Gender in the times of Global Sabbatical

April 27, 2020

By Aamir Qayoom

“I told you Shakespeare had a sister,  but She died young—alas, she never wrote a word. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word lives in you and me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed”. 

Virginia Woolf

A patient in a convalescent-phase struggling and hoping against the hope to live more; a celebrity in his condominium rhapsodically trying to learn guitar while in quarantine; an abusive and disparaging husband beating his wife for not tolerating his boorish manners; a hopeless transgender caught in a space that bolsters a condition of schizophrenia.

These images float in my imagination while I borrow them from multiple time frames, resonating in various ways the virus has metastasized and affected people around the globe. However, what interests me at the moment is the articulation of gender images that ineluctably speak volumes about the politics of gender and the question of violence in the times of corona quarantine.  

The simpleton and conventional image of home translate to a space of tenderness, coziness, and security. The generalization of such an idea becomes problematic given the scope of disturbing stories of violence that have recently floated from these spaces of care. This paradoxical reality opens the cases of the surge in domestic violence on women, as the world largely remains paralyzed in lockdown.

The National Commission for Women, New Delhi received innumerable domestic violence complaints during the first phase of lockdown, highlighting and exposing how women are doubly marginalized in such conditions. And in the hindsight opens the case of women who share fractured relations with their monstrous partners when means to access the public premises remain largely shut. 

This surge in domestic violence against women is not endemic to India but remains a pandemically horrid reality. This disproportional savage victimization of disempowered in the hierarchical family structure was rightly pointed by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres who was reported to have said that

“Over the past weeks as economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence.”

Thus reflecting the steep rise in the violence against the women as we fight this invisible bio tyrant. Further, extending the paradigm of violence from its grassroots, we are left at crossroads while understanding its multiple nunaces. One really wonders whether this perpetuation of violence is a resultant of anxiety and dismay emanating from unprecedented global sabbatical that fosters the coerced coexistence of abuser and abused or such violence is deeply embedded in marriage as an institution where hyper-masculinity and patriarchy  keeps this violence largely carpeted. 

However, not limiting the intersectionality of women, quarantine and  politics of violence. I question the democratic ramifications of this virus by highlighting the problems that the transgender community faces in these trying times. The lockdown has not only affected the financial stability of these people, but it has gone a long way in bolstering their marginalization and vulnerability.

The policies that shape the lockdown are largely drawn from masculine imagination that remains blind to the concerns of this community. So it is certain that such gender insensitivity promotes a condition whereby it becomes difficult to understand the psychopathological problems of a transgender facing impediments in accessing the medical care and cases of those trans who might be taking hormone therapies that are highly sensitive to delay or deferment.

The situation becomes highly problematic in conflict infested zones like Kashmir where the shadows of megalomania painted on the streets of the valley are enough to understand the difficulties that trans community faces in negotiating the daily survival in these despairing days. With meagre opportunities for daily survival in the frangible peace of the valley the tokenism cannot be used to justify and normalize the condition of the normalcy of such condition. 

While approaching sexual division of labour, quarantine and the question of violence through gynocritical imagination, it offers possibilities to enunciate its paraphernalia’s from a womenistic perspective. As unprecedented quarantine has nudged people to stay at home. The work inside four walls remains largely driven from the idea of a sexual division of labor that promotes more workload for women to negotiate their daily survival.

The situation in such circumstances becomes extremely difficult for women as homemakers in joint families with strong patriarchs. The quarantine in such condition translates into heavy increments of workload for women while the male chauvinists are nonchalantly busy sharpening their gustatory simulations.

Perhaps this ‘home time’ can be used to reverse the sexual division of labor and promote thinking that allows the understanding of the invisibilization of women’s work. Such a paradisal reversal can also offer opportunities to capitalize on the ‘asset of care’ that remains untapped and outside the patriarchal purview.

As a step-up in un-webbing this idea of quarantine to explore the webbed complexities of creativity, quarantine and violence. It becomes highly imperative to deconstruct the relationship between isolation and creativity in quarantine when looked from the prism of gender. Where men in quarantine have the option of using isolation to produce art and develop new ways of thinking, while women in quarantine have largely to devote a considerable amount of time and creativity to take care of her children and household chores that leave her exhausted to use leisure for creativity.

Such existential reality broadly allows us to question the production of literary work that celebrates men who have previously used epidemics and quarantine to create some masterpieces/crafted grand theories in various fields of knowledge. It is such privilege that needs to be deconstructed with new frames of reference that can perhaps help to understand the multidimensionality of thought behind the fictive production of Judith Shakespeare that Virginia Woolf mentioned in her essay A Room of One’s Own  (1929).

It is also this critical thinking that can speed up the process of an understanding relationship between gender, quarantine and literary production in new ways and can go a long way in articulating the reasons behind the lack of strong female literary tradition. 

Bio:- Aamir Qayoom is a research scholar from the University of Delhi. He previously worked as a research assistant for the University of Western Australia. He largely works on Gynocritical imagination and can be reached at  aamirqayoom97@gmail.com

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