#iSTANDfor: Truth Tellers
By Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
Patriarchal society is based on fear, violence, and repressed sexuality: fear of the Other, violence as the acceptable counter. Such a society, organized under the auspices of the patriarchal state, is autocratic, rule-regimented, augmented by religious and legal codes suspicious of difference and repressive of the inferior Other, whether that be women, ‘barbarians’, or slaves. Here is Aeschylus, in his Eumenides, on women:
She who is called mother is not her offspring’s
Parent, but nurse to the newly sown embryo.
The male—who mounts—begets. The female, a stranger,
Guards a stranger’s child if no god brings it harm.
The fertile, active male ‘sows’ his seeds in a passive field. In classical Athens, the woman, a mere seed carrier, was ideally married at fourteen to a man of thirty, then restricted to the dank, dark interior of the house, only permitted outdoors veiled, had no role in the affairs of a state run by ‘freeborn’ male citizens. Her children were their father’s property.
In a patriarchal society, women represent irrationality, silence, nature, and body, while men are the epitome of reason, eloquence, culture, and mind. In the United States in the 1800s, women who sought to break out of—or broke under the pressure of—their stunted social roles could be condemned by their male relatives to lunatic asylums without legal recourse. There, at the mercy of male medical practitioners, they were subjected to beatings, force-feedings, near-drownings, body restraints, solitary confinements. They were routinely assaulted, deprived of food, sleep, exercise, sunlight, and often murdered. Women formed the vast majority in public lunatic asylums. In 1861, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote: “We would be shocked to know the countless numbers of rebellious wives, sisters and daughters that are thus annually sacrificed to false customs and conventionalisms, and barbarous laws made by men for women.” Without irony, Elizabeth Stone, incarcerated in the 1840s in Massachussetts, described her experience as “worse than slavery.” In the twentieth century, American women who failed to ‘adjust’ were punitively labeled, overly tranquilized, hospitalized against their will, sexually assaulted, subjected to shock or insulin coma therapy, lobotomized, straitjacketed, both physically or chemically, and used as slave labour in state mental asylums.
We are not very far from the cave where Creon immured Antigone. Nor are we far from the vicinity of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison where the captors, representing the civilized, humiliated and assaulted a deliberately emasculated captive ‘barbarian’ population. Whether the group sought to be colonized is of a different gender, ethnic identity, or faith, the means of control is always—always—aimed at abuse, shame, violence: sexual, economic, political, social.
Today’s Antigone is black, yellow, red, brown. She lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Yemen. She lives in the ghettos and banlieus and refugee camps of white America and Europe. She is the target of regressive religious and legal codes and non-stop violence. Instead of facing a Creon in the flesh, she is the victim of the faceless cogs of the police-military-industrial complex, buttressed by its complicit, unquestioning chorus, the corporate media. Today Creon sits in a gleaming white house thousands of miles away from the slaughter and executes the designated victims of his Kill Lists every Tuesday. Murder by drone, the latest instrument of patriarchal violence. We haven’t advanced a single step from the man who, aeons ago, emerged from his Platonic cave and decided that killing an opponent was an acceptable recourse in settling a dispute.
In the twenty-first century, anyone who aims at ‘mastering’ this patriarchal society must, of necessity, internalize and perpetuate its hegemonic masculine code. It’s a sobering thought, one that especially bears examination in the light of the fact that very soon, in this society at least, Creon may well be a woman. And Antigone? Anyone who opposes the oppressive state of affairs that Creon represents.