Emancipating Space: The Female Body vs. the Sacred

Controlling the female body and hegemonizing public space are two integrated processes of the same patriarchal politics of domination. In the most patriarchal societies, women are simply denied access to public space, or allowed only as disembodied figures. To enforce this there are nuanced policing systems in place that have been completely normalized as a crucial part of dominant value systems. The female body, like the body of the colonized, is perceived as both dangerous and exploitable. Therefore, patriarchy has adamantly sought to confine the female body within the boundaries of commodified sexuality, to be owned, hidden, packaged, priced, traded, or trashed depending on the commodity cycle and exchange value. Of course, at the heart of all this lies the patriarchal private-public division of space.

 Any intentional disturbance of the spatial balance between private and public thus agitates patriarchy’s faithful sons. Yet, to accomplish more than just agitation, the “sacred” must be strategically targeted; this is perhaps the most effective method of undermining the symbolic capital of patriarchy. The sacred is nothing but patriarchy’s rules of domination symbolized, mystified, and sanctified in order to eternalize the conditions of oppression.

The sacred is inherently fragile. In fact, the power of the sacred lies precisely in that fragility, but it is, of course, sanctified fragility. Deliberately, publically, and unapologetically disrespecting the sacred is, therefore, a highly effective strategy. The reason the sacred has gained the socio-historical status of sacredness is that the oppressed buy into its mythology, lending it an oppressive socio-psychological power. Once the oppressed subject confronts the sacred with her rebellious body, the fetish character of the sacred starts to wither away. In the beginning, the oppressed masses would feel disturbed, confused, and, very likely, insulted, but that could mark the beginning of a revolutionary change in the common modes of perception.

While male sexuality is universalized and celebrated through various forms of the sacred, e.g., the phallic structure of some spaces of worship, the female body is reduced to sexuality and sexuality to either a commodity or a sin. What if that reality were negated by re-politicizing the body in such a way that the male cult rather than the female body would be shamed? The male cult can easily be shamed when its taboos are broken as part of a strategy of rebelliousness that does not pause to allow it to use its hysteric mobs to harm or eliminate the rebellious body, as it did with Farkhunda , and as it does on a daily basis with women around the world.

Revolutionary feminist women have been continually challenging fascist space in places where male fascism is at its peak, but for that very reason they are tragically eliminated before they even have a chance to spark broader revolutionary movements. Liberal democracy, despite all its limitations, has the benefit of making it possible for the marginalized to make themselves visible without immediately risking their lives. Indeed, some feminist movements have effectively used that liberal space to break the sacred borders of patriarchal spatial division.

Patriarchy is, for the most part, the hegemony of a mythology normalized as a common mode of perception. Once the mythology is exposed, once the sacred is disrespected, patriarchy will instantaneously lose some of its hegemony. Crucially, the spatial production of sacredness is instrumental to the patriarchal hegemony. The female body, precisely by virtue of being the obsession of patriarchal power relations, can be the most revolutionary agency in terms of emancipating space from the naturalized norms of oppression.  As a revolutionary self-invention, rather than male-imposed femininity, the female body can disturb the patriarchal spatial regime globally, inflicting fatal injuries on sacredness as such.

In short, patriarchy’s spatial domination belies its extreme fragility, represented at its purest by the sacred. Accordingly, the revolutionary feminist does not avoid patriarchy’s sacred. On the contrary, she targets it consciously, strategically, and unapologetically.