Is it time to write an epitaph for feminism?

Feminism is here to stay so long as a patriarchal society does, asserts Radhika D Shyam

Is it time to write an epitaph for feminism?

Daily grief falls on them like steady torrential rain that does not let the sunshine of hope break through the brooding dark clouds.

Ponnave porakka kooddadu’ in Tamil translates into ‘one should never be born a woman’, and a popular plea to God in Hindi – ‘Agle janam mohe bitiya na keejo’ means ‘Don’t let me be a daughter in my next birth’. Despite our so-called modern society, women continue to get beaten, raped, sold, murdered, traded, burnt, stoned, maimed, humiliated, and exploited, everyday in our country. 

Feminism vs patriarchy

When such is the case, those who think that feminism is a passe in this modern world are only fooling themselves!

Says Lata Jagtiani, a writer, journalist and lecturer based in Mumbai having strong views on the subject, “In our country, feminism is a rebellious movement against age-old patriarchy that owes its existence to a view that women are inferior and need to be restricted, guided and controlled. Consequently, the death of patriarchy will mean the death of feminism. Thanks to education and economic independence of women, feminist thinking is spreading wide into the male psyche too”.

A slow-poke through the ages

In the west, though the first known publication by women that referred to demands of equality were in the 15th century, feminism really began in earnest in the late 1800’s with demands of legal rights to own and inherit property and the right to vote. Three decades from the 1960s, like their feminist counterparts all over the world, feminists in India sought gender equality through the right to work, equal wages, the right to equal access to health and education, and equal political rights. Indian feminists also fought against culture-specific issues within India's patriarchal society, such as inheritance laws and the practice of Sati. A retrospective analysis of the history of feminism all over the world clearly indicates the slow pace of progress and reforms. 

Non-evolutionary society

Women’s movements may try with all their might, but it isn't about legislation or money. True and lasting liberation is about the evolution of the species. Two years ago, a print-ad of a popular brand of washing machine had pictures of 5 progressive models of their washing machines since 1886 and alongside each machine was a human model with the laundry in hand. Needless to say, all of them were women and
ironically it proclaimed, “125 years of evolution”!

The media’s lack of social responsibility endorses inequality to a great extent. Most Indian television serials relegate the roles of women characters to that of archetypal second fiddles to their male counterparts.

Little drops of rain

Winner of Padmashri and the Sahitya Akademi award, renowned author Shasi Deshpande says that the society has changed a great deal through the four decades of her writing. She says, “Feminism has been see-sawing – initially a lot of enthusiasm and activism made many issues come to the forefront and created awareness.

Later came a kind of ennui with a backlash against feminism, with even young women turning their backs against it. There is greater awareness now, things are talked about and discussed. When I wrote my first novel the term marital rape was unknown. Now it is spoken of and a law may come soon, protecting women from this. This is progress. But girls are still often unwanted, discriminated against, deprived of nutrition, education, and forced into marriage.”

Empowered? Says who?

And then there are the so-called elite, educated, empowered ladies and we wonder just how 'empowered' they really are behind the sham of 'having it all'.

It is easy to point out at women like Kalpana Chawla, Sunitha Williams, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey –  such accomplished, successful ladies, who have achieved so much more than most men. But can all women be like them? For every name mentioned here, there are millions of women who live and die in grief.

Moreover, who can look into the hearts and souls of our female icons to find out just how happy they are? We love to hang onto the many myths surrounding highly successful ladies - that they have mastered the life-balance ratio, that they are the way they are because they've challenged the status quo, rewritten rules, broken barriers, shattered glass ceilings. If so, good for them! But how does that help the rest of us – the ones who continue to struggle each day just to stay alive, breathe, and eat without getting crushed, verbally, emotionally, physically, and financially?

Stop “mother”ing!

Lata Jagtiani points out “Patriarchal governments and laws prevent women from self-actualization. The glorification of the ‘mother’ has actually been to the disadvantage of the woman herself. She has been kept down by the societal pressures that imply this is the perfectly suited role for her and all other roles should take second place”.

Citing the examples of the recent rape cases, she asserts, “Narrow-minded chauvinism is clearly evident in the offenders’  and society's beliefs alike that women are objects to be used and brutalized. It was as if they justify thieves who rob a bank because it kept something desirable. One's sexuality is one's own, but the patriarchal view is that women's sexuality is a man's property.”

Empowerment of paradoxes

As if it weren't already enough, modernity has brought in new sets of problems for the woman. She is brought up as if she were equal to a son. But the moment it comes to choosing a life partner, she has no say in it. She is brought up to be a financially independent woman, but in searching for a groom, both sides insist that the groom earn more than her. She is given liberal education, but is ultimately told that family and "being a mother" should always come first.

An unyielding movement

There are those who say, “Perhaps, feminism is no longer the right medium to discuss, analyze, and liberate the modern struggling woman.”

Ever considered that the so-called modern society might have outpassed all feminist efforts and grown new tentacles like a vicious invincible monster? Perhaps feminism needs to redress itself in a whole-new avatar to wage a war against the so-called “modern” but patriarchal society. But there is only so much feminism and feminists can do unless patriarchal men and women truly come to believe that women deserve absolute rights over their minds, bodies, and emotions. 

The need of the hour is for people to genuinely believe in gender equality, practice it in their day-to-day lives and of course, pass this ideology to future generations at the grass root level. We can only create ripples now, in the hope that it will result in waves over the years.

Comments (+)