Monday, May 30, 2011

Feminism 101

Every time I write/talk about something which is typically seen as a ‘feminist’ issue, I get some very strange responses which make me so angry and irritated that I am usually left sputtering in rage, and unable to give a calm and rational response. So this post is an attempt to address some of these questions/misconceptions about feminism once and for all.

1.   Feminists are frustrated, man-hating lesbians or divorcees: Actually, a majority of the feminists I know (including myself) are married to men or have male partners, and are very happy in their relationships. Some have children. Some feminists are lesbian. Some are divorcees. What I am trying to say is that feminists aren’t necessarily of a particular sexual orientation or marital/relationship status. In fact, feminists aren’t of a particular gender either – I am proud to know men who are feminists; and I am sure many trans-gendered people are feminists too.

Digression: I should also add here that lesbians don’t hate men. It’s just a sexual preference. Straight men don’t hate other men; straight women don’t hate other women, so why in the world would one think that lesbians hate men (or that gay men hate women).

2.      There are land mines in Africa/ orphans in India/ uncared for old people in China/ poor people around the world. Why don’t you speak up for them? There are a lot of problems in this world that need time, attention, money and resources. Different people feel strongly about different causes – it does not make other causes any less important. For example, my friend feels strongly about the environment – it does not take away from the critical nature of other problems such as poverty or unemployment or casteism. Similarly, just because I feel strongly about issues related to women does not mean that other issues are less important – it is just that I do not feel as strongly about them, and am therefore unable to dedicate as much resources to them.

3.      But men are victims of rape, abuse and oppression too! There is no denying that many men are victims of various forms of abuse too. And that is very unfortunate. But the reason why feminists talk more about women being abused is simply because the incidence of abuse against women is significantly higher than the incidence of abuse against men. However, what is stopping you from talking about it and raising awareness about the issue, if you feel so strongly about it? Such a discussion­ is much needed and would be very welcome.

Also, abuse against men DOES NOT make abuse against women any less horrible. The crime is reprehensible, irrespective of who the victim is. In fact, this touches a bit upon the topic of equality. When men are victims of abuse, it often becomes a topic for jokes. And that is very unfortunate – because an abused man suffers as much as an abused woman does – and it is awful when such suffering is turned into a joke. This fear of becoming the butt of jokes forces many abused men to stay silent. In an equal society, where we are not bound my patriarchal norms of how men and women should behave, abuse against men will be treated with the same amount of seriousness as abuse against women.  

4.      Men and women are not the same. Feminists are stupid to suggest such a thing.  Let me make one thing very clear: feminists do not, in fact, suggest that men and women are the same. Physically and mentally, we know that men and women are not the same. What feminists suggest is that men and women should be equal, in the sense of having equal opportunities and equal rights. Equal does not mean same.

For example, a lot of people ask me why women should have reservation on buses if they are the same as men. Women do not need reservation on buses as long as they have equal right as men to traveling safely in a bus without fear of being groped or pinched or harassed in any other form. Go on, ask all the women you know if they would prefer to have reserved seats in buses, or an environment in which, even without reserved seats, one can travel safely without the fear of harassment.

5.      The myth of the bra-burning feminist. Every time I get worked up about something which is seen as ‘feminist’, my friends chant “burn burn burn”. They do that to rile me up, and it works, every single time! But essentially, the bra-burning of the 60’s feminist movement was symbolic. Symbolic. You can look that up here.

As this article puts it “The symbolic act of tossing those clothes into the trash can was meant as a serious critique of the modern beauty culture, of valuing women for their looks instead of their whole self. ‘Going braless’ felt like a revolutionary act - being comfortable above meeting social expectations.”

Also, apart from the teeny tiny irrelevant little fact that there is a lot of literature out there about bra-burning feminists being a myth, with no basis in actual events, none of the modern feminists I know have burnt their bras. I know that sounds unbelievable, but its true. And it shouldn’t be so surprising because good bras are expensive and hard to find, especially in India. So I’m keeping mine, thanks!

Feminists who are reading this, please pitch in with other points which are relevant to this discussion. Everyone else, feel free to ask any other questions you may have.


Anonymous said...

can`t agree with you more on 1,2,3. reservation in buses hardly helps. Those seats are occupied by men and not many ladies ask them to get up. All I disapprove of feminism is reservation in educational institutions. It should be the brain that matters but not the chromosomes.

Abhishek Ghosh said...

Why "101"? is that a bus number?

Abhishek Ghosh said...

i also feel as someone said that a woman who's trying to be a man's equal is not ambitious enough. Also, i feel there's a terrible need for women to please those around them. Read somewhere that the primary need for a woman is to feel cherished and for a man is to feel not shamed. women go through hoops to be cherished and to be approved, partly the whole need to be 'mere' equals to men arises out of this. when ure seeking approval from others (especially when those others are hapless men), there would be the sporadic need to be counted as equals, which u (women) already are. they need to exercise it more than demand it.

Ramya said...

@Manoj: I am actually against reservation, but I am honestly ambivalent about my stand on reservation for women. Because while I support the end goal (which is to get more girls into higher education), I am against reservations per se, and am also not convinced that this is the most effective way of achieving that end goal.

But you have to keep in mind that reservation for women is above and beyond a question of merit. For example, most poor families, and many lower middle class families do not want their daughters to go for higher education - the cost of education is a factor, opportunity costs (potential income loss), difficulty of getting a suitable groom for a more educated girl, the all too common sense of 'why does a girl need to study so much' - all of these play into why there are so few girls at the higher education levels. So yes, something definitely needs to be done to encourage families to send their daughters to colleges and universities. Only, reservation for girls isn't the best way of going about achieving this.

Ramya said...

@Abhishek: 101 because its usually the course code for an introductory course.

When you talk about a woman who is trying to be a man's equal, you are actually talking about their state of mind or emotional wellbeing. You are saying that women should be able to think that they are good as men.

And I agree that this is an important aspect - whether, in her mind, a woman views herself as equal to a man. In fact, whether that should even be something that she aspires too.

But when I bring up equality, I am talking about baser things really. I haven't really thought to myself whether or not I am equal to men, that doesnt really matter to me - but what does matter to me is that like men, I should have the freedom to walk on the road and take a bus without being subject to hungry stares, lewd comments and groping. What does matter to me is that like men, if I come home after a late night show, I am ale to go home without worrying about getting raped or molested. What does matter to me is that like men, when I get married, I don't need to worry about how much dowry my parents need to give, whether I will be able to adjust in my in-laws/husbands household, whether said in-laws/husband will be kind to me or if they will abuse me etc. What does matter to me is that just like my son, my daughter will also be allowed to live.

Of course, I am very privileged, and don't actually have to worry about most of these things. So I can sit and pontificate on posts such as these. But for far too many Indian women, this is the reality of their daily lives.

Indian Home Maker said...

//Go on, ask all the women you know if they would prefer to have reserved seats in buses, or an environment in which, even without reserved seats, one can travel safely without the fear of harassment.//

Well said.
Loved this post!!!

Ramya said...

@IHM: Thank you!

Post a Comment

Go on, make my day!