Towards a more equal society
On the question of equality, there can only be compromises.
Part of the problem with ensuring that men, women, and everyone else, in between and beyond, are treated with a level of respect befitting human beings is the assumption that the answer is simple. Rhetorical landmines litter this path to fairness and equality, with the ignorant often patronized and the overly aware dismissed with disdain.
Both ignore the impossibility that is fundamental to ensuring justice on the issue of gender equality: there is no right answer. Or, perhaps, at the very least, there is an answer.
I will refrain from giving specific examples of the questions and answers that have occupied the most discourse on the subject. I’m sure those reading this are well aware of the words, phrases and concepts that bombard these conversations, creating battlegrounds where there should be open invitations to cross each other’s boundaries and ensure that there is a certain level of understanding on each side. .
This understanding is not meant to be provided to misogynistic or transphobic ideas, but to the series of events that lead a person to acquire such ideas in the first place. From the underfunded education system to repressive and retrograde attitudes reserved for open discussions of sex and sexuality, from environments of injustice and corruption and an unreliable justice system to hypercapitalist forays into self-fulfilment, among a myriad other factors all contribute to the reality that women face every day, preventing even the most optimistic among us from believing in a fictional future of our nation’s prosperity.
Given the complexities that contribute to our identification of gender, sex and everything in between, inevitably present in a society whose identity is constantly changing, unable to decide where exactly notions of Bangladeshi and Bengali, how can one even begin to say that equality means ‘this’ and equity means ‘that’ and that equity is ‘here’ and not ‘there’?
The very attempt seems foolish, as each side drops “truth” bombs, creating divisions within a nation that requires unity and empathy instead of echo chambers and bubbles, spreading a culture that seeks validation at the expense of seeking truth.
The assumption that there is an answer that can be known, rather than an answer that can be applied and then observed, is central to these battles for the one and only truth. Truth, like our understanding of and relationship to gender, is equally fluid and must constantly be questioned, reassessed and modified to ensure what we can reasonably consider to be right at any given point in time. .
The rigidities of the legal system, of traditions, of culture, of religion, of identity, betray a lack of understanding of how history is also a river gone wild, whose path through the past proves, at least, that we constantly make mistakes, and that identities are the product of vast wells of influence and much more complex than we would like.
To remain in the convictions offered to us by our personal environment, our upbringing and our privileges is to ignore the series of unfortunate events and circumstances which allow monsters to emerge among men, allowing a status quo which favors the objectification and a culture of rape. It points to a much larger issue of oppression that permeates the relationships we have with each other.
The real tragedy, then, is not that such individuals exist or that such backward thinking exists, but that we actively participate in nurturing an environment that leads to both. Despite our high positions in life, we consistently fail to provide spaces for self-expression to those who need to listen most: those who disagree with us. Sons inherit the prejudices of their fathers, daughters occupy roles reserved by their mothers, fulfilling prophecies of misfortune and abuse, sacrificing themselves like the spokes of an ever-turning wheel of time that propels Bangladesh into its postmodern dream of golden prosperity.
NGOs, literary festivals and foreign aid will do little to solve the problem of powerlessness: no sense of morality and clear judgment can exist in a population whose daily struggles overwhelm its existence. The new slaves of the 21st century have little time for self-reflection and empathy, occupied as they are with a fictional idea of success and a very real struggle for survival.
Women struck down by the raised hands of men is just one symptom of a society that has accepted the homelessness of children without remorse. What version of equality can this society even claim to peddle?
One that perhaps satisfies the arbitrary number of SDGs, but none that will ever allow us to say, with some conviction, that we are working to create a “more” equal society for men and women, without talk about everyone else.
SN Rasul teaches English at North-South University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.