Who is a ‘feminist’?

Devika Mittal:

Devika Mittal

I asked my aunt if she is a feminist. She surveyed me for few seconds and said, “Feminist? I mean, there are differences between men and women.” When i posed the same question to a male friend he said, “How can i be a feminist? I am a MAN.” A famous Bollywood actress refused to be a feminist because she says, “I don’t hate men”. Half of the times, people do not know who a feminist is. Some end up summarizing feminists as ‘non-feminine’ women. Others view feminists as frustrated females who have no clue about what they are suggesting. There are even a few who even dare to confuse feminists with ‘feminine’ women. I know people who prefer to be called ‘women activists’ than ‘feminists’.

The word ‘Feminist’ means someone who demands equal rights for women. However, a new definition suggests a feminist to mean a woman rebel who wants to live like a man, altering the order of the nature. They believe in utopian idealism of equality of the sexes. The web of stereotypes which was the main target of the feminists has caught the feminists as well. A typical feminist is supposed to be an ugly-looking female with short hair, hairy legs. She is supposed to be a bra-burner. She has to hate men. Feminists were sometimes mistaken to mean lesbians. They are supposed to behave like men. So even when a feminist is actually trying to break free, she/he is only creating new boundaries.
A feminist is anyone who considers women as human beings. Contrary to the popular belief, one does not have be born a female to become a feminist. Feminists do not discriminate against the opposite sexes. A feminist is anyone who thinks that women have the right to decide for themselves. There is a difference between nature and culture. Women give birth. This is nature. Women have to take care of the kids alone. This is culture. Other than the fact that women can procreate, all other stereotypes are debatable. But society has made them appear as ‘facts’. Feminists target these assumptions. Every stereotype has an underlying cultural theory. ‘Girls like dolls and boys like cars’- This can be explained. Feminists are only appealing to the society to treat men and women as human beings, to respect their individuality. But feminism is being seen as a force destroying the family, the society.

Feminism is degraded because it is seen as a movement for the women and ‘by the women’. Women have been suppressed for centuries. Whenever they tried to raise their voices or break free, they have been silenced, either by force or through ideologies. Prostitutes who are financially independent met this fate. So the degradation of this ideology should not come as a surprise. Women’s chains have been forged by the society, not by the anatomy.

I have found that men are far more willing to discuss feminism than women themselves. The reason being that women have grown up believing that the society has different roles for men and women and that women have certain limitations. They have a gendered upbringing. A girl infant is given pink or light-coloured clothes. She is given a doll and she grows up to imitate that doll. Girls are home birds because they do not enjoy the same amount of freedom to go out as their brothers do. The restriction of movement is matched with the restriction of their thinking. So later when some ‘rebel’ tries to talk it out, their little world is threatened.

A very common perception about feminism is that it means equality with men. This perception challenges the very essence of feminism as even for equality, the parameters are male ones! Feminists challenge the institution of femininity but that does not mean it wants to adopt masculinity. There is a difference between femaleness and femininity. It is similar to the difference between nature and culture. Girls have to dress, talk and behave in a certain manner. This is femininity. Feminism does not say that women should not wear skirts or apply make-up. She has the right to do what she wants to. But feminism steps in when this becomes a social stigma. The symbols of femininity are also based on underlying principles. So women should know about this. Inspite of it, if she wants to, she has the right to. Some assume that feminists are against household work. Feminists do not discriminate against any kind of work but when people talk about ‘natural instincts’ then it becomes a duty to retaliate because they do not undermine the capability of the other sexes. Males can cook and sweep the floor with equal efficiency.

As for the other stereotypes about feminists, it should be noted that feminists do not constitute a new specie. Men may be for Mars and women from Venus. But Feminists are on earth. At the end of the day, feminists are individuals. Whether they wear a bra or not, they shave or wax, it is the individual who will decide that. Feminism comprises of many schools of thought. So the ideas may not be uniform but the pillars for equal rights and the right to decide for themselves stands firmly. So if you support humanism, individualism..then why not support feminism?

About the author: 

Devika Mittal is pursuing Ph.D in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics. She is a core member of Mission Bhartiyam and convener (India) of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative. She tweets at @devikasmittal

The article was taken from the author’s personal blog: https://devikamittal.wordpress.com/

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