August 28, 2007

The Other ‘F’ Word

FEMINISM n. Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.

Oh wait. That was the dictionary definition.

Let’s get real for a minute here.

Feminism n. Strong, (therefore threatening), militant, bordering-on-violent, man-hating, bra-burning females.

Which one do you think runs through the average person’s head when they hear that word? And you think this concept is irrelevant in these times? Think again.

Without meaning to belittle the contributions of Lady Montagu and Juana Inez de la Cruz back in the 18th century and the pioneers of the suffragette movement in the 19th, I believe the need for feminism has truly come of age only as recently as the technological revolution itself. For it is truly now that our abilities, boundaries and concepts of gender negotiations are tested against the backdrop and needs of our times. It is now that women are expected to perform gender-neutral tasks without the specter of gender roles looming over them, but without actually having the infrastructure—the actual notion of gender equality—in place. So the rules of the race are Equal Opportunity, with the subtext whispering “Maybe she won’t make it.

What has historically been lost is the reason for the feminist movement, i.e. the need for the same standing as the other gender, and what has remained with us are images of marching women burning their underclothes. Movements of resistance often choose to capture public attention by make a statement of shock value, simply because they are resistance movements for a reason. They are advocating a change in a pre-existing system of thought, attitude and action. They sometimes take on prevailing mores, sometimes laws, and often centuries of ingrained prejudices. If they sit genteelly at a table, exchanging polite notes, they are as likely to be noticed as a knitting ant. No woman in her right mind would actively do that to her breasts unless she had a serious point to make.

What personally irks me is the attitude of reasonably well-informed, supposedly educated human beings who balk at this other ‘F’ word. And view it with the same wariness they would a leper. Knowing full well that both are non-infectious and misrepresented.

And it isn’t just about mental representations of the word. There’s actual implementation too that we still seem to be having hiccups with. Us in the cities consider ourselves with-it and in-the-groove and supportive of the women in our lives. But how often do we hear people telling women they know to “work it out” with their abusive spouses, “compromise with” a restrictive family, and “tolerate” an inadequate life? How many of us are made to feel lucky that we have spouses that “let us” do whatever we want, go wherever we wish, and take independent decisions? So we fly the skies and sing paeans to the men who allow us that freedom. And thank our fathers for educating us. And our lucky stars for not being pressured into marriage.

Is a freedom still a freedom when you have to feel grateful for it? I’m sure it’s infinitely better than none at all. But I thought we’re way past the “all-or-none”ness of this new feminist age. Where gender is largely irrelevant unless there’s the process of reproduction involved. And sometimes not even that.

I hope I’m making myself clear here. Feminism is NOT about women. I know, respect and love men who are feminists. Men who aren’t embarrassed by the fact. And embrace it, rather than shun it. Feminism is as much about asking for paternity leave, daddy doing the diaper changes, and standing up for the man being abused by his wife as it is about the “fairer/weaker” gender, another classic anti-feminist representation. It’s about cherishing the woman you love and respecting the fact that she can be tired, unwilling or just plain lazy to do what her gender role expects of her. And that it’s okay to step in and take over, but only if she wants you to.

Have you ever wondered where this man-hating image of feminists stems from? From women who are sick of being sidekicks all their lives and therefore decide to do some kicking of their own. We can be an active or a passive sidekick. One who has experienced a gender bias firsthand or one who has been an observer. Our reaction to this experience can be as diverse as the human race itself, but as mentioned earlier, the most volatile reaction gets the attention. So the rest of us, who love men for the most part, are unseen and mostly unheard. Men can be wonderful partners in this movement to create awareness about the true meaning of feminism.

The one person I would trust with my life is a feminist. With a moustache. For me, he truly embodies the ideals of feminism. His respect for both genders and belief in offering the same opportunities and rights to both exceeds mere lip service. He lives the word. As an example to the rest of the world that cringes at the F word and insists on continuing to conjure up images of lingerie bonfires.

As for me, I continue to strongly recommend that teensy black push-up at Victoria’s Secret. A girl needs all the help she can get.

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10 comments to The Other ‘F’ Word

  • […] Ultra Violet, a new blog discussing feminism and India kicks off things with a post discussing feminism in contemporary culture. Share This […]

  • Aditya

    Well written coherent piece. I really feel that you have hit the nail on the head when it comes to why the “F” word is taken with such strong negative connotations.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the concept of “male” feminists; although I would tend to, being one myself. 🙂

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    @Aditya: Welcome 🙂 And thank you! It is heartening to have a feminist raise his hand and be counted. May your tribe increase.

  • No intention of taking away the seriousness of the post, but here is my thought. For most of the people, “feminism” does not come across as “equality of the sexes”…many understand it as “addressing the issues faced by women”

    I myself did not know that fighting for a man tortured by a woman comes under “feminism”. I guess somebody should have thought of a better word like “equalism” or something. Anyways, this post was informative!

  • @Vasuki: Just to add to your point (and I agree that sometimes the term is misleading), feminism is not about male bashing. In her book Feminism is for Everyone, bell hooks says feminism is, “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”.

    The emphasis is on ending sexism, which as Dilnavaz points out can apply both ways. Having said that, I think there’s a case for it to be called feminism because traditionally women have been the victims of sexist thought, patterns and actions more than men.

  • @Vasuki: In response to your comment “For most people feminism does not….”, that is precisely the point of this post. 🙂 It is probably the most misrepresented word in the dictionary!
    If only more people took the trouble to read the definition and comprehend its true meaning without getting all defensive. Glad you found the post informative. Maybe you’ll spread the word now about how feminism isn’t about manic rage against men? 🙂

  • apu

    nice piece. however, while patriarchy pushes men and women into stereotyped roles, there is no doubt that men’s stereotyped roles generally tend to be cushier. so i dont see the need to be apologetic about feminism favoring women.

    and – i know it was meant to be humorous, but the last line sort of put me off…

  • theophilus

    Good article:

    As a male christian , I just say that I thought the “other f word was “FORGIVENESS”.

    Let it inspire you, but not blunt your argument, but sharpen it.

  • @Apu: About favoring women: I’m not sure how effective reverse discrimination is as a tool. And about the last line: Some people can laugh at themselves more than others. I guess I’m just one such person. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

    @Theophilus: Interesting. From my non-Christian female perspective, forgiveness wouldn’t be my F word of choice 😉

  • Hi all!!

    What do you think about Tokio Hotel? >:)

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