Feminism Means One Thing And One Thing Only, So Why The Confusion?

05/12/2015 9:02 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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A friend called me the other day sounding exasperated, "Why is it that people have to misconstrue everything?" She went on to explain how she was tired of how articles on gender equality were being misunderstood by readers, resulting in debates about which gender is superior to the other. "What part of gender equality are people not understanding?" she rued.

This is an issue that has been gnawing at me for a long time too. The Oxford Dictionary has the shortest and sweetest definition -- gender equality is the"state in which access to rights or opportunities is unaffected by gender." So essentially what is being said is -- equal rights and opportunities for both men and women. Equal pay, equal voting rights, equal opportunities for education, equal rights to property, marriage, divorce regulations... equal everything. Simple right? It should be.

Skimming through various articles and opinions on social media, the blogosphere and general chatter on the subject, what seems abundantly clear is that the confusion lies in the interpretation of the meaning of equality in this context. Experts have suggested that understandings of gender equality are often coloured by three different views: identical treatment, differential treatment and fair treatment. To elaborate briefly, while in my opinion identical treatment (i.e. completely unaffected by gender) is the only true definition of the term, other perspectives do take into account the fact that the biological differences may warrant differential treatment but that this is not "unequal". The last argument proposes the treatment of people fairly or in a way that is right and reasonable. However, this understanding does not take into account that the very underlying structures that socially, legally and politically determine what is "right" and "wrong" and "acceptable" are, in fact, patriarchal in nature, using a male rationality to address what gender equality should be. Which is the error itself.

"What people seem to forget when they disavow any allegiance to feminism is that we are not talking about gender superiority!"

What people seem to forget when they disavow any allegiance to feminism is that we are not talking about gender superiority! Feminism was born as a consequence of the lack of gender equality and a feminist is a person who wants to fight this injustice. Feminism is not a mutiny or a rebellious war cry by women to try and prove that they are greater or better than men. And we are fighting for what should, by right, be ours just as what men by right call theirs.

The media is guilty too. By objectifying and stereotyping women as sexual objects or even as saintly wives and mothers, the media perpetuates problematic way of viewing, and thus treating women.

I also see many women being hired in male-dominated jobs purely on the basis of their looks. Tacitly we know it's because they may be able to "lure" in the "big fish" clients better than a plainer but more qualified candidate. This kind of objectification is nothing short of degrading.

It is heartening to see that in the midst of all the misconstrued, deliberate deniability and efforts to suppress the cry for gender equality today, there are some men who are coming out openly in support of feminism. Farhan Akhtar, the actor/director/producer recently came to the fore as a self-proclaimed feminist by becoming the first ever male UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia. The young and talented Emma Watson's inspiring UN speech on feminism gave a strong voice to many like her to recognise that we are not talking about "man-hating" here or going against men. It is truly a "human issue".

Some argue that all this is very well for urban sections of society but what about the uneducated, rural lot? I read a truly inspiring news article recently about the village of Piplantri in Rajasthan that has defied the stereotype of rural India as "backward". With the birth of every newborn girl in Piplantri, the village plants 111 trees to mark the new arrival -- thus not only encouraging and embracing the birth of every girl child but also taking steps to ensure a greener, healthier environment for future generations. The best part is that the genius behind this most endearing tradition is the former male sarpanch of the village who wanted to honour the memory of his own daughter who passed away a few years ago.

So, let's stop being disingenuous. Let's see the big picture for what it really is. And let's hope that the day isn't far when all those countries and governments that treat women like lesser, incapable beings begin to realise their true worth and the fact that they are an equal half that works, in fact, harder both at the workplace and at home to ensure the smooth running of the lives of both sexes.

The sooner this very need for equal rights is recognised, the sooner humanity can join together as one whole unit -- invincible and more powerful than ever.

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