A Crash Course In Feminism

This article was printed in the Mumbai edition of DNA India, on December 14th, 2016 – you can access that here

When was the last time you heard someone groan and say, “I’m not a feminist because women already have enough rights,” or “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men,” or the most common one: “I’m not a feminist because I believe in ‘equality’”. The answer is — not that long ago. Feminism is somehow misconstrued to be a man-hating, elitist movement by women fighting for female domination. It is not. Feminism is the simple belief that men and women deserve equal rights. A feminist is a person who believes in the social, political, economic and cultural equality of the sexes.

We live in an age where there is no country in the world that can say that they’ve truly achieved gender equality. We live in an age, where girls as young as 10 are sexualised by society, and young boys are taught masculinity. We need feminism, because even today, women in India earn 27 per cent lower than what men earn, for the same work. We need feminism because while young girls are taught to compromise and conform to norms set by society in all situations, young boys are taught to be ambitious and do what they consider right.

Can we do something about this? Yes. What? Start by acknowledging that an issue exists. Understanding the fact that women all over the globe are still the more vulnerable, legally disadvantaged and less-empowered gender is the first step to solving the issue. A permanent change can only be brought about transforming our mindset and our attitude. It starts at home. It starts with parents raising and treating their sons and daughters equally. It involves valuing ability and interest over gender. It involves giving equal importance and respect to both males and females.

Feminism is not just a fancy word. It’s an idea. We need it because it unites us under one term, a term that urges equality, in a time when it’s importance is more than ever.

And who better to quote here than Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the book, We Should All Be Feminists, “Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”

Society’s favourite ‘hobby’ – and how it’s harming all of us

‘Society’s favourite hobby’ – seems like an vague title for an article, doesn’t it? Think about it for a second, and there will be millions of practices that fit in to the description fairly well – it could be propagating homophobia, transphobia, the idea of gender roles, objectification of women, the wage gap, racism, sexism, sizeism or machoism. The list that seems endless, (unsurprisingly) has a common root cause – it’s enforcing the Patriarchy.

When we think of the word patriarchy, we often visualise a place or a system that existed centuries ago – a crude way of living where men were supreme, and women suppressed. That, of course, was the actual time when the patriarchy began, a time when the biggest challenges in  people’s daily lives were war, hunting, famines and death. Men, being physically stronger, then took the responsibility of protecting the women and children and, thus, assumed a superior role. Our lifestyles today have changed dramatically, and it seems natural that the relevance of patriarchy would decline. But the truth is, it hasn’t. When we speak of patriarchy, it isn’t uncommon to hear responses which vary from “That doesn’t exist anymore” to “Women have equal rights, what more do they want?” .The definition of patriarchy hasn’t changed much, but the ways it manifests itself around us has. It is still said to be a social system where the positions of power are occupied by males. The problem with that definition is that it does little to identify the patriarchy for what it really is today: a system of oppression. It is the patriarchy that has to be blamed for the disillusioned idea of masculinity that young boys grow up with. It teaches them to be afraid of fear, to show emotion or even empathy. At the same time girls are taught to cater to society’s expectations for them. Speak up, but don’t be too loud. Be successful, but not too successful. Be ambitious, but not too ambitious.

As Ananya Roy states brilliantly in her TedX talk – “We think that something big and bad has to happen to us for it to be patriarchy. But, sometimes, patriarchy is a phrase, a name, a stereotype.” Patriarchy, in it’s current form, is often transmitted through little things that are embedded in our lifestyles. Sometimes, it’s in well-meaning, whispered advices from our parents, sometimes it’s in not-so-subtle comments from older people, sometimes it’s from politicians in positions of power (refer: Mulayam Singh Yadav’s “boys will be boys”), other times it’s in surprised gasps and “you’ve got to be kidding”s from your peers or in anonymous hate online.

Though the patriarchy through stereotypes and gender roles is harmful enough in itself, it goes beyond that too. The patriarchy can also be seen to exhibit itself through female infanticide, sexual violence, dowry system and the very idea of seeing women as a liability. 

To combat the patriarchy, it’s necessary to begin the conversation  about it. This is where the problem is – the moment we speak about patriarchy, we have a tendency to turn defensive, to deny it’s very existence. In other cases, we feel the need to find someone to blame, many women angry about the patriarchy blame men for it, while the men angry about it, blame the women. We need to stop showing about blame, and start taking responsibility. The patriarchy is cruel, it tears us apart and pits us against each other, and it’s time we channel our anger, our frustation and our awareness about it towards action. 

Here’s how you can start: Speak about it. Call out and recognise casual sexism all around you – at school, at your workplace, with your friends – it could be anything from sexist jokes to cat-calling to double standards for genders. Destroy the idea of gender roles and machoism, let’s all encourage each other to grow up to be compassionate, responsible and aware individuals. One recent step in this regard is the #AskAGirl campaign, by UN Women’s HeForShe. Like the name suggests, this campaign is essentially about asking the women around about their experiences. It could be your mother, your sister or your friend – go ahead and ask them, “Do you feel safe?” or “Have you ever faced gender-based discrimination?” The answers to these basic questions are often astonishing.

It’s time we unlearn the wrong lessons that we know about gender and gender roles. It’s time we start working towards building a better world – for people of all genders. Now, that sounds like a better hobby, doesn’t it?