By Amrita De:
A few days ago, I was asked for what felt like the 100th time, that if I am against discriminations et al., why would I box myself in as a feminist?
Why wouldn’t I instead call myself a Humanist, maybe? These questions are immediately followed by explanations of how feminism is narrow because it only stands for women. I would tend to agree that feminism has been exclusionary; mainstream feminism has been critiqued for only fighting for rights of white, cisgender, heterosexual and (In India) Savarna women.
But the people wanting to replace feminism with humanism are certainly not arguing for intersectionality; they simply believe that feminism somehow privileges women over men. They find feminism pointless, even discriminatory towards privileged groups. They speak ‘for’ women while falling into patriarchal traps of wishing to protect women’s ‘honor’, demanding rapists to be castrated, ‘respecting’ women for their ‘divinity’/ ‘sacrificial motherhood’, etc.
While I am grateful for the people who have patiently called me out on any non-intersectional feminist stands that I have taken, understanding feminism simply as ‘privileging’ women over men is to understand patriarchy simply as a system of men dominating over women, and feminism wanting to reverse this order.
At risk of repeating this oft-repeated assertion – feminism does not want female dominance in place of male dominance; it wants equality. After years of sustained critique for being exclusionary, feminism has come to stand for dismantling all hierarchies of gender, caste, class, race, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, etc.
These oppressive systems together make up Patriarchy, which is what Feminism hates, not men. I do believe that feminism by definition has to be intersectional, and it is then accessible and stands for all.
An intersectional feminism understands that –
Patriarchy is a graded system of hierarchies of one class over another, one caste over another, one religion over another, one language group over another, one sexuality over another, one ability over another and so on and on till you have a massive pyramid with many layers of oppression.
Those at the top of the pyramid (upper caste, male, cisnormative, heternormative, able, etc.) have the most power and control over resources, and those at the bottom have the least.
Within each category of people (say, Brahmins) the males of that group overall have more power over the females (most Brahmin men have more power than most Brahmin women). This is true for those at the bottom of the pyramid too (Dalit men will have overall more power than Dalit women). This does not mean that all females in the pyramid are at the bottom (Brahmin women certainly have more power in most aspects than Dalit men. But in some situations where equations of gender overpower equations of caste, Dalit men will have more power than Brahmin women).
There might of course be a sizeable population of poor Brahmins, but they wouldn’t face discrimination for being Brahmin, they would face problems for being poor – that said, being a poor Brahmin is radically different from being a poor Dalit.
Following from the above, it is easy to make out that women are in oppressive positions – both towards other women and towards men. Oppression under patriarchy is not done through any particular category of people, though of course majority of the oppression is through those in power.
As soon as any one of the oppressed takes on a patriarchal role, they can easily become the oppressor. Many a times, cases of ‘women being enemies of women’ are cited as examples of how feminism has got it wrong – that women oppress other women out of jealousy, that men usually don’t oppress women at all.
The second part of that statement is inherently untrue, one only needs to take a cursory look at the vast statistics of violence against women, and misogyny, perpetrated by men.
The first part unfortunately, is not that untrue. Women do oppress other women – not because they are simplistically jealous of each other – but because of the relative position of power that patriarchy places them in.
It must be said here that between men and women, women face hatred, violence and violation of basic human rights because they are women. All things considered, men are not discriminated against for being men. They are surely discriminated against, but because of their class/caste/religion and so on. Does that mean men and boys are not oppressed because of their gender? They are.
The creation of artificial and unequal gender roles disempower women as a whole, while also affecting men.
Boys are not allowed to cry, boys are pressurized by peers into various forms of toxic masculinity, men who are powerless and vulnerable in respect to other men and sometimes to women are raped, men who do not confirm to ‘manliness’ get harassed and mocked, transmen are not accepted as men, men are not seen as capable of taking care of children and therefore lose custody of their children in case of conflict with their partner, young men are legally accused of ‘raping‘ their consenting partners because the patriarchal society frowns upon sexual activity of young people especially when belonging to different castes, etc.
It is patriarchy that causes these men’s rights violations, and it is feminism which fights against these violations. Not the men’s rights activists – they are more men’s privilege activists; they are homophobic, transphobic and sexist.
Women and men who follow the gender roles prescribed for them have relatively more power than those who don’t. Those who don’t follow these roles – women and men – suffer in various degrees.
Different kinds of patriarchies are more prevalent in different regions, cultures or ages, depending on the system of oppression that it allies with.
For example, in India, caste and religion oppress the most – so patriarchy takes on the form of Brahminical Patriarchy. On a global scale, the capitalist economy is impacting people’s lives more than religion or politics – so patriarchy on a world stage is taking the form of Capitalist Patriarchy.
Feminism fights this Patriarchy. Different kinds of feminisms have developed to fight these different kinds of patriarchy – so there is Ambedkarite feminism, Marxist feminism, Eco-feminism, radical feminism, queer feminism, etc.
Feminism, ideally, has to be a number of feminisms that are accessible to people and made by people as they need them. Feminism thus is, very simply, for all.