Is feminism relevant?

When asked whether feminism is still relevant or not, many will say that we now live in a modern world where everybody is equal and women are seen thriving in every sphere of life. Some will say, "what's the need for it, don't we send our daughters to school? don't they have the choice to wear what they want? In our times, women were not even allowed to step out of their homes, but now you can see that we've provided them with the freedom they need, haven't we?"

These are some of the arguments many people make, to somehow, justify that women are now treated at par with men and that there's no need for any movement or such 'drama' for equality, because, it already exists, apparently.

I was among the ones, who believed that slowly but steadily we're heading toward gender equality. I believed that people now are more liberal than they were in the past, when it comes to proffering the most basic rights to the women of the world.

Although on the surface, it seems that we've come a long way, it is only when we dig deeper, does the harsh reality pop out.

The change that we see is only superficial. People say that women now work along with men, they now join politics, they can pursue an education that they want. All the change that we see is materialistic, but can we say that there is a change in the mindset?

Gender roles and expectations.

Well, one day something happened to me that compelled me to think on this topic.

One of my close friends asked me to meet at a nearby cafe. He wanted to discuss a topic for his assignment. I carefully listened to his arguments and when he finished I offered my views on that topic. Upon disagreeing with some of the points I made, he chose to interrupt me amid my speech. Therefore, I took a step back to let him finish speaking before I spoke again.

He still disagreed on some points and this time, he started raising his voice while offering his arguments. I asked him to lower his voice since we were in a cafe and the shouting was attracting unwanted attention. He ignored my request and this time he put his arguments even loudly. To his behavior, I replied in a heavier and louder tone, "please lower your voice." When he heard this, he got furious and shouted at the top of his voice and told me that he'd shout even louder. This time, his voice was so boisterous that the bustling of the cafe turned into a pin drop silence. Everybody in the cafe started staring at us. To this, I just took my bag and moved out of the cafe.

The same night, he called and apologized to me. And said, "it felt disrespectful to me when you talked to me in a louder tone." I just got shocked at his reply. I just said "okay", and hung up on his call.

But, that night storms of questions were coming to my mind. So according to my friend, it was acceptable for him to talk disrespectfully but not for me to protect my dignity? Why? Because girls should talk in a soft, polite, and submissive tone and it's the sole prerogative of men to be aggressive, loud, and assertive? And just like that, were poised with the question of the hidden patriarchy of our society - Where we say that we're not patriarchal because, "see? a girl can sit with a boy and argue on a topic." But we don't allow women to be assertive and loud!

Well, we all know, patriarchy is not as rigid as it used to be, but still, it prevails in more deeper and hidden forms. I won't even bother with the political, economical, and technological spheres, because that would be tedious and redundant to discuss. So here, we'll solely focus on the personal and cultural spheres.

Hidden patriarchy in the personal sphere.

Let's start with our homes themselves.

From the female foetus inside a womb to her tomb, we can see discriminating behavior towards her, that's been normalized and trivialized by our society.

Yesterday I went to a baby shower in my neighborhood. So there's a tradition where a woman who's expecting a child has to put her hands on the dishes that are covered with a cloth. So if she puts her hand on the bowl which contains jalebi, it means she's having a girl child and if she chooses any other sweet, say mithai, then it's a boy.

The program started and she uncovered a bowl that had jalebi in it. as soon as she opened it, everybody just started prattling in a serious tone.

What does that indicate? It shows that they got worried about the fact that it's her first child and it shouldn't have been a girl. Although this tradition is merely symbolic, it aptly depicts our mentality toward the girl child even before she's born.

Many kill the female foetus inside the womb. Many kill her in her infancy because they didn't have the privilege to know whether the foetus was male or female. Now let's say, there wasn't any foeticide or infanticide and the girl is being raised in the family. She 's now 5 years old, but no one focuses on her health. Instead of this, they save their money for her marriage. She grows up and completes her primary education but she's not allowed to pursue it further and she's been married off now. (India’s dropout rates for girls are as high as 57% - NSSO). After marriage, there's a burden on her for a child. Now the same girl child is now being expected to raise a child, and this circle continues. (alarming 30.2% of all married women, or 10.3 crore girls, were married before they had turned 18, as per Census 2011 data)

Though this is not the story of each and every girl it still prevails in the larger section of our society even though we refuse to accept it.

Whatever we've talked about above is a broader perspective that is conspicuous. Let's now talk about hidden suppression.

Tell me, Who always cooks food even when she's not feeling well? What happens when mum is not in the home? Who takes care of the house? Is it the whole family or just the girl who has not accompanied her mother? What if there is no woman left in the house? I guess then, we either order food from outside or we go out to have food. Right? It is rightly pointed out in a movie “English vinglish” that, “if a man cooks, it’s called an art but if a woman cooks then it’s her duty!

Let’s move forward. Tell me, Who gets up in the middle of the dinner to bring water or a jar of salt? Who's always expected to learn cooking along with her studies because it’s one of the essentials that women should learn to survive in her husband’s home? Indeed, most men can't do housework on their own and they've to be dependent on their female members, still, it is said that women are dependent on men and they can't survive without them. Why?

Who’s asked to come home before 7 PM? Who’s asked to remain distant from boys? Who’s asked to wear proper dress, not to attract “others” attention? The answer is something that everybody knows. It is irony that in our homes, women are always given safety so that she remains protected from outer threats but she has not been given the opportunity to learn the things that would make her as competent as men.

Hidden patriarchy in the cultural sphere.

We as a patriarchal society want to respect and protect our women. we compare her with Devi Durga and even worship her on many "special occasions", but on the other side, most of the jokes cracked by men ridicule or grossly sexualize women. Even most of the abusive words have female connotations in them like mother, sister, daughter. We even associate a strong personality with the word "balls" and the weaker ones with the "pussy".

We associate woman with the dignity of our home, but we don't allow her to have a dignified life. We constantly tell her that she belongs to and is always dependent on some other man. Systems like khap panchayats torn apart the dignity of a woman when she tries to go beyond the limits set by the so-called "law abiders".

As we said, we worship women like a goddess, But the same goddess turns into an untouchable being when she's on her period. They're not allowed to touch anything in the house, otherwise, everything will spoil. It is presumed that if the dead person has no son, he would not be entitled to a place in heaven. Only sons have the right to set fire to the funeral pyre of their parents.

In patriarchal culture, most men are not taught to hear a “no” from a woman. And when someone puts their choice by saying no, it is considered as rejection and less of manliness. It hurts the ego of some “macho men” which results in incidents like revenge porn, acid attacks, and rapes. Such cases represent, a culture of toxic masculinity, which is normalized by patriarchal belief systems that allow men to think it is their right to silence and annihilate women who dare to say “no”. Be it a no at the public sphere or personal sphere (marital rape). 

(National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2015-16 data indicates that an estimated 99.1 percent of sexual violence cases go unreported and that the average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to face sexual violence from her husband than from others. ).  It is irony that tradition of female genital modulation still prevails across various regions which depicts how we don't even leave women alone in their extra private spaces, we try to control even her sexuality.

last but not least, our culture of victim shaming. When we encounter some rape cases or sexual harassment cases, what do we do? We blame victims. We blame girl for her indecent makeup, clothes, inappropriate gestures, late-night parties, and this list goes on. "On the other side we barely talk about or criticize perpetrators." It's shameful that our Aunties are criticized more for their gossiping than our uncles for being a molester! Pathetic.

And after all this, we have the audacity to claim that patriarchy has been abolished..!

Way forward

There's a lot to be told and a lot to be understood. The debate can go endlessly without arriving at any conclusive point unless we accept the situation and work on it.

Three waves of feminism have hit the world. The first wave of feminism was focused on getting voting rights to women at par with men. The second wave insisted on establishing female solidarity and sisterhood. And the third wave was about celebrating sexuality. Now, We need a fourth wave to fight this hidden patriarchy. This time not on external demands but on the demands on behavioral change for the whole of the society and not just for women.

Secondly, It’s necessary to understand that sometimes the problem with feminism is that only those women who are "entitled" get to speak and the world mistakes them to be the spokesperson of womankind. This is a genuine issue because it leads to suppression of voices of those women who are not entitled or let's say not privileged enough. So feminism, as an idea is very inclusive but, the movement is not. Therefore the elimination of the caste system, reducing income inequalities, ending racism, etc. should also go hand in hand. The idea of feminism is like the first dose of vaccine against the patriarchy virus. But it will only take effect when the second dose of elimination of the caste system, racism, income inequality will be given.

Last but not least, men should understand that feminism is not something that hates or opposes men, they should understand that not only women but they too are victims of patriarchy. Because patriarchy puts an additional burden on men to be strong and doesn’t allow them to be emotional and vulnerable. Therefore everybody needs to understand that feminism is for all and should be led by all.

Well, It's a long walk to equality and freedom

Statistics- NSSO, NFHS, 2011 CENSUS.

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