Feminism demands equal rights for all human beings. However, there seems to be a colossal misinterpretation of this term. Most people, who resort to popular culture for the comprehension of feminism, fear that it attempts to propagate inequality by placing women above men in the larger social structure. Due to the popular perception of the term, this fear is legitimate, as it reinstates a certain form of inequality as understood by most people. Nonetheless, this fear in itself reflects the patriarchal frame of mind that people possess. The thought of women over-riding men threatens their existence. However, the goal of feminism is to achieve gender equality. It takes into account the people who are marginalised due to their ‘feminine’ characteristics, irrespective of their sex.
From time immemorial, femininity has been associated with weakness, whereas masculinity has been associated with strength. Patriarchy is propagated among toddlers since the inception of primary socialisation, making them deduce that strength is portrayed through aggression, which is essentially ‘masculine’ in nature. On the other hand, they are made to believe that peacefulness and tenderness is associated with weakness, which are essentially ‘feminine’ features. It is generally seen that young boys and girls’ behaviours are demarcated on the basis of the binary opposition of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. Hence, they are taught to speak, dress, and act in certain manners that adhere to the popular definitions of the binaries. Moreover, it is seen that even between children belonging to the same sex, there is a perceptible distinction between those who are ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, of which they are made aware from a tender age. Such stereotyped patriarchal socialisation leads to the notion that masculinity must be the order of the day. In such a situation, when feminists attempt to step in and demand equality, it seems to many that the tables are being turned to propagate inequality in the other direction. It is then evident that when someone is born with institutional privilege, equality seems like oppression!
It is a normal practice among parents to teach their children the basic manners of behaviour in a gendered pattern. Boys are taught to be emotionally strong, which entails holding back certain emotions like anxiety, agony, sorrow, and depression. They are also taught to be aggressive and protective of their sisters. These are the supposed social markers of masculinity. Girls, however, are taught to be benign, soft-spoken, and emotionally expressive because these are the assumed markers of femininity. Among children belonging to the same sex, too, these undertones are tactfully played out. Boys who fancy lighter colours, love playing with dolls, speak softly, and express their emotions openly, are considered to be implausible and unnecessarily ‘feminine’. More than often they are ridiculed by others of their age who call them ‘sissies’ and ‘effeminate’. Similarly, girls who fancy darker colours, love playing physically exhausting games, speak loudly, and are not quite expressive in terms of emotions, are considered to be essentially ‘masculine’, and you might call such girls ‘tomboys’.
Hegemonic masculinity is endorsed by teaching children patriarchal values that validate masculine features as markers of domination and strength, and feminine features as that of submission and fragility. Thus, it is incontestable that patriarchy propagates inequality by enacting the binaries of male and female characteristics, irrespective of sex. Adhering to the same pattern of explanation, the pursuit of feminism is to do away with gender-based inequality. Just the way in which patriarchy negatively affects men as well as women, feminism seeks to cater to both.
Furthermore, hegemonic masculinity culminates into sheer inequality in the larger social and political framework, with the rise of capitalist forces that rely on patriarchy, as they constantly propagate inequality by suppressing ‘feminine’ voices.
In the modern global capitalist system, there is an arduous inequality between people from different nations and classes. This inequality too culminates into a gender-based one, as there is something called the “Feminisation of the Other”. It is a common practice during every kind of activity that involves international politics, to associate power and achievement with ‘masculinity’, by exhibiting aggression and domination. Similarly, the party or State that fails to make a mark in such international relations is deemed as ‘feminine’ due to its palpable fragility. This notion reaches its pinnacle during situations of international conflicts and wars. The warring camps display vigour in terms of their ability to propagate terror and aggression, which are seen as masculine characteristics.
Situations like global conflicts are perfect examples for feminism to display its accurate essence, which is recurrently misconstrued and neglected. Hence, I shall use the example of the aforesaid situation in order to explain what exactly feminism looks into and demands. When two or more States engage in warfare, each group attempts to win by applying numerous tactics. Such dispositions are largely based on gendered attacks on each other. It is an everyday affair to defeat the opposing camp and then ‘feminise’ its members by calling them fragile and effeminate. Sexual assaults are commonplace during wars because it transmits the belief that the act of raping is equal to that of winning, as rape is perceived to be an aggressive and masculine activity. During conflicts, the group that wins goes on a rampage in which its members actively engage in mocking the defeated groups by calling them abusive names that are equivalent to being feminine in nature. Rapes and other forms of sexual assaults are perpetrated as acts of victory because of their masculine identity, as mentioned earlier.
Another issue that must be taken into account is that, due to the existence of patriarchal societies all over the world, female sexuality is considered to be sacred because women are perceived to be carriers of the upcoming generations and the integrity of their communities. Hence, the popular idea during wars is that raping women of a particular community and impregnating them is equivalent to raping the entire community ripping it of its ‘honour’. It is therefore clear that women are mostly seen as child bearers who must keep the male lineage alive. However, when men are raped during wars, the perpetrators do so with the belief that they conduct masculine aggression and thereby prove themselves to be in the highest form of their masculinities. “Feminisation of the Other” is an extremely common practice in international politics and conflicts. These activities prove that patriarchy, which gives rise to hegemonic masculinity, is a toxic social establishment that affects all human beings.
Gender-based division of labour is what capitalism relies on, to keep the social institutions under its firm grip. Patriarchy and capitalism thus act concurrently. Our lives are controlled by the patriarchal institutions in such a manner that everything that we do is based on sexist notions, which essentially associate strength with ‘masculinity and weakness with femininity. Our language, beliefs, actions, attire, and emotions are solely based on patriarchal’ concepts. Hence, feminism is a revolutionary tool that the world requires urgently, so that the routine perpetration of sexism can be put to rest by granting equal rights to everybody. Gender-based inequality is at the core of most forms of social divisions. Therefore, it is high time that we think about the importance of feminism and try to comprehend its literal essence so that a metamorphosis in the larger society, which speaks of gender equality, can be brought about.