God knows that people have heard the term “liberal elite” enough. If not from me, then from other pseudo-intellectuals who have spewed knowledgeable tirades on how Dhaka society has (or has not) been dissected into classes, membership for which is dependent on language, profession, money, education, etc.
And this elite, be they genuinely liberal or not, does control, to a great extent, the direction in which the country goes, how the money flows, and the narrative that the country “should” be following.
What usually ends up happening, due to the massive dissonance between the elite and the rest, is that the very qualities which make them socially superior end up being the barriers which prevent any sort of cooperation and understanding between the two.
One of the most important issues that this group struggles to shoehorn into the national consciousness is the way we treat women. We live in a society rampant with sexism, a country ravaged by rape culture and harmful ideas of how women should be and what women are entitled to.
And there exists an active effort to rid such retrograde ideas. The recent string of rapes (some of which were done by multiple men, others by family members, a few by politically affiliated student leaders) are testament to why these efforts exist, and why these efforts are necessary.
Since such a significant section of the population, a “significant” which might very well be the majority, believe in many cases that a woman’s character is defined by her sexual history, or that “character” is in fact a factor when deciding on rape cases, or that women should be demure and demeaned, should dress a certain way, or cover themselves up, or that women are too “fast,” or that they need to fulfil certain roles assigned to them as part of their gender identity, it has become increasingly important that there does exist a push from the more learned amongst us to change this attitude.
Therefore, the writers of this narrative are trying to instil ideas of women’s rights and privacy, of de-objectifying the woman’s body, to help us better understand sexuality and reproductive rights. There are articles and videos and memes which highlight the sexism, hypocrisy, patriarchy, and double standards which determine much of how women are treated and how women function within our society.
This is a sad and terrifying truth, especially in this day and age.
Though it is unfortunate that, too often, the way these messages are highlighted seem to backfire, or that it only falls on ears which already agree with the opinion being highlighted.
But, at least, one could argue, something is being done.
Wolf in sheep’s clothing
However, all is not well amongst the elite, amongst these groups which ride the horse of moral superiority (don’t get me wrong, in this case, they are on the right side of history).
While they spew the rhetoric of women’s equality and rights, they are occupied by secret sexists and misogynists who have learned to play the game behind closed doors.
The chameleons are a crucial component of why the country has failed to move towards a better understanding of how women should be treated in society
These people (many of them men) have learned the art of liberal dialogue to such a degree as to warrant them impossible to detect. Smooth talk and confidence allow them to weave in and out of diverse groups, groups with members whose views on women go from the far right to the far wrong.
They are dressed alluringly in the business-savvy suits of corporations, and masked under the smiles of conviction.
When we speak of toxic masculinity, we may perhaps be referring to the male ego, or the hyper-aggressive methods by which many men function. This is present at work places, on the street, in public arenas.
But there are some con artists who have learned the tricks of the trade.
They have infiltrated the psyche that is appropriate for the time. Their views mimic the left’s populist agendas.
Be it in the way they treat other women, or the way they function within society, theirs is a toxicity that is usually difficult to detect. While a father who thinks that his daughter shouldn’t wear “skimpy” clothes is sexist but still affords his daughter some value, these men will allow the freedom without giving any sort of weight to the individual residing underneath the woman.
This is reflected in the way they function within relationships. They will want for nothing and give nothing.
They will consider their mothers the most important people in the world while treat their female friends and girlfriends as anything more than objects when it comes down to their own self-interests.
Unseen, undetected, undeterred
Much of the problem resides not only in how confused we are in how to treat women (yes, even those of us who claim to be the most “learned”), but also that it is difficult to describe in words and clearly define what exactly is being done wrong.
But, at the end of the day, when you look through the elite’s ranks, much of their leaders and policy-makers are, in fact, masculinity-driven, be they 50-something business magnates or 20-something corporate jocks or 40-something artists.
While the illusion of wanting true change is guaranteed by their acts, this is not the case.
The chameleons are a crucial component of why the country has failed to move towards a better understanding of how women should be treated in society.
The power, due to a mass influx of testosterone-induced aggressiveness, still rests firmly on the shoulders of men who are trying to make the world a better place for women.
Their true colours are shown when they are amongst men like them, or amongst other groups which require different viewpoints which will allow them to be accepted amongst the group in question.
There is no conviction here; there is merely politics.
But the tragic outcome will remain that these men will be put on the pedestal of the “ideal man” while, underneath, lie the ghosts of their true opinions.
Given the right set of circumstances, they will have the same blasé opinions of women’s characters, their clothing (when it comes to girlfriends, wives, sisters, mothers, not one-night lovers), on abortions, on what it means to be a “man,” etc.
Unseen, they will climb the ranks. Undetected, they will rule the nation. Undeterred, they will succeed in playing the world for a fool.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @snrasul.