There are some moments in the midst of a conversation that take your mind far away from the conversation itself. While talking to a friend of mine a few days ago, my argument effortlessly took a feminist turn. I can’t help it anymore. That’s where I keep getting.
As the words traversed the difficult grounds of surnames, marriage, and child rearing... he quietened. After searching for an answer on top of the bubbles of the aerated drink, he answered me with a question. “So do you mean that we must destroy the family system itself? Brave New World? Is that where we are going?”
I could not answer. Not right then.
Finding the answer
For those who haven’t read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, it is a benchmark in dystopian science fiction which predicts the ills of rampant scientific advancement. In the world that the author meticulously creates, children are born in laboratories, brought up in conditioning centres and are made to work for the community. ‘Everyone belongs to everyone else’ so no one owns anyone. Emotions, literature, art, thought and family are strictly not a part of the design.
When you think about the true spirit of feminism which demands absolute equality in all spheres of life, difficult questions begin to surface. Who will take care of the kids and the elderly? What will be the definition of ‘home’ if no one is at home? What will happen to personal relationships if people are working and living individualistic lives? Apparently, Brave New World is a good solution.
I think it is a truth we need to acknowledge that the very base of the family system in unfair and corrupted (read patriarchal). Betty Friedan, founder of the National Organisation for Women (USA)defined the family as “a comfortable concentration camp.”After sailing into the sacred marital waters, a girl becomes a part of the boy’s family, changes her name and gives birth to kids who follow HIS family line, stays at home and looks after them and is questioned about the future of her kids as soon as she decides to do something for herself, because the kids will get choked and die if their mother and only their mother is not around. A 19th century play calledThe Fatherby Strindberg seems to conclude that the sexual differences between the two sexes were so vast that they were enough to be two different species.The only possible way to establish a stable system out of these differences was to let either radical patriarchy or (what he feared) radical matriarchy rule. We all know what happened.
Even after reaching such disturbing levels of awareness, we cannot crumble the very foundations of the family system overnight. But what we can do is take a step forward. First of all, we need to accept thatkids do not need their parents breathing down their necks all the time.Once the kids start attending school, they become capable enough to spend a few hours without their mommies at home. They can pretty well occupy themselves with grandpas and grannies, nannies, toys and glasses of milk till mommy and daddy come back.
“The positions which women already occupy in society and the duties which they perform are, in the main, what they should be if our view is correct; and any attempt to improve the condition of women by ignoring or obliterating the intellectual differences between them must result in disaster to the race.”- WK Brooks, Professor of Biology at John Hopkins University.
In contrast to the above, I use this space to bring out exceptions which allow women space to march ahead in their lives without being bizarre mothers.
Australian Aboriginals are the natives of the Australian continent. Besides being an old clan, they are the oft-quoted example of community child-rearing. It is a simple and effective system which works on the basic principles of faith and togetherness. The community as a whole watches over the kids, leaving the parents with less stress and more space. If a seven year old kid gets beaten up at school and comes back injured, fifteen different uncles and aunts come running with bandage and bully- tackling advice, while the mother may be in a meeting and dad could be teaching a mathematics class- as simple as that. Children of this community are seen to internalise a deep sense of regard for elders and grow up to become extremely responsible, confident and congenial adults. This in turn, not only leaves time for personal for growth and recreation for the parents but also gives them time to strengthen their relationship. This leaves a small happy family in a larger happy community.
The Pioneer of Feminist Understanding- Swedish Government
According to the World Economic Forum, Sweden has one of the narrowest gender gaps in the world. The Swedish government has undertaken a series of intelligent plans and reforms to bring about gender equality. Almost 90% of Swedish fathers take paternity leaves to stay at home with their children.This has happened due to the gender neutral paid leaves offered to the parents. This system of allowances was introduced about 40 years ago as a pivotal and first of its kind reform in the world. In 1995, the concept of‘Daddy month’was introduced where if each parent took at least a month of parental leaves, they would be rewarded an additional month! This has encouraged fathers to stay at home as much as the mothers, strengthening the bonds.Women in Sweden have actually reported greater levels of happiness and increasing incomes while men are now voluntarily taking responsibilities in child rearing.
What would it be like if women win?
In a much talked about article ‘What would it be like if women win?’published in 1970 in the Time Magazine, American feminist Gloria Steinem highlights the benefits the society stands to reap if the feminist movement gets what it wants.
“No more unequal partnerships that eventually doom love andsex;men who are encouraged to spend a lifetime living with inferiors;with housekeepers, or dependent creatures who are still children. Nomore domineering wives, emasculating women, and 'Jewish mothers' , all of whom are simply human beings with all their normal ambition and drive confined to the home.”
The success of this grand movement of equality seeks to reform and strengthen the family system by giving it a completely new direction and meaning instead of destroying it. Mindless critics and hardcore patriarchs better take note of that.
What if a womandoesn'twant a family at all?
“Whyshouldn'tit be that a woman who wants to have some part in child-rearing,butdoesn'twant to have a part in child-bearing, or who wants to havenothing to do with either, can inhabit her gender without an implicit sense of failure or inadequacy?” – Judith Butler.
The problem with the gendering of social roles and pervasive sex is that they are oppressive! If a woman doesn't want to be a part of the family system and wants to take her life in her own tide, it is seen as the spell of notorious feminism instead of it being a personal choice. Like all men in this world are positively dying to commit themselves to the woman of their dreams!
A book I read when I was hardly seven years of age acquainted me with the ‘harsh reality’ of women wanting to live their own lives. RK Narayan’sThe Painter of Signs (1976)altered my perspective completely. It is not necessary for a woman to fall in love, live with a man, have four kids to feed and touch dirty feet of people she doesn't know or understand. She can walk alone from village to village and work for the country (as the girl in the book does) or do something completely different like... nothing at all! She would still be a woman.
“However bizarrely a woman may behave, Beauvoir would not dream of denying her the name of woman”- Toril Moi in her essay ‘What Is a Woman?’talking about The Second Sexby Beauvoir.
The feminist movement around the world is an attempt to bring to the surface thegrand system of equality, faith and interdependencewhich is inherently present in human beings. It is an effort to restore the dignity of half the population of the globe and to highlight the sheer injustice and wrongness of not agreeing to do so. We are bringing forth the point that we are human beings. You do not need to worship us just like you do not need to humiliate us. We are not even trying to shake the foundations of society; we are just trying to eliminate the injustices it currently has. We have taken Huxley’s warning seriously and are trying to establish a NEW WORLD where everyone is brave and happy.