“The tongue is like a sharp knife, it kills without drawing blood” yes, words are powerful. If channelled the right away it can be used to kill ideas. Ideas filled with hate and bigotry. Ideas that stop us from progressing as a society and as an individual. The word is feminism. The purpose of this article is to first break down the essentials of feminism, the various arguments against feminism and why association with the term is important.
What is feminism?
A simple definition I would like to put forward.
Feminism means both genders are treated equally by institutions and individuals.
Two things flow from this definition.
Many men and even woman cite literature to show the physical differences between a man and a woman and claim that since physically a man and a woman aren’t equal it logically follows that feminism is flawed. However this is a big misconception. Let me explain why with a simple example. Take yourself (or if you are a girl any guy you know), the best athlete in your college, the smartest kid in class and compare yourselves, infact add your able older brother and your aged grandfather to that list. Are you all physiologically equal? The answer is no. So does it justify for your grandfather to have lesser rights than you because he is old and weak? No it doesn’t. The underlying principle is that in order to be treated equally it is NOT a necessary condition for two individuals to be almost perfectly the same. The very crucial point here is that just because two human beings are different in terms of age, gender, colour, disabilities etc doesn’t justify treating them unequally and discriminately. In fact no two human beings are the same, everybody is unique. The only non-arbitrary metric that can be used to give two individuals equal rights is the fact that they are human beings, no more or no less.
Institutions essentially mean corporations, governments etc. When woman fight for equal pay for equal work it comes under the ambet of feminism because in spite of having equal qualifications to men they are paid lesser. The ultimate benefactor of this institutionalised discrimination is these corporates who use patriarchy as a mean to further their agenda of profit. But only this time profit unscrupulously. Even in so called developed countries like America woman are paid only 77 cents to a dollar.
Now the second idea being spoken about is not to discriminate anybody at an individual level. Let me explain this with a very troubling narrative floating around society. Slut shaming. Promiscuity when indulged in by men is seen as something cool and when indulged by woman is seen as something blasphemous. Why is there different norms of morality for Men and Woman? This is deep rooted in the trajectory of viewing woman as objects. For a long period of time woman were viewed as objects that could be bought and sold, this explains why prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. A female’s value was infact conditional on her chastity. Over a period of time with the first wave of feminism the idea that woman were more than commodities to satisfy a man in bed and to cook in the kitchen were acknowledged by a few. But still even in the 21st century this deep rooted misogynistic notion than a woman derives value based on how ‘pure’ and ‘unused’ she is, is far from being eliminated. Yes, slut-shaming has a deep rooted link in my opinion to structures which existed in society which systematically alienated woman for the ideas of rights and choice. Remember if you concede to different standards of morality for men and woman by justifying arguments with no history or context like ‘this is our culture, practice’ etc you are setting a dangerous precedent by reaffirming arguments in favour of systematic commodification of woman.
Now that I have contextualised what essentially feminism stands for let me try to break down two of the common arguments against feminism.
Let’s play a simple game of cause and effect:
Effect: Misogyny, sexism, slut shaming, denying education, frowning upon working women etc.
Effect: Men can’t cry, random gender stereotypes, if you can’t find a job you are a failure etc.
It’s funny how two genders ramble about two effects of the same cause yet can’t come to harmony in fighting that cause. Unreasonable responsibility for one and unreasonable restrictions for the other are two sides of the same coin. Shackled by manufactured ideas of roles and responsibilities, the only solution we have is to come together and fight together. So the idea of fighting patriarchy which is the ultimate goal of feminism benefits not only woman but helps men alienate the unfair responsibilities imposed on them by the current normative structure.
I agree completely. Some woman take it very far and say very unpleasant things. The question is does that justify your alienation from the movement? I strongly disagree. In every movement we see the uncanny fringe like the Black panthers who stood for black rights post the civil rights movement but who also indulged in violence in furtherance of the same. Similarly we see fringe elements in the feminist movement as well. So because of the black panthers and let’s say radical views expressed by the BLM would you dissociate your support from an ideology that supports a black person’s rights? You wouldn’t. Similarly you shouldn’t from the feminist movement. When encountering the fringe it’s only sensible that we fight to stand our ground instead of dissociating ourselves and letting the fringe become the mainstream. This is especially for woman who bash feminism. Like seriously why would someone NOT want to be treated properly?
To many men out there it sometimes reaches a saturating point when talking about feminism with some woman because we (as in the male gender) constantly get blamed during the discourse. Here is where I think we should resonate to the virtue of empathy. Let us understand than most of these woman have first-hand experiences of being cat-called, groped, slut-shammed etc. So it’s understandable although maybe not be justifiable if a female while discussing these ideas lets her emotion take over reason. I believe the outcome will be very constructive if we (men), not being victims (in most cases) understand this very tenant of human nature of getting emotional in discourses which have effected a his/her integrity on a personal level. This is something I learnt personally only a few months ago. So let us try to empathize and be more reasonable by not taking the easy way out by storming away from difficult conversations and disassociating ourselves from the very idea itself.
THE SIMPLE TEST:
A1: She is drinking alcohol, what a slut, skank and a whore.
A2: She shouldn’t drink because she is pregnant.
A1 is faulty because he expects everyone to conform to his standards of morality. A2 is not because he provides why only woman shouldn’t do something at a particular point of time backed by scientific data and he doesn’t involve himself in meaningless name calling but suggests the other alternative respectfully. That is to not drink.
So, basically as long as you don’t judge people arbitrarily on your standards of morality you are fine. Doesn’t seem too hard does it? It isn’t. Trust me.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH FEMINISM TODAY?
Some woman have tried to highjack the idea of feminism into this idea of transcendence, trying to emancipate by seeking fellow woman to behave like men. This I believe is poor understanding of what feminism has stood far. No, feminism has never asked woman to set men as their metric to try and replicate, No, feminism has never said that a female should necessarily loose touch with her feminity, No, feminism doesn’t mean never bare a child. Feminism means be yourself and exercise your rights. As simple as that. You don’t have to sacrifice your identity to exercise feminism. In fact feminism has always stood for the idea that your identity of being a woman and having feminine characteristics shouldn’t be a barrier to you getting equal rights. So this bizzare idea that gender identity itself is a ‘constructed concept’ is vague, baseless, void of scientific data and only a step backword in feminist movement.
The purpose of this article has been to address the various fears of the word feminism and what it actually entitles. Why there is need for every Man and Woman to associate himself/herself with this movement. Let’s fight patriarchy which thrives on people’s insecurities. Let diversity of participants be the strength of this movement and not its achille’s heel. “For most of history anonymous was a woman” said Virginia woolf but let’s come together and promise that for most of the future anything but anonymous will be woman.