DO YOU REALLY KNOW WHAT FEMINISM IS?
The other day I had a very funny conversation with a friend of mine. He was teasing me for my inclination to raise voice for women’s rights. Being a part of a Center, which focuses on the women’s rights, taking part in such seminars and also writing papers on it, I had framed the image of a ‘feminist’ in my class. So, he was teasing me for this. “Sneha, you are a typical feminist. I don’t get why girls are so sensitive and why they make such stupid groups against us—guys. If you girls are feministic, we guys can be chauvinistic! If you are a feminist, then I am a chauvinist!”, he declared.
Though it was irritating that he was teasing me for being a feminist, what amused me was how he had somehow framed the wrong impression that “Chauvinism” was the opposite of “Feminism”. Initially, I thought this must be because of his poor knowledge of the English language. But over the time, I realized that many people had somehow assumed that the word ‘chauvinism’ was repulsive to the term ‘feminism’. The fact that a feminist can also be a chauvinist does not seem to register in them. “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings”, says Cheris Kramarae. According to the Oxford dictionary, “Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. As one can notice, nowhere in these definitions has it been mentioned that only a woman can be a feminist! In fact, it must be noted that in India, unlike in most other countries, the root of feminist movements were begun by men. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, through his fight on the discriminatory practices against women, like sati, could be said to have lighted that path to feminist movements in India. The word “feminism” was coined by a French philosopher and Utopian Socialist Charles Fourier, which was included in the Oxford Dictionary in 1895. While some philosophers have pointed out that the concept of women being inferior to men would have begun during the agricultural era, others disagree and state that this would have existed even before that period. However, it is agreed by all that the idea that women are inferior to men must have its roots on the fact that women are physically inferior to men. In the ancient times, when might was right, being physically weak would have made survival difficult. In such circumstances, women, who lacked might, required men’s protection. Over the time, men also assumed the role of controlling them apart from mere protection.
But now, in this 21st century, where might is no longer right and the emphasis is on intellectual and cultural development, hugging onto these old rotten notions seem to be illogical. In the present scenario, if given equal opportunity, a woman can excel in her life as much as any man can. This was realized, way back, in the 19th and 20th centuries in France, Netherlands, England etc., where the initial sparks on feminist movements developed. What is important to be noted here is that many famous feminists were men! In France, there were philosophers like Charles Fourier and Marquis de Condorcet, and in England there was Jeremy Bentham. In India, as was said earlier, feminist movements were initiated by men, who extensively worked towards abolishing discriminatory practices like Sati, disfiguring widows, child marriage, etc. Early women’s rights organisations were formed by men and later their wives and children joined in. It was only in the late 20th century that women began to form independent organization by themselves for this objective. So it’s obvious that the necessity for equal rights for women was first recognized in our country by men. It is sad that there are many men even in the educated society, like my ignorant friend, who look down on such feminist movements and also look down on such activities. They fail to realize that “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men”, as pointed out by Gloria Steinem. It is important for men to realize the real essence of feminism and empower women. They must realize that through feminist movements, women do not aim to dominate men, but merely to be treated on par with men. No greater privileges are demanded, but merely equal privileges. As Nobel Laureate MalalaYousafzai had remarked,“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back”. It is also important that the women do not step down from fighting for their rights simply because their friends or peers humiliate them. Remember, the Father of Our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi said, “Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you are right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”
About the Author: This article is contributed by Sneha Mathew, our intern.