liberty. Liberation is something very, very different. To be Liberated is to exceed both manhood and womanhood.

As long as the woman says, “I am the woman and I want liberty”, I repeat, it would be the liberty that you can get within confinement, within a jail. We have very liberal jails these days, don't we? So, the inmates, the prisoners have a lot of rights within the jail. Do you want that kind of situation? “I have a lot of rights within the jail.” Your fundamental jail is the body itself. Why don’t you want to live as per the instructions of your body? When we say, “Let me do what I want to do, let me live my life as per my desire,” is your desire really your desire? Just as the man's desire is the hormone's desire, the woman's desire is equally the hormone's desire. Where is your desire really? Please, tell me.

Liberation is about knowing who you really are and therefore what your fundamental desire is. Only that can help us and save us. Otherwise, you see, we know of climate change, we know of the atomic arsenals that the superpowers hold, even India has like hundred or two hundred nukes. It's all because we have been acting as per our desires. Every country is territorial, just as every dog is territorial. We want to encroach upon others, we want to covet others’ resources. We want more and more to feed our bodies and our senses so that we can feel happy.

The world is on the edge of obliteration exactly because we have been living as per our desires and our desires, mind you, are the desires of the jungle, they won't take us anywhere.

Q: You talked about Liberation. What can be the role of men in the liberation of women?

AP: As long as the man is a man, he cannot help any woman. If a man continues to be a man, he can only be a predator towards the woman. If I am speaking here, I'm not speaking as a man, I have to keep my gender and sexual identity aside.

Please remember, biologically there can be only one relationship between a man and a woman. All your civilizational values aside, there can be only one relationship — the man hunts, the woman is the hunted and in being hunted, the woman hunts back the man in a passive way. That's the biological thing. At an active level, the man is the hunter and the woman is the hunted, but inwardly, the woman is the hunter and the man is the hunted.

Irrespective of which level we are talking of, there is just violence. Somebody is hunting, somebody is being hunted. So, a man really cannot help a woman and a woman really cannot help a man. You have to be a human being to help another human being. And that is a very different way of looking at yourself.

And when you are a human being, it is not only the man or the woman that you help, then you help the entire existence, then you care for the birds, the bees, the dogs, the squirrel, the fish. Then you cannot say, “Oh! I am a participant in the Women's Liberation movement, now, where is my mutton chop?”. How is it possible that you have so much empathy towards women but not the goat? How is it possible? When you are really awake, then it is not only the gender that you care towards, then you care towards all consciousness because you realize that consciousness is the goal of life. Then you cannot be violent towards anybody, not even towards a blade of grass. You will try your best to minimize violence or eradicate it in whichever way possible.

Q: I want to ask, with respect to the permission, with respect to the judgments and everything that I am allowed those freedoms more compared to her. So, is it wrong for me to enjoy them?

AP: You and your sister are there and you are given two apples but she is given none. Now, answer me, can you enjoy it? That's it. How can you really enjoy, it if your sister is being denied basic freedom and such things? That's why we all are greatly interlinked.

Deep spirituality would say, “We are all one.” Let's not go to that extent, but at least see that we all lead a very interlinked existence. It is not possible for one man to be joyful with others around him being in misery, especially if the other you are talking of is your own sister. How will you go out, for example, to watch a cricket match in the stadium or have a night out when you know that your sister, too, is a cricket lover and is not being allowed to come? Won't every bit of joy pain you further? You know that you are having it and somebody is not having it and the one who is not having it, you love her. Now, is that then enjoyment or suffering for you?

Similarly, if you are being kept hungry and I am being given a lot of food, and every morsel of the food is delicious and nutritious. Now, is it enjoyable to me or is it further suffering?

Q: I really understand what you are saying. So, I am also asking with respect to the opportunities that this world provides me. I know why my sister is telling me, “I cannot do this, but then no one has stopped you from doing this, so you go ahead” with respect to the opportunities, but being myself as a person, because I know that I like her, so, should I not do those? Or take advantage of those opportunities?

AP: So, first of all, it is very generous of your sister and very loving of your sister to ask you to proceed with the opportunities you have and all the freedoms that you can get, even as she is being denied those opportunities and freedoms.

Now, that's her side of the story. She's being generous. What are you being? She is being good, all right! “Brother, I'm not being given the good things in life, but if you are being offered them, accept them.” That's her heart! Now, where is your heart?

I think the greatest enjoyment in such a situation would be to ensure that she does get a bit of what you get.

YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcklBgKh_a0

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