Does Feminism Cater to Gender Equality?
The term feminism is overused nowadays, when abuse of the fair gender is rampant in our supposedly ‘safe’ country – our India or as people patriotically like to proclaim, Bharat maata (Mother India). But does this country, which boasts of protecting and worshipping women, really adhere to its principles? Or is all that chanting and sloganeering restricted to closed events, movies and political party manifestos?
Conversing with Adeela Hameed of Kashmir Images, Dr. Pratima Chaitanya –Assistant Professor at the Department of English, Jagat Taran Girls’ PG College, University of Allahabad – delves into the concept of feminism, gender equality, and the hidden chauvinist superstition embedded in our modern Indian society.
Dr. Chaitanya is a poet and a prolific writer. She has published over a score of articles in national and international journals and books. Her poems have appeared in leading journals and magazines including Eastlit, U.K., IJELLS, Langlitand The Creative Launcher, India. Dr. Chaitanya has a published anthology of poems, entitled Explorations. She is also a columnist with DifferentTruths, an online magazine of social journalism. She has been vociferously associated with the Theatre for Peace group – an association of alumni, students and teachers of the University of Allahabad—and has acted in several plays. She has a book on Indian English drama, entitled Reinterpreting Myths, Folklores and History, published by Lambert Publications, Germany, 2016.
AH: Feminism was forged to cater to the rights of women. As per your opinion, in the present world scenario, what does it additionally incorporate?
PC: Yes indeed, the primary objective of feminism is to bring about a legal, social and economic equality for women which were denied to them since the very beginning of times. Undoubtedly a lot has been done in legal, economic and political sphere to attain equality for women, but still much remains to be done for the true empowerment of women.
A recent trend that we see in the present day world scenario is that women, especially those belonging to the upper strata of society, reinstate their own definition of feminism by aping their male counterparts (particularly their negative traits). There should be an ethical and moral ground espousing every idea. Drinking alcohol, smoking, indulging in adultery, shouting at and dominating others are traits not good for males and females alike. These human activities have nothing to do with feminism. It may be a personal choice of a man or a woman. So the pseudo-liberated women indulging in such activities should not try to glorify them under the garb of feminism.
While true feminism challenges the stereotypes, the created notions of not only “femininity” but also “masculinity” and believes in the social equality of all humans, such pseudo-feminists spoil and ruin the very essence of feminism. The women characters of Bollywood web series, such as Four More Shots Please, could be role models for many young girls but they definitely are not the role-models of feminism. What the characters, in boasting off their independence, portray has very little to do with feminism. Neither is the man right in displaying his chauvinism, nor is the woman justified in revelling in her freedom to do anything. Freedom comes with its own set of responsibilities which need to be adhered to for a better and balanced world.
AH: Can feminists be considered extremists that promote female rights over rights of other genders?
PC: Feminism, in the true sense of term – as I understand it – is a theory and a practice thatprofesses humanitarianism. It is extremely important to understand that feminism talks about equality between men and women. It does not in any way talk about disrespecting the rights of other individuals. Women have faced discrimination in every form and in every society. The discrimination is so widespread that traces of misogyny and derogatory representations of women are found even in religious texts and scriptures. All that the feminists seek to do is to put an end to this discrimination and endow a woman with the same kind of social, legal, political, and personal rights that a man has. If anyone disparages the other gender in the name of feminism, then it is not true feminism at all. Feminism is humanitarianism, and is all encompassing.
AH: The opposite gender views women who declare their bold ideas of feminism unruly at times. Are there any personal experiences you would like to share in response to this statement?
PC: Yes, I believe all women in their lifetime face many such incidents of gender-harassment whether they want to talk about it or not. I am not very active on social media but many of my friends were harassed and trolled on social media – vicious abuses being hurled at them whenever they speak out openly on any subject which challenges the basic essence of patriarchy. It is heart-breaking to see how the social media also has become a tool, a ploy in the hands of such people who mercilessly use it to harass women and girls and coerce them to keep mum by their obnoxious behaviour.
AH: The idea of feminism is simple and productive yet many from the opposite gender vent their anger if sloganeering for women rights is promulgated on social media or in public gatherings. Do you think something is wrong with the way women publicize feminism to incur such opposition?
PC: Could be, Adeela. But I feel that that the society at large, despite all claims of legal equality of women in our Constitution, focus on the education of girl children, various schemes for women empowerment etc., has failed to accept that girls are equal to boys. Even in the most educated households, there is a deep-seated desire in the hearts of family members, including women, to have a male child. We still live in times when female foeticide is rampant, where the news of dowry killings hit the newspapers regularly, where honour killings are upheld. Then how can we expect the common masses to understand and respond positively to the claims for women rights on social media? Misogyny is so deeply rooted in our very structure. The all-loving, selfless woman who was bonded to domestic duty within the four walls of the household is still the most accepted stereotypical image of women. Then how can the traditional society picture and accept a woman who writes openly and talks boldly about her dreams and rights? Unless there is a change in the basic roots, the fundamental germs of patriarchy seated in our “collective unconscious”, such loathsome comments cannot be avoided.
Having said that, I would also wish to add that there indeed are a few women who talk about feminism in a sharp and violent manner, blaming and using derogatory language for their male counterparts. Recently we saw the “Me Too” movement doing rounds on social media. Many of these stories are true but a few others are apparently fabricated. It is sad how some women use feminism as a tool to defame people. But then everything in this universe has a good and a bad aspect. For such few women who defame their womanhood, feminism or the demand for equal rights for all genders cannot and will not cease.
AH: Do you believe all genders should have equal opportunities to life? Does feminism, in its true form, create bias between different genders?
PC: All individuals have emanated from that one omniscient, omnipotent force. They may be from different class/ caste/ community/ religious groups/ race/ ethnicity/ gender/ sexual orientation, but no one has the right to seize their opportunity to life. We should live by virtue of them being a part of the cosmos.
As the famous poet, Akbar Allahabadi writes,
“Har zarra chamakta hai anware elahi se
Har saans ye kehti hai ki tu hai to khuda bhi hai”
(Every particle in this universe dazzles with the element of the Supreme soul, The life of every living being resonates with His presence)
All humans should have an equal opportunity to life.Feminism is a humanitarian approach. It is, and should stand, unprejudiced.