Gender, regardless of societal culture, remains largely a social construct. The latter refers to the behavioural, psychological and social conditioning of men and women, with this process being predominantly determined from birth. Simone de Beauvoir put it best when, writing in her seminal book The Second Sex: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”This is how gender socialisation works. And in tribal, feudal, patriarchal and religiously conservative societies it may be said to be worse, or at the least, more challenging. Women become seen as somehow being ‘tainted’, a dark force responsible for the Original Sin. Sadly, this is true of Pakistan, where the prevailing ideologies of feudalism and capitalism meet to subjugate women; who ultimately begin to fear their own emancipation. Feminism is a movement that confronts this structure, which systematically disadvantages women. It seeks to redress this imbalance (or abuse) of power by striving towards political, economic and social equality and justice for women. Contemporary feminism as we know it may be said to have originally taken root in the US and Europe, going back to the 18th and 19th centuries. According to Maggie Humm and Rebecca Walker, leading thinkers in this field, the history of feminism can be divided into three phases. The first wave took effect over the aforementioned centuries and focused principally on suffrage as well as other legal rights. The second wave came during the 1960s and 1970s and this period saw women protest for equal pay for equal work, wages for housework and the right to abortion. And then there was the third wave of the mid-1990s, which emerged in the wake of the new post-colonial and post-socialist world order.Pakistani society clings to the myth that men (collectively) represent the agency through which women are granted emancipation. This is what is called an inverted position and, as such, we must stand it back on its feet if we are to give credence to the ideological authority that demands societal transformationHere in Pakistan, we are still playing catch-up. Ours is a society that can at best be described as feudal, pre-modern, patriarchal and religiously conservative. Woman, as a result, is treated as a mere commodities; to be kept within four walls, murdered for the sake of honour, deprived of education, have acid thrown in her faces for daring to rebuff unwelcome advances, robbed of all rights. In short, she is burned, enslaved, branded, chocked, rendered invisible until she is chained and sold. Thus while we are happy to import most things western — when it comes to the fundamental recognition of women’s inalienable rights, we just aren’t interested; despite the work of feminist-oriented movements and numerous non-governmental organisations. Yet when such frameworks are weakened to the point where women are not motivated to participate — this leads to them “trying to get their space and doing away with patriarchal norms and values without actively joining any movement”, as Masroor Shah notes in his essay, Everyday Feminism. The recent sexual harassment of female students at Sindh University is just one case of the many that are repeated throughout the country. Some in the teaching profession misuse the literal power that they wield in terms of having the final say when it comes to grades. Yet they also abuse their symbolic power, which is intrinsically tied up with the patriarchy, for exploitative ends. We must always stand with any women brave enough to speak up. For far too many are silenced time and again. This is because in a society like ours, we like nothing more than a bit of victim blaming. Meaning that if a woman is sexually assaulted — the fault must lie with her, no questions asked; no room for debate. Thus it becomes the woman who stands in the dock while those who commit sexual violence against her are left free to sit in the cheap seats. When such professional misconduct occurs, all who call themselves progressives must support the woman. This is especially important on university campuses — for without such solidarity, already low female enrolment levels will only fall harder.Of course, not all progressives are as they should be. In other words, many have internalised the power dynamics that are set up to favour them. This may be described as the psychological inheritance of patriarchy, which is, we remember, a social construct determined at birth. But just because it may prove difficult to smash such shackles — doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try. Different prisms exist through which to view both women’s oppression and emancipation, which include but are not limited to: liberal, radical, Marxist as well as psychoanalytical feminism. Here, I will try and take the work of Paulo Freire, the renowned Brazilian pedagogue, before following up with that of Louis Althusser, the equally renowned French Marxist philosopher, in order to examine notions of collective subversion of prevailing cultures and societies as a whole. Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed offers a technical study of the oppressed classes. For our purposes, I take woman as the oppressed and man as the oppressor within patriarchal frameworks built on feudalism and capitalism, in apparent ideological paradox. And I also argue that both parties are dehumanised by this social construct.Pakistani society clings to the myth that men (collectively) represent the agency through which women are granted emancipation; or put another way, men alone have the power to liberate women. This is what is called an inverted position and, as such, we must stand it back on its feet if we are to give credence to the ideological authority that demands societal transformation.The sad fact is that late feudal society recast man as the dominant power; a position that has been further strengthened under global capitalism. He therefore has no reason not to make use of this command he holds over woman. Thus, in this dehumanised state, he suffers from what Freire calls the ‘fear of freedom’. Though sadly what man fears is the freedom to oppress. Which means that he takes all possible measures to keep woman shackled and enslaved. And so it falls to the oppressed to liberate herself and, while doing so, she is also burdened with spearheading a revolution that also seeks to reconnect man to his humanity. For as Freire notes: “The pleasure in complete dominance over other person is the very essence of sadistic drive . . . Sadistic love is a perverted love — a love of death, not of life.”It may also be said that woman, too, endures the ‘fear of freedom’. But here it is a fear of losing what little agency she has. This explains why so many women in Pakistan suffer in silence. This is what Simone de Beauvoir refers to as “lacking the ethical claim and fearing the loss of the small petty privileges that are offered to her at the cost of her liberated identity.”All of which explains to a certain extent how woman may find herself bearing the dual identity of oppressed and (indirect) oppressor. We may adopt Althusser’s formulation that he employs to identify the pattern of workers’ struggle against the bourgeois intellectuals. For this offers a suitable framework to similarly try and smash the patriarchy. Indeed, writing in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Althusser observes: “Class instinct is subjective and spontaneous . . . To arrive at proletarian class positions, the class instinct of proletarians only needs to be educated; the class instinct of the petty bourgeoisie, and hence of intellectuals, has, on the contrary, to be revolutionised.”Thus the key rests in making women conscious of their oppression. Then comes radicalisation, swiftly followed by the call to figurative arms against prevailing patriarchal norms. At the same time man, too, has give in to revolution, in terms of reimagining this social construct.Clara Zetkin was a German Marxist-Leninist feminist who lived more than a century-and-a-half ago. In Women, Marriage and Sex (a chapter from her book, Reminiscences of Lenin), she recalls the great man’s words: “In Petrograd, here in Moscow, in other towns and industrial centres the women workers acted splendidly during the revolution. Without them we should not have been victorious. Or scarcely so. That is my opinion. How brave they were, how brave they still are! Think of all the suffering and deprivations they bore. And they are carrying on because they want freedom, want communism.”Yes, women are powerful. This is their war. And men have to stand behind them as they lead the charge towards smashing the patriarchy. The writer is studying for a Masters degree in International StudiesPublished in Daily Times, November 5th 2017.