This article is authored by Anvita Bhardwaj, from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article discusses the philosophy of feminism and the positive and negative aspects surrounding it.
Table of Contents
All over the world, women generally experience, to varying levels, underrepresentation in politics, considerably less economic power, restrictions on their bodily autonomy and greater vulnerability to sexual violence. Feminism is a philosophy that seeks to understand and transform these conditions. Feminism seeks political, social and economic equality of all sexes. Primarily, it is the advocacy of the rights of women based on equality of sexes. There should be equal rights and opportunities for both men and women.
Often the concept of equality is confused with the term “sameness” and people argue that since women are not the “same” as men there cannot be any equality. However, feminism at its core is not about “sameness”. It simply focuses on equality. Feminists are perfectly aware that their physical capabilities are different from men and anatomy of both the genders is different but these physical differences should not mean that equality is not possible.
Feminism has different meanings to different people. Not all feminists think alike. This acts as both strength and a challenge to the movement. A lot of feminists agree with the women having diverse experiences and that intersection of different aspects such as class, caste, religion and sexual orientation result in having different access to political influence and economic opportunities. It also affects the level of violence and discrimination they are prone to. For example, two feminists might agree that women are being treated unjustly but their opinions can differ on why this injustice is occurring and what they should do to end it. Similarly, between feminists and anti-feminists agreements and disagreement both can be there. For example, an anti-feminist can agree with a feminist that better treatment of women should be there but they might not agree that there is a need to change the existing system of patriarchy; rather reforms can be brought within the same.
There are many people who do not believe (personally or publically) that there should be equal rights and opportunities for men and women. Many people believe that we have already achieved equality for both genders and there is no need for feminism now. Thousands of other people believe that we have not achieved equal status and therefore, still support the continuing efforts of feminists that pave way for equal rights. Then there is a section that believes in equality of rights but does not want to align their views and opinions with the term “feminism”. However, more than data, research or science one relies on their personal experiences. So, in simple words, if you have faced any kind of discrimination, you know that it exists but if you have not you simply doubt if it really happens. The goal of feminism is achieving equality and despite the arguments otherwise, equality does not exist anywhere in the world today. Famous American writer/feminist Audre Lorde has rightfully said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
- A pressing issue persisting for women all around the world is violence. As per the 2018 study conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, every day, about 137 women are killed by their family members or intimate partners across the world.
- A Global Study on Homicide shows that in an estimate of 60% of all female homicides the crime is committed by someone close to the victim.
- In India, 40-50% of female homicide is due to dowry death.
- A 2016 statistical report revealed that every hour, four cases of rape are reported in India.
- The 2018 Thomas Reuters Foundation poll placed India as the most dangerous country in the world for women. This survey was conducted on the basis of economic resources, violence (both sexual and non-sexual), healthcare facilities, cultural and traditional practices, human trafficking and female foeticide and infanticide.
- According to a study conducted by UNICEF, every year 1.5 million girls get married in India before attaining the age of 18 years. This makes India home to the world’s largest number of child brides. The situation in India is such despite so many laws existing against child marriage.
Furthermore, there are issues like safety of the LGBTQ+ community, access to education, representation in politics, the wage gap etc. that need redressal. Therefore, the need for Feminism is unquestionable.
Why some people hate feminism
A lot of people do not shy away from admitting they hate the word feminism or the feminist movement. This can be either because they do not support the movement or simply because of the misconceptions surrounding it. Let us discuss a few reasons why people are reluctant to get behind this philosophy or movement. A lot of data and research proves that feminism is associated with strong, powerful and angry women. The notion of a feminist portrayed by society is such that they believe she is the classic antithesis of the traditional women of society. Society, till now, continues to punish forceful and powerful women, it does feel the need to suppress bold actions and voices because after all, it is a patriarchal society we live in.
This brings us to the next aspect. Many people believe that feminism will bring an end to the power of men. They will lose their positions of power, authority, impact and influence in all social, political or economic terms. It further forwards the notion that women want to control the world and put the men down. They need a superiority status and treat men badly. This is a very widespread misconception.
Next comes the conservative part of society. The conservative part of society usually has orthodox beliefs and does not want to move forward in the direction of change. These are the people with dogmatic values. These people usually fear that if the feminist movement garners the support of majority then time-honoured traditions or religious beliefs might be in danger. They feel that the society already has pre-established gender roles which work just fine and a change in the working of things feels wrong and scary to them. However, change is the key to evolution and the harmful, oppressive practices must be brought to an end.
A good number of people also feel that feminism will bring about a negative change in society. It will cause a negative shift in power-dynamics resulting in failed relationships and marriages. It will destroy society and culture. There will be a major change in the authority dynamics in the economic sphere if and when then men and women are treated on equal footing. These are some of the major reasons why a lot of people hate the word feminism or do not support the feminist movement. They are guided by misconceptions or fears which are not healthy but they do not want to change their way of living. Feminism has actually brought a lot of positive changes in the society for women and as discussed above is still very important and needed in the society. Proper awareness is the only way these misconceptions and fears can be addressed and solved.
Positive changes by feminism
There are a lot of positive changes the feminist movement was able to contribute to society. It started with granting of rights such as Right to vote, Right to hold property, equal pay in workplaces, exposure to more economic opportunities etc. Women were provided with rights against discrimination as well as rights to protect them from workplace sexual harassment. A lot of countries recognized marital rape as a crime and made it illegal. India has separate provisions for women to protect them against gendered crimes such as acid attacks and dowry death. These provisions have been added through amendments as per the need for them showcased via protests and petitions. In the United States, women are given reproductive rights. The US Supreme Court in a historical ruling Roe v. Wayde (1973) made it a constitutional right for the woman to choose whether or not she wants to carry her pregnancy to term.
Further, there have been efforts to use gender-neutral language. This kind of language is such which tries to make the least assumptions about the biological gender of the people. For example, using the pronouns such as they/them etc. instead of he or she. Using this kind of language serves not one but two purposes. It is more inclusive of both the genders and sexes. Secondly, people consider that gender is not a necessity to mark in the language. Gender-neutral language is considered as non-sexist or politically correct.
The awareness about feminism has also introduced the concept of paid paternity leave for men. This is because since the advent of feminism women have tried to assert that men should be equally involved in child care and domestic duties of the household. If the man and woman are both working, then it is unfair that the woman is expected to do the majority of the household work and take care of the child alone. The monetary contribution is not the sole purpose of fathers, they are supposed to help out and distribute the duties equally. This has challenged the pre-existing gendered roles that men are supposed to go out and work and women are supposed to stay home and take care of the household. Childbearing out of wedlock has become more acceptable.
Feminist couples have more stable and positive relationships as there is greater acceptance for each other and more understanding amongst one another. It has positive effects on a woman’s mental and sexual health. Even when it comes to religious practices, feminists demand that sacred texts be interpreted in a way that is not from a male-dominated point of view. It asks for a wider scope of interpretation wherein the society is equal for men and women alike. Many religious practices which were oppressive such as Sati, Triple-Talaq etc. have been abolished. In the past, these practices were given greater acceptance in the society but with the advent of feminism, these practices are considered immoral and oppressive for women. So it is safe to say that in our day-to-day lives feminism has brought in many positive changes.
Lately, more and more people perceive that a feminist is someone who hates men. It has become a widespread misconception. Feminists do not stand for this. They want an equal society for men and women and not one where one dominates the other. The real term for a person who hates men is a misandrist. It presents itself in many ways including but not limited to sexual discrimination, violence against men, denigration of men and sexual objectification of men. As we have already discussed, feminism stands for political, economic, social and personal equality of sexes. It aims to achieve equal educational and professional opportunities. It does not seek to switch the power structure; rather it wants to disassemble the patriarchal structure. This structure provides some benefits to men. However, ultimately it is harmful to both men and women. For example, it shows that women need men to take care of them, or are very emotional, or they are primary caretakers of the family but at the same time, it also promotes things like men should not showcase any emotion or men cannot be sexually assaulted or abused or that men cannot take care of children as well as the women can. The idea that patriarchy should be replaced with matriarchy is an idea of misandry and not of feminism. The idea that patriarchy should be overturned is propagated by feminists. Just because some individuals hate men (misandrists) does not mean that feminism should be equated with misandry. We do not equate all men as misogynists, just those who openly hate women or consider them inferior. I believe that misandry is the evil that prevails in society and feminism as a movement is still very much needed in society as it brings about positive, uplifting changes for both men and women.
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