Genderless: Where Patriarchy Meets Matriarchy

Sharmila Katre

As a member of the baby boomer’s generation and a flower child of the seventies, I never questioned my feminine psyche beyond the feminist demands of Gloria Steinman’s demand for equal rights and freedom as our male flower children.

Illustration by/ Sanaya Dutt & Shulabh Gupta
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When I sat down to write this essay on gender, or rather genderless, I was at a loss. Not for the conventional reasons of questioning my own gender orientation; or of feeling homophobic; or the fact that in today’s world this word has been over-thought, over-discussed and given multiple facets and nuances than its basic meaning, which may or may not be politically correct. Gender for me personally is a basic requirement of filling government forms that require you to identify yourself on the basis of your physiology as to whether you are able to bear a progeny or propagate one.

I have never pondered on this beyond the government form. Or at least not till recently, since gender issues became a part of the problems affecting our lives and lifestyle. 

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As a member of the baby boomer’s generation and a flower child of the seventies, I never questioned my feminine psyche beyond the feminist demands of Gloria Steinman’s demand for equal rights and freedom as our male flower children. We grew up on a staple reading of Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’, Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’, Susan Sontag, Virginia Woolf et al on one hand, and the mythological stories from the Mahabharata and Krishnavatara, where male female roles where interchangeable based on the crisis faced by the protagonist of the story.  So, gender or sexuality related to gender was never the issue. At least not a conscious issue.

As a child or in my youth I never questioned this, and in fact, neither as an adult. The environment in my childhood family home was genderless. We were all identified based on our roles, relationship and pecking order in the family. My grandmother was the Matriarch, the interior minister, and ruled the household with an iron fist. She was also an accomplished equestrian who sat a horse elegantly in her tailored English jodhpurs and my grandfather’s pristine white shirts. My Grandfather always respected her wishes and her decisions. My grandfather was the Patriarch, overseeing the well-being of the family and its standing in society and the outside world at large. He was a patron of the arts, with a special love for the performing arts. However, neither of them functioned in isolation. Dadu’s opinion would often be sought in the running of the household, as would Dida’s on worldly matters of the family business, education of children, property sale or purchase etc. Male children were encouraged to pursue the arts and the female children sports. None were envisioned in typecast roles in their future lives.

One gender can’t dwarf another once you learn to love & respect yourself first.

One gender can’t dwarf another once you learn to love & respect yourself first.

And mine was a typical educated Bengali home of the modern post independent India. A country that was based on the principles of equal opportunities for all irrespective of caste, creed or gender.

Therefore, today as I sit down to pen my thoughts on ‘genderless’ I ask myself how would I define this word?

To me “genderless” is “to be who you are”. To exist, or rather, live comfortably in your skin. To be able to hug your best friend or companion without being questioned about your sexual orientation. To be able to wear a tailored blazer with a sari and high heel pumps. To have a buzz cut and wear lipstick at the same time. It is about just being. About not being typecast.

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Genderless is possibly a synonym for androgyny. And yet not. Because the definition of androgyny refers to mixed biological sex characteristics in humans and thus once again typecasts it. Genderless, like classless, is probably beyond definition. It definitely is not about sex or sexual orientation. It is not about being politically correct. It is neither male nor female, and yet it is not intersex either. 

It is about not belonging. Undefined. Free. Fluid. Flexible. Adaptive. Genderless is who you are or what you want to be. It is being human.

Raw Roshini R