“A wonderful day to spend among women in leadership” said Rashmi Karthik an attendee of Women #BreakingBarriers Bangalore. Breaking Barriers is now coming to Pune, Panjim, Kolkata, Coimbatore, Chennai. Register now to attend!
What does feminism mean? It addresses the gender discrepancies women face daily, but it is most misunderstood, even by women themselves!
What if I told you I was a librocubicularist?
Or maybe, I told you I was a sapiosexual?
Each and every scenario looks ridiculous, right?
Then, why oh why, do so many of us try to do the same with the term ‘Feminism’?
Definition: The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
Now, before you say “I don’t know much about feminism, but…”
“I’m not a feminist, but…”
Please, please remember you DO NOT need to know much about feminism than this basic definition. And if you too believe in the equality of the sexes YOU ARE A FEMINIST! Sorry, there’s no escaping that!
Yes, I do understand that there is a lot of negative connotation to the word ‘feminist’. This is what Wikipedia says about anti-feminism:
Anti-feminism is opposition to feminism in some or all of its forms.
‘In the nineteenth century, anti-feminism was mainly focused on opposition to women’s suffrage. Later, opponents of women’s entry into institutions of higher learning argued that education was too great a physical burden on women. Other anti-feminists opposed women’s entry into the labour force, or their right to join unions, to sit on juries, or to obtain birth control and control of their sexuality.
Some people have opposed feminism on the grounds that they believe it is contrary to traditional values or religious beliefs. These anti-feminists argue, for example, that social acceptance of divorce and non-married women is wrong and harmful, and that men and women are fundamentally different and thus their different traditional roles in society should be maintained. Other anti-feminists oppose women’s entry into the workforce, political office, and the voting process, as well as the lessening of male authority in families.’
Women weren’t allowed to vote till the nineteenth century and though they would work and even pay taxes that technically made them citizens, yet when it came to voting, it was considered a man’s domain. In America, even when the right to vote was expanded to be inclusive of all races, social positions, and incomes, even then women were not included. Irrespective of whether a man was illiterate or had a past criminal record, he could still vote and a woman, no matter what her position or qualification, couldn’t.
In the mid-19th century, women suffragists (suffragettes) started campaigning in all the democratic nations across the world, to change this law. Though there campaigns were peaceful, yet people during those times, thought of such women as indecent and stupid to make such a ‘demand’ of being treated the same way like a man. You can see here how the cruel society painted the picture of the suffragettes during those times, when all they were asking for was equal rights like their male counterparts.
Thus began the journey of the word feminism with a negative image that was painted by society itself.
Now, for another important question, why do we need to call it ‘feminism’ and why can’t we call it say, ‘humanism’ or ‘egalitarianism’? See, I did the research for you! According to this source:
The movement was given the name ‘feminism’ because it focuses on the gender inequality issues that impact women. Just like any other civil rights category, feminism is a term used to show that one supports women’s equality and wants to address the serious amount of gender discrepancies they face daily. It does not take away from other civil rights matters.
Feminism is not called Humanism or Egalitarianism because Feminism, Humanism and Egalitarianism are three distinct theories.
‘Humanism is a branch of philosophy and ethics that advocates for equality, tolerance and secularism. It recognizes that human beings do not ‘require’ religion in order to develop moral systems or behave morally. More simply, Humanism is the theory that humans are allowed to use logic to decide what is ethical instead of using a higher power to define for them.
Egalitarianism is a form of political philosophy that advocates all human beings are fundamentally equal and therefore equally entitled to resources. Yet, it has some distinct limits in applied practice. Egalitarianism has been an inactive socio-political movement for quite a while now.
Equality was originally conceptualized as a means to give everyone the same things, and although concepts and theories of equality are meant to be fair, rarely if ever are they in practice in reality.
This is not to infer that these two practices did not help shape Feminism. Humanism and Egalitarianism are important intellectual movements whose philosophies inform Feminism as well as global human rights legislation. But Feminism is the only movement actively advocating for gender equality.
The movement operates on the tenant that gender is not an acceptable basis for discrimination, oppression and/or eradication. It’s called Feminism because the gender being denied personhood and subjected to oppression is female. Feminism was given its name because it began as a socio-political movement to achieve gender equality for females and through its own rhetoric has become a movement to achieve equality for all persons regardless of gender.’
The last line is especially important here. Feminism has become a movement to achieve equality for all persons, regardless of gender. And hence, the fight for the equal rights for the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual) community also falls under the purview of feminism.
Think about it for a while, homosexuality is still not accepted in India. ‘Sexual activity between people of the same gender is illegal, and same-sex couples cannot legally marry or obtain a civil partnership.’ Feminism fights for these laws to be abolished as well.
The women in our country still don’t find it safe to travel alone during night (and sometimes, also during the day), rapes, molestation are still rampant, female foeticide is still a huge problem in India, and women are still judged for their lifestyles, their clothing, their marital or motherhood status, feminism fights for all these and much more.
Some people ask, what about the men? Of course feminism fights for the rights of men too! The struggle to debunk the definition of a ‘real man’ as someone who cannot cry or show his emotions, who should be interested in sports, who is not capable of being abused, and so on, these are the fights that feminism fights for, too!
Only because women have been historically the more subjugated gender, hence the term feminism.
To cite an oft quoted example, the Black Lives Matter movement that originated in the African American community campaigns against violence and racism against black people. The movement is known for its protests against police brutality towards black people as well as racial profiling and other racial inequality that is faced by them on a regular basis. Some people ask the question, why is it ‘black lives matter’ and not ‘all lives matter’? As this article explains, if the movement is called all lives matter then it takes away the focus from systemic racism and the black lives. It diminishes the message that Black lives matter or should matter more than they currently do.
Similarly if you call it by any other name, Feminism takes its focus away from the fact that historically and even to this day females belong to the more subjugated gender. This in no way says that men are not important but rather it places the narrative in the hands of women, where women decide what to do with their lives rather than be dictated by society.
Feminism should never be confused with misandry or male bashing because that is against the very basic fiber of feminism, that is, equality REGARDLESS of GENDERS. So, please instead of asking for a different term or trying to shy away from it because of popular misconceptions, LEARN about the true essence of feminism.
Moreover, being women, we should be all the more grateful to the feminist movement for all the rights that we enjoy today. It was because of their struggles that we are the educated independent women of today.
Also, please don’t confuse it as a movement that only women believe in. There are many women (including those advocating misandry) who cannot be considered as feminists. At the same time, there are men who are feminists simply because of their belief in equal rights. Hence, feminism is not gender specific and anyone in their rational mind can understand why this movement has so far been important and why it will continue to remain relevant for years to come.
So, please stop asking for a different term or giving excuses for not being a feminist. Instead, if possible, please educate those people, whose misinterpretation of the term has so far given feminism a bad name. Also, while we are at that, how come we don’t have an issue with terms such as HIStory or MANkind?
I would like to end with this awesome video by Tanmay Bhat and a quote I love from Arundhati Roy on this issue:
“Every freedom we have today, we have because of feminists. Many women have fought and paid a huge price for where we are today! It didn’t all come to us only because of our own inherent talent or brilliance. Even the simple fact that women have the vote, who fought for that? The suffragettes. No freedom has come without a huge battle. If you’re not a feminist, go back to into your veil, sit in the kitchen and take instructions. You don’t want to do that? Thank the feminists.”
Become a premium user on Women’s Web and get access to exclusive content for women, plus useful Women’s Web events and resources in your city.
Published here earlier.
Image source: shutterstock
I read like a maniac, like my life depends on it. I also write and
Brilliant post Kasturi! You have made some fantastic and valid references to nail your argument! I am completely convinced and do hope many people will read this article and be convinced too! There is such a lot of useful information in this post on the topic that I want take a print out and paste in my mind to refer to when in a jam trying to de-mystify feminism to all those people who are either ignorant or who feign ignorance just to trivialise or deny the significance of the feminist journey and story!! Thank you and “may the force be with you ” !!
Dear Sonia, your comment made my day! 🙂 Thank you so much for reading and appreciating the essence of the article. I was recently involved in a discussion where people were (yet again) badmouthing feminism without the basic knowledge of what it was. It annoyed me to such a great extent that I was like, ‘Enough is enough! I’m going to write an article where I’ll debunk all the misconceptions about the term that I keep hearing now and again. It did take some work and research but this is one of my pieces that I’m really glad to have written. So, it is extra special when someone recognizes the effort. Thanks from the bottom of my heart and hopefully, this article will help clear some questions or misconceptions from the readers’ mind. May the force be with you, too! 🙂
This is quite true,It’s a splendid article but the only irony out there is that many Indian women confuse it with “freedom to be mean”, “privileges”and “dubious double standards”,that’s an abhorrence and that must be dealt with quickly or else people will slowly lose faith in the movement ,WHICH IS NOT A GOOD SIGN.
What feminism must do is to equally emphasize that misuse exists within the system and take appropriate step to curb it.Another thing worth noting is that ,men are not inherently anti-feminists or misogynists its the social conditioning and the double standards
inflicted by the society and these so called fake feminists that instill intense hate in them.
In the end , Indians are looking for a equal society which is not bogged down by privileges to a particular class of people and they
want everyone to enjoy their life with an equal sense of accountability.
Excellent article… I’m going to share it… You have voiced my own views on the subject. Feminism is so often misunderstood. Please if you have the time.. read my article.. men and women are equal
Why I left my (Not-So) Feminist Boyfriend: How Adding Prefixes Is Killing The Cause
What Is Feminism? And What It Is Not
Why Chetan Bhagat’s Latest Book One Indian Girl Is A Huge Disappointment For Feminists [#BookReview]
Expecting A Sati Savitri In A Woman? Who Are You To Judge Her Sexual Needs?
Get our weekly mailer and never miss out on the best reads by and about women!