Recently, I was prodded by a friend to write on “good feminism”. A deja vu experience engulfed me. It sounded like one of those “good feminism” sessions that was being taught by the boys of the college when they sized-up the girls on various ‘attributes’ in their canteen-conversations. Needless to say, the reticent girls regarded as feminine took the cake while the more vocal and assertive girls were declared, consternatingly enough, “misfit” or “not suitable”. As if this rating exercise wasn’t nauseating enough, deleterious was the impact it had on its possessed listeners, that very often included girls.
These two events are separated by a decade and a half and bear a testimony to the unchanging condescension of Patriarchy towards the belief called feminism. The Change, If any, has only been in the transmuted manner of the hegemony. It has moved from resistance to something as basic as woman’s education to a more sophisticated version of “telling how an empowered woman should behave”. ‘Oh well you could be the top executive of the company, but please don’t bring home this women's liberation movement”. “Home after all, is your primary responsibility”.
Remember the (in)famous “when are you settling down” poser to a celebrated female Tennis star by a prominent journalist. This is how deep-rooted, the psyche of patriarchy is. Be it the rating exercise in a loose chat or the media representation of women as the primary sellers of domestic products, the ‘clubs’ serve the purpose of patriarchy as cradles of socializing women to “acceptable” roles. These socially acceptable roles are so strongly internalized by women for generations, that she is completely blind to other possibilities and opportunities.
And thus is born the multi-tasking “superwoman” or a “supermom” with 12 hands, who is supposed to be this multi-tasker woman so effectively managing her home, office, children, kitchen, the in-laws, parents and much more. And all this, when, all that her male counterpart has, is just to plan his career and “sprinkle” attention towards home. Who will account for the unfathomable stress on this superwoman and its telling upon her physical and psychological health? More perilous is the cascading effect on other women who would also be expected to behave like a superwoman and is supposed to effortlessly breeze through the responsibilities.
Many a time, women choosing roles outside the domestic domain, be it in strata of economic production, is not so much a matter of choice but actually a Necessity. With this rising Role-conflict, women are more likely to experience remorse. Management of domestic chores is still considered the primary responsibility of women folk. So much for the chunk of society that provides 40% of the workforce globally. The plight of women from lower income groups where jugglery is on something as basic as food is a further far cry.
Not surprisingly, every woman carries home the baggage of office in her head and vice versa. It's not uncommon for women to loathe their inability to cook for the kids or remorsefully lament not being able to attend the kids’ school event. Some of the recent studies on working women in different cities of India at diverse positions of economic production, found that Guilt Proneness was significantly higher in women than men. So was the overall level of Anxiety. Women were found to report feelings of Personal Inadequacy twice as Men.
An additional burden that women face at the workplace are stereotypes. Women are not perceived as effective negotiators or forceful leaders. Women are not easily picked by Organizations for leadership roles due to the prevalence of such strong stereotypes. In the net result, women, in order to prove their abilities, work twice as hard as their male counterparts.
Very often for women, dealing with stereotypes would mean Role-playing a stereotypical man — tough, inconsiderate and competitive. If this Role-model of command and hegemony were to be adopted by every woman, then, paradoxically, it is only a perpetuation of the Patriarchy. It only results in the alienation of womanhood from its very nature, thus defeating the idea of feminism itself.
It has therefore become imperative that, at individual level and at community level there is more openness to a feminine style of functioning and leadership and with an open mind, a need to reconstruct a society that is devoid of stereotypes and biases.
Participation of men in feminism, is therefore, a quintessential part of the belief and this should begin at home. The sex-role typing that is deeply entrenched in society needs to be undone to make way for a mutually cooperative bilateral division of labour.
Sons need to be taught that there is nothing unmanly about cooking and is perfectly alright if he stays indoors as the care-giver of kids. It is perfectly fine when a male model solo-advertises detergent powder or solicits patronage for a popular cutlery brand. The toxic male protagonist in the media should be effaced, as it has the potential to single-handedly damage the prospects of treating women as equals. It is not a coincidence that some of the earliest calls of feminism were given by enlightened men like Frederick Douglass and John Stuart Mill who both fought for women’s suffrage rights in the west.
Feminism, simply put, is a belief in equality of sexes and NOT a battle of sexes. It implies equal rights and opportunities, irrespective of the gender. It implies equality in choice and decisions.
Radical feminism suggests that women should reject the male gender completely and eliminate all possible roles that a male could play in their lives, including physical gratification. This may seem like a powerful ideology indeed but is not the reality of mankind as it involves rejection of one half of nature itself.
Feminism bats for equal rights. Needless to say, the whole is achieved when the two halves contribute equally. Feminism, therefore, is not only for women, but also for men from whom should come the equal half.