Poulami Ghosh
Posted September 26, 2020 from India

It is common to hear the word “gender equality” during our usual dining table conversations and newsroom debates. Even young girls of 12- or 13-years age talk about EQUALITY in today’s world. So, things are changing slowly but surely and that is a positive sign. 

But unfortunately, the word is one of the most misused and misapprehended words of all time. So, what does, for example, feminism, the flag bearing term of gender equality mean? Is it a war against men? Does it include placing women above men? Is feminism about angry women shouting slogans or is it an alien-concept and does not have any relevance in our country? 

Why there is a stereotypical view for feminists across the world? whether the person is white or black, a homemaker or a professional, a religious being or an atheist, a male or a female!

Feminists hate men!!! A rightful oxymoron, isn’t it? But it is quite impossible to hate those with whom you want to be on equal status. Most often, feminism is misconstrued as a “women’s movement” as it originates from the word “feminine”. 

But it is imperative we realise that feminism is not just a women’s movement, it is a “movement for all humans”, that is concerned with the liberation of both, men and women. Besides, males are feminists too! Maybe, they are outnumbered by women but that is obvious since the violation of rights is intolerable for the victims themselves.Feminism is an attempt to bring both genders on the same level, across all social dimensions, racial dimensions, divisions created by colour, by faith, by religion. It is asking for just an equitable society which would encompass every single person.

A very French intellectual feminist wrote,” One is not born a woman but rather becomes one”. It means that women and men are born equal, but society makes them unequal. We are born with different genitals which makes us male and female. So why should biological difference lead to different social status?

Stereotyping and control over movements of men and women are the norms of our Indian society. Boys are asked to be brave, strong, articulate. It is 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.

Girls on the other hand are asked to be subdued, not to be argumentative. Today in urban class societies girls are always been pushed to achieve the maximum of their potential but it is the same household that tells that there is a “proper” way in which girls should sit and speak. Girls are not only told to be gentle but also their movements are restricted. They are told,” Don’t go by yourselves!”,” Come home before it is dark!”  Why girls are shunned for their choice of clothing and why are all the restrictions there for women? And if you break these rules and go out and get raped, you are to blame i.e. the victim of a crime is blamed for the crime committed on her. What kind of justice is this? And boys can loiter, hang around outside, have all the fun. Why? Because a woman could be sexually assaulted. We all have faced a moral conundrum in school when we studied about the concept of equality and our teachers told  that all of us were equal but at the same time said “Can a boy help me shift this desk”, “How many girls will volunteer for making Rangoli?”  Topics such as exploitation, violence, divorce, etc. are still a taboo in many households and surprisingly amongst all socio-economic groups. A female taking a bold step like a divorce is yet an indigestible factor and often the women who support these moves are looked down  upon as the breakers of the family, as brainwashers who only want to end families under the subtle pretext of freedom, equality and justice.

In many households even today, woman have the prime responsibility of nurturing and caring for the children. Why? Why is there son meta-preference in a lot of Indian homes where they keep having numerous children just to have a son or stop having children at all after the birth of a son? Simple questions, but food for thought! 

We find that there are certain rituals and customs which women in India continue to observe and actually these customs are very demeaning to the status of women. For example, let’s take two rituals which many of us know like ‘Vatasabitri Puja’ and the other is ‘Karvachauth’.In both the rituals, women pray to get the same husband for seven lives even if he is an alcoholic ,an abuser or a worthless man. So, do not we respect ourselves? Do not we deserve a husband who treat us with dignity and respect?  If we ask that why this is so,we are told this is our culture. It has always been so. But again, the question comes, who makes culture? And it is the people who make cultures across the world whether it is Hinduism, Islam or any other. So, society must move forward, and it must change these perceptions.  A woman deserves the same amount of money and respect as a man does for performing the same tasks. Equality comes if both Sachin Tendulkar and Mithali Raj who are champions in their exclusive domains are equally respected and paid. 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.

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 do not realise, is that any qualified person who understands the problems of running a home, will be well suited to understanding the problems of running a country.

It was in 1837 when a Utopian socialist and French Philosopher, Charles Fourier, coined the word, ‘Feminisme’.Over the years, the word meant different meanings to achieve various goals which all narrowed down to achieve equality. So, why is there a stereotypical view for feminists across the world?  Sadly, it is not only the men in the society that hold these kinds of above-mentioned notions for feminists and feminism. We have witnessed women having formed opinions too. 

“I believe in women’s empowerment, but I am against feminism.” “Women who are incapable of achieving something, forcibly extract rights through feminism”. “If you want the equality of the sexes, why don’t you call yourself a humanist, why feminist?”

These comments come from women who are unaware of the meaning and history of feminism. The problem with this is that women have internalized the inferior status forced on them to such a great extent that they feel that it’s a great act of benevolence by their male counterparts to give them a minimal amount of autonomy while also thinking that the perpetual compromises and sacrifices they make by not prioritizing them is actually a matter of pride.

Some think feminism is alien and western to our culture. This is absolutely wrong! Feminism is universal. Right from Draupadi of Mahabharata who questions Yudhistir’s right to gamble her away to Malala in Pakistan who stood up against the Islamic fundamentalists for denying girls the right to education to Toni Morrison , African-American novelist, who said ,’If you want to fly girl, get rid of all, that is reigning you down’. Apparently, it becomes clear that there is nothing alien about feminism.

Later, we have Savitri Bai Phulle, Pandita Rama Bai, Tara Bai Shinde. All these women were feminists because they questioned patriarchy and the control that men had over religion. They questioned casteism, they questioned enforced widowhood, child marriage and the denial for education to girls. The questioning begun then continues even today for the fear of abuse has not gone. Even privileged women are still waiting for things to change. 

Women in India should do anything small or big, anything that will enable them to voice in justice. Let us not forget an important thing that happened years back. The Right To Information Act (RTI) that we all talk about was born out of a struggle of poor labouring women, daily wagers in Rajasthan.

Young girls today are doing extremely innovative things. A bunch of young feminists have put together an exhibition of the clothes worn by rape victims. They have gone and collected it and this way they have proved and busted the patriarchal lie that women get raped because they are scantily dressed.

Feminism is the belief that a woman ought to be respected for being an individual rather than just being someone’s daughter, sister, wife etc. Feminism is the belief that a man can also be a victim. Feminism is the belief that every individual should have full freedom to express their sexual identity and own their sexual orientation without fear. 

So, ladies, when you tell that you do not believe in feminism you show an ungratefulness to the struggle of women who fought for ages so that we get our rights . And men, when you tell  you don’t believe in feminism, you have got to look into the eyes of the women you value and tell them that you don’t think they deserve all that they have and all that they strive for.

The canvas of society with its colourful picture wants to make up for the fact that everything is hunky-dory. But let us look at the plain white from which the canvas is made. It has a different story altogether. Let us for once, keep these preconceived notions aside and see feminists as who they are – a contributing factor as society’s changemakers to establish an equal world for all.

Comments 3

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Nini Mappo
Sep 27
Sep 27

Hello Poulami,
You have indeed tabled a lot here that is food for thought, and given a clear origin and objectives of feminism. I have often wondered why for woman, man is the standard, so that if she became like man, the she would be content? I also wondered from your article how the caste system influences on inequality , not just for women, but for both genders.
Myself, I am still investigating feminism, so I do not think I am qualified to comment. In the meantime, I will keep promoting the dignity and value of every woman, to be treated as worthy of respect and honour and wealth and equal opportunity, which I believe to also be a goal of feminism.
On the care of children, and only because you asked 'why?' I just observed that since most babies are breastfed, the baby starts life under the mother's care, and continues so. I have an 8 month old infant, and it wouldn't make sense to express the milk and give it to my husband to feed the baby, and even if I did, I would still be taking care of the baby. And then there's a maternal instinct, which is how mother's keep their babies safe. And I kid you not, if the baby chokes in his sleep, I wake up, my husband doesn't. There are some things beyond explanation. But then again, I have friends whose babies are formula fed and either the father does all the care, or it's 50/50. It depends on how liberated the man is.
However, female infanticide in favour of boys is evil and unpardonable:/ I watched a documentary of a section of India where one woman will be married to several brothers because they killed all the girls at infancy and now lack brides. So I wondered why they didn't put one and two together to realise the worth of girls in building stable communities?
On a different note, you put a lot of time and thought into this piece. Good on you, and thank you for raising the banner for women and girls with such eloquence and detail. Thank you ;)

Beth Lacey
Sep 28
Sep 28

I agree. The words feminist and women's movement can give a misguided flavor to what people are really trying to accomplish

Hello, Poulami,

You are a deep thinker, and you wrote executed those thoughts into writing excellently! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of what inequality in India looked like. You are right to ask many questions about how we perceive feminism and gender equality. It all begins at home.

In our house, my husband has his share of chores, and one of them is doing the laundry simply because he doesn't want to burden me with the heavy task considering I take care of our two children. I hope that our little ones could see how their father models this, those chores are not meant to be for women and girls alone. So in our actions, they will understand what equality is about even before we explain it to them.

I applaud you for taking the time to write this piece. Thank you for sharing with us your beautiful mind. Keep it up, dear. Speak up. Never allow anyone to silence you. Your truth is your power. Please continue to write more.

Have a great day!