“Woman has always been man’s dependent, if not his slave; the two sexes have never shaped the world in equality. And even today woman is heavily handicapped, though her situation is beginning to change.”
―Simone de Beauvoir
How often have you been insulted by the word feminist thrown loosely at you just for voicing your opinion? Number of times maybe. People have the tendency to use the word without knowing its real meaning. Let us delve into the real meaning of feminism. Charles Fourier a Utopian Socialist and French Philosopher is credited for having coined the word “féminisme” in 1837. Feminism is not about ‘male-bashing’ or suffering from ‘persecution complex’ as many believe. True feminism means standing up for the equality of sexes. Some feminists also include the rights of men since they feel they too are bogged down by traditional gender rules like men cannot express their softer side and they only have to earn to support the family. The feminist theory which has emerged from feminist movements tries to examine women’s social roles and lived experiences to find out the nature of gender inequality that exists in society. Feminism carries different meanings in different disciplines, however, the main objective is the social construction of gender. Feminist movements endeavor to campaign for women’s rights which include the right to vote, to hold public office, to earn fair wages, to receive education, and to own property. It also fights against sexual harassment, domestic violence, and the rape of women and girls. It tries to secure reproductive rights for women which include access to contraceptives and abortion. Sometimes the word ‘feminism’ is misused by some women to make demands which are completely unnecessary. For instance, why do women expect chivalry in the 21st century when the word has become a misnomer. What attempts can be made to redefine feminism in a positive way so that it doesn’t carry a negative connotation?
Those who support women’s rights vocally have become the butt of jokes. Female characters in ‘woman-centric films’ are not always appreciated. Many men don’t watch ‘woman-centric’ films as there is no hero and women are given a strong character. It doesn’t suit their masculine ego. Men often make fun of roles played only by women. They visualize them as a symbol of ‘naari ‘mukti morcha’ (platform for woman’s emancipation). The question here is- should women be only viewed as arm candies or sex symbols? Moreover, one will notice that during promotions of a film it is often separately mentioned as a ‘women-centric’ film. Why? The reason is a woman is still perceived as weak compared to men and thus films need to shout out the social message that woman is as strong as men. Woman-oriented films also break the notion that women are physically weaker than men. Priyanka Chopra’s role as wrestler ‘Mary Kom’ and her role as a tough cop in ‘Jai Gangajaal’ are bright examples. How many men actually watch these path-breaking woman films?
Men consider women’s bodies to be very attractive and she has been an object for the male gaze. Objectification of women is a much talked about subject and it is not restricted to the portrayal of women characters in films or television. It happens in real life too. Lewd comments, whistles, and stares are faced by all women in all countries. But women choose to ignore for the fear of being attacked. Women are equally at fault since they allow men to view them as ‘sex symbols’. Given the number of actresses gyrating in a suggestive manner in the name of entertainment. Yes, the numbers are foot-tapping but what about the visuals. Isn’t it sending the wrong message or is this just sounding like over-moralistic banter? Shabana Azmi rightly pointed out in a media conference that some lyrics show women in a very poor light. A fine example of lyrics that aid in objectifying women’s bodies is for example ‘mein tandoori murgi hu yaar kaatka le mujhe alcohol se.‘ Films are trendsetters and both filmmakers, actors, and lyricists need to be responsible while portraying women, as it tends to influence thought patterns of society.
Women are equally at fault for the distortion of the word ‘feminism’. There are some women who appear in police stations and give false accusations of rape and molestation in order to take revenge or to extract money from their boyfriend or even husband. The idea of feminism supports a women’s autonomy over her body. Feminism is about giving dignity to women and it is a woman’s duty to protect it and not use it for one’s selfish needs.
Just like men women are equally responsible for distorting the term ‘feminism’. When a woman gets her salary she keeps it for her own savings. In most cases, she doesn’t contribute towards the daily expenses. According to the men are bound to provide for the family. Where do those high ideals of feminism vanish in this case? Many women want to be pampered by men even if they are being well paid. Why not pamper yourself and feel like a boss. You will get more self-satisfaction out of it. It is okay to feel loved by a man but why should a woman expect chivalry from him. After all, women are seeking equality of status in society and not special privileges.
Women are considered physically weak compared to men. There are many jobs women can’t do that to other women can’t if she is not given proper facilities. Can you imagine a woman doing night shifts without proper safety measures? This is accepted. When it comes to mental strength or abilities a woman is equal to a man. When the question of equality is debated then the reservation of women in legislative assemblies and Parliament can be discussed in this context. There are two sides to the debate. One side supports that there should be 33% reservation. While the other side of the debate is that there should be no reservation since men and women are born equal. The government instead should provide education to the middle and lower strata of society and a secure environment at work for women. Inequality persists in Indian society where a majority of the population lies below the poverty line. Economic empowerment can only resolve problems like female infanticide and dowry deaths. A girl child should see their mothers working as doctors or engineers so that they will be inspired to become educated and empowered. The educated women shouldn’t ask for reservations since they don’t need it. Can you empower the already powerful? The economically backward women to whom the government has failed to give even the basic amenities can ask for reservation. Not 33% but 50% since they really need it to stand on their feet financially.
The other instance when the term ‘feminism’ is used to suit one’s selfish needs is when some women refuse to cook or do household chores just because she is doing a job. The work in the kitchen and home is looked down upon. What has cooking and cleaning got to do with feminism? Why is household work restricted to women alone is the other pertinent question? The film ‘Ki and Kaa’ has emphasized that household work is not a woman’s duty alone it has to be shared by the couple. Having said that, women shouldn’t deny cooking as good food keeps you happy and so does a clean house. The idea of feminism is very broad and it has no place for hollow arguments. The word ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ is often used interchangeably and far too generously, which makes it sound like a farce.
While talking about feminism and equality for women one can’t overlook the rights of the LGBT society. This would also mean limiting the idea of feminism and destroying its true essence. Article 377 of the Indian Penal code, 1860 made it an offense for a person to voluntarily have “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” You see homosexual sex is seen as ‘unnatural’ which itself is an attack on the liberal idea of ‘feminism’. In 2009 the Delhi High Court decision in Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi found Section 377 declared that “other legal prohibitions against private, adult, consensual, and non-commercial same-sex conduct to be in direct violation of fundamental rights provided by the Indian Constitution.” This law is applicable throughout the country and still, homosexual groups have been attacked and ostracized by the society. A section of the Indian society is homophobic and has a patronizing attitude towards the lesbian, gay and transgender community. It fails to acknowledge the presence of the ‘third gender’ as an integral part of mainstream society. The idea of feminism means equality of all genders however due to the narrow mentality of the Indian society the word ‘feminism’ becomes a sham.
Women alone are not at fault for distorting the idea of ‘feminism’. Sometimes, the conservative and patriarchal Indian society doesn’t let her forget her role as a nurturer and giver. The fact they can have a life outside the kitchen is not considered at all. There is a huge section of the woman population who can’t pursue their hobbies and job after marriage. It is in this arena true feminists should fight for the rights of these women who are not allowed to follow their hearts and instead have to slog day and night in the kitchen. The patriarchal system dictates women that she has to take care of the home even if she has a job. She has to balance her work and home unlike men who can come back and enjoy life. After all women are multitaskers.
Women who are open-minded and independent place their opinions openly are not viewed in a good light by society. She is called a ‘feminist’ when she is speaking her mind aloud. A man can voice their opinions, why can’t women? The patriarchal society feels that women need not be ambitious after all at the end of the day she has to cook and clean. Why can’t a woman be ambitious if she has the ability to perform well in her work. A women’s traditional role is imbued in a girl child. She is five dolls to play with and is also given a house set which she has to arrange. When she plays ‘house house’ she stays at home and makes tea which her brother or male friend pretends to come from the office and drinks it down. This game of ‘house house’ becomes a reality for women when they are married. They think it is ‘normal’ to cook and clean because it is only their job. The job of cooking, laundry and cleaning is also the husband or the male partner because he is staying under the same roof.
The patriarchal society also denies woman the right of having fantasies and desires, it is only reserved for woman. Those women who are in a ‘live in relationship’ are termed, ultra-modern women. This term ‘ultra-modern’ has a negative connotation. If a woman takes a bold decision to marry or live with someone outside wedlock she is termed ‘fast’. The concept of ‘female orgasm’ is absent in society since a man has the due right to have sexual desire. The theory of feminism says otherwise. Women should come together and campaign for the right to make choices regarding their life. After all she has the right to live life the way she wants rather than following the diktats of society.
Children tend to emulate their parents and it is a parent’s duty to make a girl child understand the importance of education and economic empowerment. That is perhaps the biggest gift she can give to herself. Thereby establishing an equal society where need for feminists will not exist and feminism would be synonymous with equality and dignity of woman. After all, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” as Simone de Beauvoir points out in her book ‘The Second Sex’ This is wishful thinking and it is only possible in a society where there is economic, social, and political equality for all genders. There needs to be an attitude change and only women can stand by each other an bring about that change in the thought process of the society. It is only then the idea of feminism will get a positive connotation and people will refrain from throwing this word recklessly. The fight is to restore ‘feminism’ in its true essence and let the society start viewing the concept positively. Remember, “All oppression creates a state of war. And this is no exception.” (Simone de Beauvoir, ‘The Second Sex’)