My girlfriend is a freelance writer, author, a marketing consultant, world traveler, yoga enthusiast, and in her own words a “full-time feminist”. She is a smart, attractive, charming, well-read, independent woman. I love her for who she is and I admire her for her success, ambitions, and dreams and respect her for being better than me at a lot of things. Being in a relationship with a partner who has strong ideals and vision has presented me the chance to converse, debate and learn. I love her for inspiring me; I love her for being my critic and catalyst for change. It’s liberating to see the person I love, believe in endless possibilities, and be the owner of a free and open mind. And the things I have learnt from her about feminism is what makes me write this article.
Any message propagating equal rights for women instigates a barrage of debates on both women’s and men’s right. The social media comes alive with internet trolls bombarding both the messenger and the movement. Most campaigns talk openly about women having/wanting the freedom to choose their work, attire, marriage, or decisions regarding sexual orientation, or sexual intercourse. They articulate how women are not bound to society or their male counterparts when it comes to their personal decisions. In a country such as India, that still holds strong that patriarchy is culture, this notion does not sit well.
Feminism by definition means “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. The key word here is “equality”. It’s not empowering one sex over the other; rather it is neutralizing the power imbalance. It is about elevating or empowering women, often unreasonably termed “the weaker sex”, who have been forced to battle an uphill battle.
Over the years, my camaraderie with radical feminists has aided me, in understanding and acknowledging the realities of both, “hostile sexism” and the concealed “benevolent sexism”. Hostile sexism which is relatively easier to identify is a general dislike towards women, emphasizing on the differences between women and men, and a devaluation of women. Benevolent sexism, which is harder to identify, is men assuming the role of protectors, implying in essence, that woman need to be protected. Personally I am not against men being chivalrous, but ask yourself if your kindness and graciousness is restricted to women alone because then you stand the chance to be frowned upon.
According to Caroline Bird (American author and feminist) “Sexism is judging people by their sex when sex doesn’t matter. Sexism is intended to rhyme with racism”. A profound statement which helps us better understand sexism and its effects. Sexism is as manifested and prevalent as racism is, and inhibits the growth of a progressive, free-thinking society.
The biggest problem is not in accepting that it is an issue, which needs to be adequately dealt with but the fact that many still consider sexism as a norm or as a customary practice – epitomizing women as the weaker sex, meant to be homemakers, constraining them to the notion of being pretty, dignified, motherly and novel, which leads to many tribulations such as gendered pay gaps, being stereotyped as sex “objects” or even these “wonderful beings”. A condemnatory statement such as, “You are a women/man” which confines you to behave/live a certain way is as offensive and undignified as saying, “Oh you are an Indian/ Pakistani/Chinese/African and hence you are supposed to be a certain way/ can’t do certain things”.
So what about men? Aren’t men treated differently based on sex? Absolutely! Men are forced to don the role of being the financial provider for the family; expected to be stable, practical, and career focused. Men are expected to take on many of the toughest and harshest jobs (mining, the army, firefighting, waste collection etc). They are ostracized and projected to be crude, violent and impassive and are considered poor caregivers. As a result they tend to lose custody of their children in most divorce cases. Many men are plagued by false rape accusations. In India the moment a woman files an FIR (First Information Report) against a man, the police can arrest the accused without any form of preliminary investigation. Masculinity is such a preconceived notion that often allegations of domestic violence committed by women are considered trivial, since men are expected to be stronger and competent of withstanding both emotional and physical agony.
The sole purpose of writing this is to impede discrimination of any kind, and is not in any way an effort to devalue men or to present women with unprecedented privileges. A motion for equality of the sexes should be the transformation in the attitude an intellectual society should strive for rather than enforced by law.
Does this make me a feminist? Absolutely!
Dedicated to my girl, for making me a better person.