By Naini Singh:
Indian feminists have continued to under-perform, but not because they choose to attain mediocrity from their actions or solve petty questions of social jurisdiction. To this day, if the western world still debates whether the word ‘feminist’ is a dirty word, there remains little hope for a modicum of respect to be given for a point of view that has suffered stigmatization since its coinage and existence. Before the word was put into being, points of views coinciding and aligning with feminism reaped no rewards. Those who chose to accept them- from the medieval witch-hunts, a patriarchal campaign that continues to this day. Emancipated women, women with power, women with the will to demand equity were the Game. Unlike the older times, the witch-hunts of today have a new label- instead of the word ‘witch’ they choose to brand the woman with the simple yet heavy tag of a Feminist. Just like in the older times, the prey is punished- by further stigmatization and subjugation.
In a country like India where for most part of the last century women had no right to inherit property, the non-male population has been handed a rougher, rawer deal than their western counterparts. There was no outrageous Women’s Liberation Movement, no push from the fever of a Flower Power generation to carry a revolution on and no sign from the patriarchy that it was ready to listen to the voice of the women.
The lack of mainstream support for women’s issues leaves much to be desired- such agendas are seen as misguided and a by-product of western hedonism by the right-wing, while proud male-supremacists approach such movements and expression to be sign of non-conformist women-folk eager to ‘seize power’, for want of a better phrase. Misogyny carries on in our country, and lack of faith in women’s causes as well as unwillingness to compromise makes for a shallow setting. The drama surrounding the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Indian Parliament is a testimony to the chauvinistic attitudes pervading among the ruling class of this country- men. One does not necessarily have to assume that all men have it bad. It is merely easier to admit that women just don’t have it as good, from the sense of ease in an unfamiliar neighbourhood to that big promotion at the workplace.
This fear of emasculation begins with social conditioning- forget female foeticide, households positively reinforce male dominance and righteousness by awarding asymmetrical systems of duties and responsibilities and unequal distribution of household resources between siblings of different sexes. Those who will protest against this statement probably won’t account for the millions of households in small metros, towns and villages where gender oppression is a way of life; even in large cities, such family practices percolate socio-economic barriers. Our conditioning extends itself to colour perception of strong-headed, independent women as negative influences while an aggressive archetype of an Alpha-male is seen as role-model worthy.
While it may be too strong an assertion to make that all men equally reject pro-feminine and feminist policies, especially in the wake of gender budgeting taking on a greater role as a policy tool by the Indian government or a number of men being employed in fields related to gender equality, an unfortunate reality holds that the common man is at best inclined to view feminism as a frivolous academic pursuit and sees protests and social rallies such as the recent ‘Besharmi Morcha’ in New Delhi as a shameless display of unwarranted and misplaced feminine angst.
However, a positive transition is alive, currently. A growing number of women are employed in the workforce, with many earning just as much as their husbands or even more. Greater investment and funding in projects which involve female-oriented legal literacy campaigns in towns and villages as well as gender-sensitive lobbying by umbrella organizations working to effect changes in legislature and budgeting. While all these efforts are welcome and essential towards meeting gender equality goals, one is yet to see an effort on a large scale that attempts in changing perspectives of Indian men. A majority of the projects are female-centric and female-oriented, with very few aiming to counsel, train or reach out to menfolk. Gender sensitivity remains an intellectual privilege not limited to class or wealth, but to those men who recognize that emasculation is not the desired end-product of female empowerment and women who are fortunate enough to be in proximity of such men.