It’s so ironic that in today’s world while there’s so much talk of women not being treated equally and getting a raw deal in various aspects of life in comparison to men, the term ‘feminism’ is just like a cuss word. It’s a subject that raises eyebrows, transforms neutral expressions into frowns, and turns casual conversations into heated debates, probably in the same order.
Recently, a woman friend told me that she wasn’t a ‘feminist’ but an ‘equalist’. When I told her that they were both the same concepts as the former was a part of the latter, she argued that for the same reason we need just one concept, i.e., equalism, to which I strongly disagreed. Knowing her pretty well, I told her she was indeed a feminist. My friend, however, wasn’t keen on being called so because she thought she would be perceived as aggressive! On Facebook, I was reading people’s reactions to a woman’s status message that public conversations about menstruation shouldn’t be taboo. One person had written that in saying so she was being a “stupid feminist”. I was disappointed but not surprised as the word ‘stupid’ has almost been permanently pre-fixed to the term ‘feminist’ in popular discourse.
The concept of feminism has been so vastly abused and bastardised over the years that even genuine feminists don’t want to be associated with it. What is it about this concept that hits a raw nerve not just in India, which is largely patriarchal, but in different parts of the world including Western developed countries? Is feminism really despotic and whimsical as it is made out to be?
Feminism simply means equality of the sexes Feminism is a fundamental belief system that stems out of logic and equality. Such a straightforward concept has been highly misunderstood and turned upside down into a complicated mess. Feminism simply means that despite the biological differences between them, men and women are totally equal. No, it certainly doesn’t mean that women are superior or that men are stupid.
There are mainly two kinds of opposition to feminism — one is from people who do not believe in equality between the two predominant sexes and feel that they are different, thus unequal. They often dismiss the concept of feminism as being utopian. The second is from people who believe in equality between males and females but are affected by myths around the concept.
The first category denounces feminism because they are afraid it will shake the existing power-structures of society. Also, I believe that women feminists themselves have a role to play in making feminism look bad. A lot of them get overwhelmed and aggressive in their quest for gender equality. And it would be wrong to blame them for it. Most women face so much discrimination, obvious as well as obscure, from a very young age that they ought to be disturbed by it. On top of that the fight against gender prejudices is so very tough that it adds to the woes of the struggling women.
Conformist gender prejudices have been ingrained so deeply in the minds of most people that they do not seem unnatural or unequal. Gender stereotyping has made misogyny pervasive and given a menacing reputation to the legitimate fight for gender equality. It takes enormous amounts of energy and emotional prowess to question and stand up to gender disparity, and to prove through both argument and action that men and women are equally capable. Let’s not belittle the struggles of generations of women, and men, who have stood against all odds to question and defy orthodoxies concerning males and females, which is no mean feat.
Next issue: Why feminism is needed inspite of the concept of equalism.