The other F word
Feminism, the other F word that people are either excited or afraid to use.
It is also a word which, when applied to reality, requires adaptation and context, and needs to come alive and not remain a theory.
In the Indian context, women of my mother’s generation either accepted the ideas of feminism or were weirded out by it.
It wasn’t conveyed to them that the act of burning a bra was theatrics, which was meant to get people’s attention so that they heard your ideas afterwards. Due to this, the act just ended up making them feel othered. Cut to today when that feeling of being othered prevails not just in women of my mother’s generation but the masses in general.
Why is that? Do they feel offended? Do men specifically feel offended by feminism? Let’s break it down.
What does it even mean?
Feminism as an idea talks about advocating women’s rights, on the basis that all sexes are equal, and therefore should be treated so.
Anyone who has studied history, and knows how women as a group have been treated, should not question the need for this advocacy. However, the word gets so much bad press and has become a divisive term, that people either fight about or don’t discuss it. This lack of discussion only adds to the confusion and needs to stop.
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What it isn’t
Feminism is blamed for being a man-hating movement that is full of misandry, and thus is often thought of as a negative term. This belief, however, isn’t based in reality and is often spread by people who have not read much about feminism and are basing their opinions on second or third-hand reactions. These reactions work as negative propaganda and end up mystifying the term even more. This causes the doors to discussion to close up even further.
We just want a seat at the table
Feminism believes that all sexes are created equal and thus they fight for everyone’s rights. The movement is trying to say, that women too, deserve a seat at the table. That they deserve representation and deserve to not be put through the extra and special scrutiny and bias that men don’t have to experience. It brings into question the privilege that men experience in the society.
Questioning the privilege
Privilege is a tricky thing to notice for most people. The fact that even language is gendered, makes the idea that men have been getting preferential treatment compared to women, seem odd, and one that isn’t easily deciphered.
And yet, female foeticide exists. So does rape, and bias and derogatory jokes about women. Women can’t drive, they shouldn’t be roaming out alone, they should wear certain clothes, they should stay at home and take care of the kids are popular beliefs that are not only expressed but justified. We use pseudoscience and religious texts written centuries ago to justify these opinions. In this discussion, we never ask what do these women think or want, while men don’t have to go through as many dictums of behaviour. If a woman is sexually active she’s a slut; a man does the same thing, he’s a Casanova. Doesn’t this sound unfair? Feminism is pointing this out. It is saying we as a group of women don’t want the different rules, we don’t want to go through the scrutiny reserved just for us because we were born female. It is challenging and pointing out the privilege.
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Acknowledging the privilege can be deeply uncomfortable
It is here that the perceived offense takes place. The idea challenges the status quo, asks it to change, and humans as a group hate change. Apart from not wanting to change, it also asks us to question our privilege. Questioning privilege can be a deeply uncomfortable process. In terms of gender, it becomes difficult because we don’t choose the gender we are born with, and therefore the privileges aren’t our direct choice.
What’s gender got to do with it?
The unfortunate thing, however, is that when questioned about them, we become defensive of these privileges. Denying their very existence. We need to remember that feminism isn’t blaming us for somehow choosing the privileges. Feminists understand that you didn’t choose to be born with the privileges; they want you to, however, acknowledge them and not use the privileges against women. Simply put, men should not be telling women what to wear, how to dress, what time to come home, whether to smoke or not, whether to wear makeup or not – based on gender. It is okay to tell people to not smoke, for example, because the smoke bothers you, but to say ‘ladki hokar bhi smoke karti ho!’ (You smoke in spite of being a woman!) is a big no. I mean, what’s gender got to do with it?
This might seem simple enough but to curtail the privilege and self-examine, are deeply uncomfortable processes. The offense that men may feel is this discomfort. These processes are, however, necessary for a better, equal world.
It is also the fault of misrepresentation of feminism. To combat that, we must educate ourselves, because there’s nothing wrong with having an informed opinion. Especially in a world where the highest powers are claiming things as alternative facts and fake news, to make sure that our knowledge is not half-baked is an act of responsible citizenship.
We all want the same thing.
Women make up half of the world’s population and if there’s a movement asking for their rights, it shouldn’t offend us, it should concern us that half of the world’s population doesn’t have equal rights. If the process of getting there requires difficult conversations, self-inspection, and discomfort, so be it. We all want to breath equal air; we all want what ours equally.