“I am a feminist”. This ‘bold’ statement isn’t one which is spoken out loud so confidently in public as maybe it should have been. In fact, it itself is enough to raise a few eyebrows and be immediately stereotyped into something that the society has assumed it to be. It is usually met with a feeling of dissent even if silent, an internal judgement no matter how liberal the person claims to be and sometimes even a slight hesitation to admit to the same. The question that comes up in one’s mind is whether the situation has always been like this? Have people always seen feminism in a negative light and shied away from it? Or maybe the question should be different. Maybe one needs to detach oneself from this complex narrative and ask one of the most basic questions- Is the society even aware of the ideas and beliefs that feminism truly stands for? There is a general perception today about feminism being a ‘female’ centric movement which has begun to largely revolve around man-hating. This negative opinion is because of the lack of awareness of what feminism truly stands for or maybe how a few who claim to be the active enthusiasts have failed to communicate its true ideals. While dwelling deeper into the history of this much-debated ideology, it is customary to divide its journey into the First, Second and the Third Wave of Feminism. It remains important to realise the different perceptions that people have about feminism in today’s society.
It can be traced back to the 18th century where it began as a social development for the liberation of women commonly referred to as ‘women’s rights’. The first wave of feminism formally began when 300 women and men protested and rallied for gender equality in 1888 at the Seneca Falls. Women were seen fighting for finding their voice for the first time in history, and it largely revolved around the right to vote. They also began a long drawn out struggle for legal protection against sexual violence, harassment in workplace etc.
The first wave of feminism ended with the 19th amendment of the US constitution granted women voting rights and was followed by a resurgence of this movement in the 1950s and 60s. This was what people termed as the Second wave where women now began to look beyond their domestic bliss. They continued to fight for basic rights and a new image of a working empowered woman gained popularity. The orthodox sections criticised this period of the second wave and women coming out of their restricted lives, and the image of an empowered woman was thought of being equivalent to being uncultured and inappropriate. Being a woman in that era (late 19th century) solely constituted of being confined within the four walls of the house with no strong opinion whatsoever. It was during this period that the Black movement started in the United States and women of colour felt underrepresented and excluded from the feminist movement.
The second wave ended with the failure to ratify the Equal rights amendment in the United States which meant equality under the law. The movement fizzled out after the failure and regained its momentum in the Third Wave (the mid-1990s) which was also a long drawn out struggle fighting for various issues, and unlike the first two waves, the movement was less critically received by the society. A lot of the previous issues were fought for again such as reproductive rights, violence against women and a true acceptance for the term ‘feminism’ came about. Many claimed that these movements largely remained confined to the western nations and feminism as a concept came on much later in countries like India and other Asian nations. Nevertheless, these waves were crucial because they helped in awakening the society to a movement that fought for gender equality and also achieving several milestones that each wave set after. Surely the long drawn out movement has improved the situation, but women in many parts of the world continue to face oppression, some fight and some fail, some get too bound up in the system to even imagine raising their voice against it, and some just succumb under the pressures of patriarchy.
It is safe to say that fighting for women’s rights is a continuous process. It isn’t just a set of goals one needs to achieve and then have the luxury to relax. It is a long drawn struggle against the deep-rooted holds that patriarchy has had over our society for as long as one can remember. Feminism in the simplest terms means gender equality. It refers to the access of equal political, economic and social rights to men as well as women. When it is so simple, why is there a rising misconstrued understanding of the term feminism? Most of the people in today’s era believe in gender equality yet only 17% of men, and 1/3rd women identify themselves as feminists (Irish Examiner, 2017). Why wouldn’t they embrace the title?
The problem lies in the way feminism as a term has been represented in the 21st century. Feminism and Feminazi are often being used interchangeably, and the movement has been transformed from fighting side by side with men aiming for achieving gender equality to a fight against the male population. There is a growing dislike amongst men and women alike for the term, and some staunch supporters of this movement are giving up the title. Many women claim to believe in the idea of gender equality, but they do not feel the need or any compulsion to embrace the term of being called feminists. They think that such a contested, complex and increasingly controversial ideology is not needed when you believe in the basic ideas that it espouses. This stereotype of women clad in pink saris adorning big bindis and sheer hatred for the opposite gender in their core has surfaced as the popular image of how the society views feminism. Maybe they are correct in their place, but maybe they are just scared to have an opinion which is open to judgements and lack the true ability to fight for it.
Feminism is not a negative word. Women nowadays refuse to call themselves feminists and openly talk about not feeling any need to embrace the word. What they do not realise is that by making such bold statements, they are singlehandedly putting down efforts of thousands of courageous women who came in this world much before them and had to fight against a society much more orthodox. They fail to realise that they have the luxury to make such claims and to live in this society because it changed from what it was due to the struggles of such women. Today, when people talk about how feminism is just overhyped propaganda, and there is no such obvious discrimination, they are speaking while comfortably sitting in their drawing rooms and are fortunate enough to have the comfort and luxury that many women of this country till this date cannot even dream of.
Feminism is about gender equality. There is no denying that the movement has lost its true ideals and gone towards more or less a ‘man-hating propaganda’ but this isn’t an opportunity to completely abandon a movement that many have fought that their entire lives for. There is a need for a change. There is a need for people in power and influence to come up and embrace the word making people realise that maybe they have lost the true essence of an ideology which could have been simple and immensely progressive. Another popular stereotype that exists about such ‘feminist women’ is that they want to become like a man. By ‘becoming like a man’, the society confuses the effort of having the same opportunities as a man in all spheres with a woman who wants to completely abandon her feminity and become like a man. As pointless this stereotype is, the more popular it is. This is also one of the many reasons why women have been hesitant to label themselves as feminists. They are afraid that by having an opinion, society might consider them as ‘loud’ or ‘non-feminine’. A woman is perfectly capable of being ‘feminine’ and a feminist. A woman who in the society’s perspective is ‘shy, timid and womanly’ can very well have strong opinions and proudly claim to be a feminist. Feminism isn’t for a certain type of woman. In fact, it is for every woman and more importantly for every man who believes in the idea of equality of rights and maybe it is high time that people recognize it.
The world has continuously fought against various forms of discrimination and injustices. People staunchly support a fight against racism, casteism, child labour, human trafficking, then why not join a fight that affects 50% of the population of this world. Why shy away from feminism? Women did not ask for this system. It was shoved upon them with circumstances where social hierarchy gave them no choice but to accept it. Their dreams were crushed, wings were clipped and their life confined to the pleasures of domestic life. Maybe it is high time that people ‘man’ up and give the long overdue attention to women who need it. It is also time for this movement to not just get restricted to long posts on social media and the big cities but also to reach the rural areas and address the problem from the grassroots level. Women have fought for their rights, spent years in oppression not just for their movement to get misconstrued and misrepresented by a few uninformed individuals. They did it so that this movement could finally achieve what millions have dreamed of.
Irish Examiner. (2017, November 17). The F word why are women reluctant to call themselves feminists. Retrieved from The Irish Examiner website: https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/the-f-word-why-are-some-women-reluctant-to-call-themselves-feminists-462961.html
Image credit: Harpers Bazaar
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