The Roots of Power and Identity in the Society – Sonali Prashar BALLB 2011

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“With great power, comes great responsibility” ~ Uncle Ben from Spiderman

What kind of responsibility are we talking about? – To push the non-powerful people to the edge, be it gender, class, caste based!

According to Thomas Hobbes and many other thinkers, the society was said to be in the “state of nature” where everyone was free and the “powerful” ones were said to be suppress the weaker ones. That state of nature is not completely removed from our society. We still see “power” exercising itself through various models in the society.

‘Power’ is an extremely dangerous tool. If you have power, you can make others do anything for you but if too much of it is exercised, you can see protests and uprisings from the suppressed class. One must exercise carefully. The society has experienced the use of ‘power’, how one dominant form has easily tried to suppress the weaker form. The very Question is from where this legitimacy of power came into- Is it by birth, by religion or by economic means?

Gender and Sexuality

How easily the language tricked me! ‘Gender’ and ‘sex’ seemed almost similar to me. The society has also fallen into this trap. By ‘sex’ we mean the biological component of person. The genitals define the ‘sex’ of a person. “Penis: Male:: Cletoris: Female”. ‘Sex’ is therefore something, which is natural and cannot be changed. ‘Gender’ on the other hand is something, which is socially constructed. It is the attributes, which you attach to the ‘sex’. For erg- Men being males are born to be masculine and this masculinity is being strong, practical, playing with the “hot wheels”, earning for the family whereas Women should be ‘feminine’ i.e. should be docile, chaste, “adaarsh wadi” etc. It is even projected by the media in that way. The childhood cartoons showed how “masculine” samurai jack was and how “feminine” the Disney princesses were. However, majority thinks that the two words are interconnected. You are born with a penis and therefore you are equipped with the masculinity on which you are required to work upon the moment you are born! ‘Norms’ for boys and girls has been set up- the dress you are required to wear, the attributes you are required to possess, the responsibilities which you are required to bear, the spaces which you can access. If a guy wears makeup or chooses to remain unemployed for doing domestic work then his “mardaangi” is questioned. If a girl goes to a pub or is out late night, then she is been looked down upon.

The very biological character of ours has also assigned our ‘role’ in the society and there is no escaping of it. If a girl wants to join Army then saying that “A girl can’t be in Army because it requires ‘physical’ strength which she does not possess is pulling her down. People are wrong about the ‘facts’ of the built of the two sexes. If you are a male, then you are ‘equipped’ with the strength and if you are a female you possess the ‘softness’ as compared to men and therefore certain tasks are stereotyped for men and women.

The normativity is so set that it restricts woman in every possible way even if that aspect is “open” for the men. E.g. – Men can be open about their sexual desires but a woman can’t be. If she does so, she is looked down upon by the society. If a guy watches porn, it’s acceptable to an “open minded” family but such families rarely accept the same if a girl does

The only two sexes:

Patriarchy makes sure that there are only two sexes in the society i.e. of males and females. Engel gave us a theory of how patriarchy came into existence. In the pre- capitalist era, there was no division of “gendered” work. Barter system was prevalent in that society. There was no division into “gendered” work. Slowly the man realized that he has to have “control” over the bartered goods which was “his” property so as to pass it on. This is how the notion of lineage came into existence. This ultimately led to the women being confined to homes. Pregnancy was looked as the ultimate end. One can say that this was the birth of patriarchy where patriarchy has established “heteronormativity” where heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation. For the lineage, patriarchy makes sure that there is no going out of the model set up. Religion and law here plays an important role. The individual religion laws set up in India defining the circumference outside which an individual cannot act. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes “Unnatural offences” against the “order of the nature”. This “natural order” does not include any of the LGBT and other categories. Here the natural order includes only the two sexes that of male and female.

Heterosexuality is what the law promotes. That is why the “other” categories don’t find a place in the “sex” category. Being something other than heterosexuals is ab”NORM’al. It is a contention made by many people that Homosexuality is against the “nature” because no one is “born” as a gay or lesbian rather it’s a “man-made thing”. We “turn” into homosexuals. This is what the society sees but what about the actual homosexuals? In the movie Many People Many Desire, we saw what the actual homosexuals feel. They contest that from the very beginning of their lives they were born in that way. The society has constructed the words “gay” and “lesbian”, the homosexuals consider their liking/desire/love to be “natural” whereas it is we (the society) that have coined the words of gay and lesbian and put those people into this category. This category of people is also looked down upon the society. Further to add, many terms associated with Homosexuality are used as derogatory terms E.g.- “kothi”, “panthi” etc. are the words which are used as abusive slangs by the “NORMal” people. The “actions” of the homosexuals are also normativised. In the movie many people many desire, we saw that the friends of certain gays ask them that how can they be gay if they don’t “act” like gays?! The Bollywood flick, Dostana also attached the attributes of “action” to the gays. We see that the identity of homosexuals is thus perceived in the way the society has “made” them to be.


As we saw that certain institutions like democracy to make sure that the exploitation of “power” replaced the very Thomas Hobbesian “state of nature” is reduced. Similarly we have seen that the “power” over the weaker sections- like the women, the “other” sexes as well as the “lower” caste is removed to an extent by certain feminist, LGBT movements. Although law has not made any provision for the “other” sexes rather it has penalized them under Section 377, but on the other hand it has tried to uplift the position of the women and the lower caste people by making provisions in the constitution.

There is greater need to provide equality to these suppressed sections of the society after all every human being has a right to live with dignity!


About cwlsc

The Centre for Women, Law and Social Change has been established to advance inter-disciplinary approaches to feminism in teaching, research and policy advocacy. Along with academic commitment to high-quality research in the field of gender and the Centre aims to actively contribute to wider legal thinking on issues related to social justice. The Centre aims to support the initiatives of all the Centres of the JGU and actively collaborate with international, national and grassroots organisations. It encourages various student initiatives in the field of gender and social justice, and seeks to encourage critical thinking on how gender operates in a dynamic with other structures of power in both historical and contemporary contexts. The Centre members teach courses on Feminist Jurisprudence; Gender Law and Governance and Family Law.
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