Friday, May 27, 2011

Feminism revisited

Feminist 2011
I am revisiting feminism with Aqseer, a good twenty five odd years later.

The strange thing is that neither of us had an orthodox, conservative upbringing. My childhood was nearly as progressive as hers. I can think of only one difference. I grew up as three, two sisters and a brother while she had only Asawari for company. You would have thought the permutation alone might have kept her immune from shades of gender bias. Not that I suffered any at home. Truth be told, it was probably my brother who felt sisterly weight pinning him down when we were growing up, poor 'bhai'. Dad and Mom were equitable in their treatment of us three, if anything. They in fact, tried to even out the family adrenalin rush that comes on in typical Jat Sikh families at the birth of a son.  

 Money, Honey, Ruby
My brush with gender based favouritism would take place on our visits home to Moga during the summers. I would see the milk tumblers that went to the boys in the family, the larger portion of curd pushed their way, the fussing over them on their return from the farm while the girls in the clan worked round the clock, invisible and unacknowledged.  Try as I might, I cannot forget one particular night in my Dad’s maternal village called “Burj Harike”. Kamal was working on some Punjabi to English translations with my help around 7 pm or so. I remember the low voltage, the oppressive air over the turbid paddy fields and the cloud of moths hovering over the books. As we pored over the text in Gurumukhi, Amarjeet Taiji rudely snapped off the solo bulb over us, “Stop it girls, the boys are back and need to sleep.”

With the immediate home ruled out as a plausible cause therefore, where and why did Aqseer and I get coloured with feminism ?!

Feminist 1986
In retrospect now, feminism is not bad but it is reactionary in spirit and thereby a costly consumer of precious personal resources such as time, energy and emotion. Why should a gender feel the need to contest established norms? Why should half the human race have a gulp of bile forever lurking on the rim of their throats? Why should one lot be pre-occupied with placating, manipulating, acquiescing, pleasing the other? Even all those years ago there was that look on the streets, a tone on the radio and TV, a thought expressed in print that made women feel devalued, disrespected and disdained.  

There followed of course the marathon and mandatory circuit of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”, Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”, Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” and Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch”……

I feel Aqseer’s inner turbulence in short. I shudder when she insists on driving home alone at midnight because, “my male friend’s parents would be as worried over him as you are about me.” I wince when a colleague says her son is comfortable having the girl pay for the meal because "is he not giving her his company!" I double up with alarm when boys refuse to give up seats marked for girls because “are they not asking to be equals?” It scares me when two equally qualified young professionals, batch mates in some cases, decide to tie the knot and a month later the guy is beating up the girl. I don’t know what to make of girls wanting to do everything a boy seems to be able to do. This is your fault Freud !

Should I have factored in her gender while parenting her? Is feminism becoming defunct, seeing as there are generational leaps over mere two to three years today? Do girls feel any more valued, cherished, safe and filled with a sense of dignity and self-respect for the mere fact of having been born a human being today? Or is it the boys gearing up over “masculinism”…the new phenomenon in vitro ! 


Anonymous said...
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Though I am aware of the gender bias that is all around us, I firmly believe that 'Feminism' is not going to help. As most of the movements, it started as something born out of passion and oppression. But today what Feminism has turned into (Modern Feminism) is nothing more than a propaganda that demands superiority over the male counterparts. And that is why I believe in equality and not in any other movement for any gender. Male, Female and all the other genders that are out there deserve equal treatment and opportunities.

But that doesnt mean I will not leave my seat for a lady or let the door slam in on the face of a girl walking behind me. Equality is one thing, but courtesy is another. Being polite and considerate to someone does not mean that you think of them as unequals. I believe my wife has got all the rights that I have, but still I would prefer to carry the bags myself while we are shopping, let her sit when there is only one seat available in the metro. I dont mind when I am out of money and she pays for all things or when I am busy and she has to travel all by herself from Gurgaon to Noida in the middle of the night. I know she is a strong person and can take care of herself, me and anyone else with her for that matter.

What I dont like about today's feminism that it is becoming exactly what it was trying to abolish in the past. Today, according to modern feminists, we should accept that all the discrimination and abuse forced upon women is done by men; THIS is know for a fact is not true. I have seen women oppressing women more than the men of their family. Men set the patriarch rules, but its the women of the that household that make the girls remind how they are supposed to keep quiet and follow the rules and let the boys go about their business as they dont have any rules to follow.

I believe that instead of feminism what we need today is a movement, where we teach our kids (especially girls) to QUESTION THE AUTHORITY. In fact, if you look back at the origin of the feminism, that is exactly what it gave birth to this movement. But now all we do is repeat after one another, "Women are pure creature. Men are evil!"

My mother was born and raised in a patriarchal family where she wasnt even allowed to go on the roof or talk to any boy. However that same woman has taught me that only because I am a man does not make me a bigger deal than any woman. She keeps teaching the same thing to her grandchildren now (one boy and one girl). Now where did a woman who was raised in a strict conservative household, learn all this? She wasnt introduced with feminism? The answer is simple, she agreed to all the rules that her elder brother set for her, but decided not to compromise on her studies. After her marriage to my father, she expressed her desire to study further, to which my father 'agreed'.

This one example and many others I saw in my life, assured me that we dont need feminism to being gender equality. But a good education for all and an environment where everyone is free to question the authority.

Neerja Singh said...

Swapnil Narendra ji, I could not agree with you more. Feminism is a charged word, acknowledged to varying degrees depending on the user. It is true that many women themselves are averse to the militant form this movement has taken at times. I appreciate your heartfelt take. In time, some form of balance will emerge; things have changed so drastically in the past two decades.Sure, negotiation is more effective than confrontation. Meanwhile only the wearer can know where the shoe pinches. I feel bad about all the comments I accidentally deleted one day....there is one on this string too. I was actually wanting to clear the spam but ended up erasing an entire lot of feedback. Thank you for writing in.