It’s common to hear the word “feminism” in the course of your usual dining table conversations and newsroom debates. This word is one of the most misused and misapprehended words of all time. What exactly does feminism mean? Is it a war against men? Does it include placing women above men?
Feminism is the notion that all humans are equal regardless of their gender. Feminism is uplifting women so that men and women are treated equally. It’s not about demeaning men or declaring them inferior. It’s not based on women having power over men; rather, the idea is that women should have power over themselves.
Most often, feminism is misconstrued as a “women’s movement” as it originates from the word “feminine”. But, it’s imperative we realise that feminism is not just a women’s movement, it’s a “movement for all humans”, that is concerned with the liberation of both, men and women. However, it’s important that we also accept that women have been the prime victims of years of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Feminism is an attempt to get rid of this notion of dominance and subordination, to bring both genders on the same level.
Even before the term feminism was introduced, we had some great feminist icons in our culture and history. Draupadi, a woman born out of the fire, avenged the humiliation meted out to her in the Mahabharata. Durga Maa, an incarnation of goddess Parvati, was created as an amalgamation of all the Gods to destroy evil. In the Ramayana, Sita fought for her independence and raised her two sons single-handedly. Rani Lakshmi Bai and Chand Bibi are other examples of immense courage and power.
India needs feminism because a woman should not be considered a responsibility of a male throughout her life, whether it be her father, brother, husband or son. Practices like ‘kanyadaan’, ‘Raksha Bandhan’ and the ‘purdah system’ where a woman is veiled behind a ghoonghat, highlight the extent of male dominance. These practices emphasise that strong, capable men have to protect the weak, fragile women and that women aren’t designed to protect, but to be protected.
India needs feminism because a woman is not a burden and marriage should not be the only reason for her existence. Every year over 2 lakh girls are killed even before they can step into this world and thousands of women die due to dowry harassment.
In many Indian households, males and females are treated differently; education, as well as nutrition for boys, is prioritised, while that of the girl is neglected. Women in many Indian families eat last and the least after serving all their other family members. This discrimination is reflected in the statistics released by the government, which states that almost 50 per cent of teenage Indian girls are underweight and 52 percent are anaemic.
India needs feminism because a woman is treated with disdain whether she is employed or not. A certain section of our society believes that it is an offence if a woman is well-educated and working, to support herself, or her family financially. Another sophomaniac section of our society believes that becoming a housewife would contribute little to women’s empowerment.
Women who choose to raise their children full time over continuing their career are criticised. But what is vital is to realise that just because a woman isn’t earning doesn’t mean her work is less important. Some research also points out how being a homemaker is equivalent to working 2.5 jobs. So, a profession shouldn’t be deemed important based on the amount of money it offers but on the amount of value it holds.
India needs feminism because a woman deserves the same amount of money and respect as a man does for performing the same tasks. Working women in India earn only 66% of what their male counterparts earn for the same amount of work. This gender pay gap and disparity in opportunities discourage women from performing well in the professional domain.
A report suggests that India would be 27% richer if there were higher employment rates of women. The glass ceiling effect is present in India, which means that there is an invisible barrier that prevents women from rising to higher ranks in a corporation. In India, females make up only 11.2% of board members in firms which is less than the global average. We can see the same trend in the newly elected 17th Lok Sabha where only 14% of the members are women.
The Women’s Reservation Bill, 2008 is a pending bill in the Parliament, which proposes to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The bill is still pending as it never went to the Lok Sabha. Women are considered ill-suited for holding power in a democracy, but what we don’t realise, is that any person who understands the problems of running a home, will be well suited to understanding the problems of running a country.
India needs feminism because we have maligned the purity of something as natural as menstruation and turned it into something unmentionable. Some Indian women on their periods are treated as untouchables. They aren’t allowed to enter the kitchen, forced to sleep on the floor; they cannot be touched, spoken to, neither can they share the same table with others.
Because of the stigma attached to it, there is a lack of awareness about the methods of menstrual protection. Data suggests that about 46 percent of women do not use hygienic methods of menstrual protection and36 percent feel uncomfortable in buying them with other customers around. India suffers from something called “period poverty” because we lack enough sanitary products to cater to our menstruating population. Another thing that comes to light is the hypocrisy, where on one hand we worship Kamakhya Devi, also known as the bleeding goddess, and on the other hand, we restrict women on their periods from entering her temple.
India needs feminism because even professions and family roles have been stereotyped based on gender. For example, professions like engineering, aviation, and military are considered masculine and professions like teaching, fashion designing, and homemaking are considered feminine. Stereotyping in family roles includes how men are expected to be the sole breadwinners of a family and females are presumed to single-handedly take up the responsibilities of managing the home.
India prides itself on producing great female warriors such as Rani Padmavati, Razia Sultana, and Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, yet the participation of women in the Indian defence forces is disheartening. Equal involvement of men and women in the army is still a far-fetched dream. This only supports the stereotype that masculinity implies physical strength and femininity, sentimentalism.
India needs feminism because no man should be under the pressure of being emotionally and physically stronger than a woman. It’s time that statements like “Mard ko dard nahi hota” and “Ladke rote nahi” are sidelined and men are not sneered at for volunteering to take up responsibilities at home.
India needs feminism because girls are shunned for their choice of clothing. There have been several unreasonable instances where fatwas have been issued against female celebrities for wearing western clothes, one of them for also wearing a saree. Another such appalling incident occurred when a prominent politician compared immodest clothes with an invitation to rape. Mindless WhatsApp forwards and misogynistic serials and movies that normalise stalking and eve-teasing worsen the situation.
It’s time we recognize that feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives this strength. Nobody should be afraid of being referred to as a feminist because it frees both men and women from the imposed gender stereotypes. Feminism shouldn’t be perceived as hostility against men because Me asking fr my rights will not deprive you of yours!