We do not have a Madonna all worked up about her Blonde Ambition World Tour amid us, or a Julia Kristeva giving finishing touches to her new book on psychoanalytical theory. But when it comes to living it up every day, that feminist strand among a majority of postmodern working women in Bangalore is anything but thinning.
To discuss whether we need feminism in a country that heartlessly eliminates 7,000 female foetuses a day (UNICEF, ‘State of the World’s Children – 2007′ report) is an irony in itself. Still, to avoid the likelihood of this article being termed a “gynocentric assumption”, I am presenting both sides of the argument here.
Being a feminist
Sudha Narayan (name changed), 37, media professional, does not agree that feminist thinking becomes relevant only when rape conviction rate or dowry deaths come up for discussion. “Feminism isn’t some kind of a migraine that I start digging the bookshelf for my favourite feminist works to find some solace and intellectual support. It’s there in every decision I make—big or small.”
For women like Sudha, feminism is about removing that screen of familiarity thrust upon by conformists and realising that multiple ways of living is possible. They face issues head-on instead of writing anonymous distress mails to feminist websites or taking it out on other women. They may have nothing against pop icon Madonna showing off her sexual power armed with a whip, but they do say categorically that sexual power is not their only power. They know it’s not anti-feminist to be a stay-at-home mom, but it certainly is to think that that’s the only way of living. They demand to be considered individuals, not just parts that “fit into and strengthen the whole”.
Vasudha Karanam, 31, business analyst at an IT firm, says: “Yes, definitely I am a feminist. I exercise it through proper communication. Up next is what I think about myself—responsible and self-respecting. That gives me the confidence to make right decisions which I almost always do.”
Journalist Dhanya Matsa, 29, who says, “I am intensely aware of my identity as a woman and revel in it”, doesn’t think financial independence alone will help. “Social security, inverse conditioning, glass ceiling, dowry harassment, rape, curfew, dupattas, fairness creams, and Muthaliks still exist.”
Is that the end of the debate on feminism and its relevance in the post-feminist era? So free-flowing, no hemming or hawing?
Ask upfront “are you a feminist?”, you will come across some surprising one-liners: “Don’t you think I should be a good human being first”? “Aren’t we genetically designed to be feminine, the nurturing type?” “Isn’t it a madcap idea to chuck loving relationships for PowerPoint presentations?” “Who would care about feminism once your bio-clock stops ticking?”
Sounds much like a spirited lunch-hour scrap? Here’s another: “who said you can’t be a feminist and still have all of that?”
Oddly enough, many refuse to be called feminists although they basically have nothing against the feminist principles. There are also those who don’t mind muddling their way through contradictions and sitting on the fence all their lives only to escape the responsibility of being a feminist saying, “Oh, I don’t think you have come across some good men and some bad women. Have you?”
Turning against feminism is rather too easy than embodying it. It keeps the status quo intact, as also the appreciation for being a conformist.
Hit a deviation and there you go: you are labelled a militant, a dominatrix, and a negative influence on the little girls at home. It’s the same dilemma facing even men who believe in equal rights on all fronts—especially those who are not uber-masculine. They often end up with labels like “too soft” or “touchy-feely” stuck on their back.
Limits of the term “feminism”
To an extent, you can’t help blaming it on the limitations projected by the term “feminism” (not feminism itself) that makes one presume it’s only about supporting women’s rights and not everyone’s equality. To top it all is the seemingly inescapable negative connotation surrounding it.
The upshot is evident: the much-misled talk about “family-wrecking”, “divorce-propagating” feminists. The harm isn’t in feminism itself, but in the skewed interpretations and half-baked thought processes that narrow it down to man-hating, money-/career-obsession—something that fits into their own perspective more than anything else. It is also rooted in the relentless nit-picking of many brands of feminism, and not in understanding why it all began in the first place.
“Like any other movement, feminism has been interpreted by several people in their unique way of understanding. I don’t buy all of it. Can it go wrong? No. If there are silly allegations like feminists are husband-harassing people, I remind them that women are human beings too, and not goddess Mother Earths to be put on a pedestal and revered. Stop setting impossible standards of moral and behavioural codes for women only,” adds Dhanya.
This stream of thought may help wrap it up: “it’s not about men and women becoming one, but recognising that men and women are capable of different things, not based on their gender, but based on how they are individually…, there can be no real equality until both sexes truly understand each other.”
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