What is Feminism?
Feminism is a social, political and economic movement that strives for equality of all genders. Yes, all genders.
Why does mainstream feminism then advocate women’s rights?
To understand this, let us first accept that traditionally genders have not had a level playing field. Women have been systematically kept out of the political realm restricted to the sphere of ‘personal’, and not treated as equals socially. If you are still not convinced let us take an example of a race in which the rule says everyone needs to have the same start, but A is already standing 50m behind B on the track, so ideally when the time starts A should be allowed to run for 50 m first to catch up with B, and then they can have a fair race. Now, A is what a woman’s position in society is and B is that of men. The starting point of genders have not been the same historically and hence one needs to be uplifted first, in order to establish that equality
Does Feminism only talk about women?
No. Feminism today, commonly hailed as Fourth Wave Feminism acknowledges the toxic impact of patriarchy on men. It advocates men’s rights to overcome gender norms, express themselves and break the mainstream gender roles. Feminism is thus not against men or against men, it is for all genders.
Now that we have covered the gist of feminism, let us understand its history. Feminism is unique, as its essence remains the same, but the movement keeps evolving. Major milestones of feminism are divided into waves: First, Second, Third and Fourth Wave. These waves share their goal of equality but differ in opinions on how and why this equality should be established.
There is a long-standing debate over the exact characteristics of each wave and their timelines as they are often overlapping. Waves are characterized by particular theoretical works by Liberal Feminists, Care Feminists, Marxist Feminists and many more. This led to women having different perspectives on Feminism based on their unique experience. Every wave nonetheless came with its own struggle and every small victory was followed by a new battle.
MOVEMENTS THAT SHAPED FEMINISM Suffrage Movement
The First Feminist movement was started to breakdown the barriers between the personal and the political. Almost a century ago Women’s Political and Social Union marched to echo the demand for ‘Votes for women’. Active for almost 15 years in the United Kingdom, women above the age of 30 finally gained the right to vote in 1918, followed by the equal franchise in 1928.
In the backdrop of the Second World War, an increasing number of women stepped out of their home and started working in factories and offices to fill in for men. Once the war ended, women were quickly thrown out of those spaces. In this context, women raised the demand for equal work and equal pay, end of hiring bias also known as breaking of the glass ceiling’, workplace bias and traditional male superiority in a number of fields.
WORKING WOMEN MOVEMENT
Women’s Liberation Movement
Society was and is used to dictating women their rights, especially to their own bodies. Radical second wave feminism demanded ‘Women’s Liberation’ primarily grounded in a woman’s right to opt for an abortion. This movement was also characterized by the celebrated work of Betty Freidan known as ‘Feminine Mystique’. This was an evolutionary piece of literature that revealed a woman’s precarious condition of women in society and the problem that had no name’.
With the advent of globalisation, the movement spread across the world. The focus shifted to different female experiences along race, caste, religion and class lines. Breakdown of binary genders brought into light trans experiences. Feminism thus, became more inclusive, theoretical and political discussion demanded greater attention to detail, acknowledging the fact that for instance, a lower-class Muslim girl in India will have a widely different experience from that of an upper-class Hindu girl. However, it does not make any experience more or less valid, it simply accepts all.
Me Too Movement
This is one of the most popular and unique movements of the 21st century. With the support of social media, the movement started against sexual harassment and abuse by men in powerful positions. As the #metoo gained momentum it revealed the systematic protection of men across occupations. People in positions of power were called out in Hollywood, Bollywood, Judges, Businessmen, the movement spread to every country and every sector. It even seeped down to micro-units of society, revealing the roles of schools in the protection of boys under the guard of ‘Boys will be boys’. The movement once again was not limited to any one gender and survivors everywhere were encouraged to share their narrative.
IS FEMINISM RELEVANT IN THE 21st CENTURY?
The question is that after centuries of effort, has feminism achieved the goal it set out for? The answer is, we are far from it. Feminism will always be relevant. Even today, the number of women in fields of science, medicine, defence, politics amongst others remains less. If women do succeed in entering these fields they are always scrutinized with a different lens. The road is less paved for women and they have to work twice as hard to get the same results. Being a feminist does not always mean accepting that men and women are equal, rather it is to accept that despite natural differences women have the ability to produce just as much as men.
Feminism simply asks policy and society to restructure itself to not let social constructs be an impediment to women. Feminism today is all-encompassing, it talks about body image, societal pressure, equal access to education, occupational bias, sexual harassment and the right of choice.
Moreover, a real feminist has never said men have no right to discuss feminist issues, in any situation it is the disadvantaged person and not gender who has the right to express their opinion. Feminists everywhere are just trying to make female narratives a norm something that has often been opposed by many since it takes them away from the comfort of gender stereotypes.
We need to remember that real feminism is a people’s movement, your experience will define what feminism is to you. In India, we have come a long way in our journey of equality but it is not over yet. It will not be over, till every household prioritizes the girl child education, it will not be over till schools stop trying to mend girls into behaving in a certain way while boys are left alone to be boys. It will not be over till we stop joking about girls being weaker at math or boys not being good at art. So ask yourself: Have you thought of a house-husband as unconventional, have you ever presumed the gender of a doctor to be a man and a nurse’s to be a woman, have you ever knowingly/unknowingly blamed a survivor? If yes, then you are nothing but a victim of societal indoctrination, but you can unlearn. Unlearn and rebuild your worldview from a feminist perspective, which calls for nothing but equality.
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