Feminism– Not Just a Word, an Idea

We are all aware of the Sabarimala controversy that has stemmed from the Supreme Court’s decision to allow women devotees to enter the temple. The most surprising issue here is that even in the twentieth century India, there are still certain sections in the society who seem to think it is “normal” or “natural” to forbid an entire sex from entering a place of worship, citing a reason that they have no choice in. In light of this, there is no need to justify why the notion of feminism is something each one of us should actively think about and propagate. There are quite a number of people who attach a very negative connotation to the word “feminism”. They try to justify their position by bringing out the fact that if equality is what we are looking for, then we must use certain inclusive terms like “egalitarianism” or “humanism” instead of a term that seems to inherently favour a particular sex. To answer this question, let us go back a few centuries.

How exactly did this whole idea of one sex being superior to the other come into being? It all started with the early men and the nomads. They had a lifestyle that mirrored the phrase “survival of the fittest.” It was the time when hunting was the predominant source of food. In such a time, owing to the fact that men are biologically stronger than women, they were responsible for hunting and gathering food while the women were in charge of other activities that required relatively lesser strength like household chores and tending to the children. Slowly, as civilizations flourished, the need for physical strength to ensure a livelihood became less important. But sadly, the society and the people even today fail to see this. Our society, if not in the urban areas, then in the villages and towns, still seems to think that working, earning money, stepping out of the house and getting things done, is something that still is limited to men only.

This is exactly why the term “Feminism” takes centre stage in all our conversations. Historically, one sex has been on the receiving end of all discriminatory judgements of the society. We are asking for equal rights, yes. But how do you ensure that the rights are equal? If you go in for merit-based distribution of rights, women might not even qualify, given the years of subjugation. Hence, we ask for reservations that will ensure that women at least come to the same level as men before we make an argument for merit-based rights distribution. It is agreeable that a lot of measures have been taken to ensure the same. Women are given employment in almost every field now and hold positions which are at par with their male counterparts. This is indeed laudable. Yet, there are incidences of harassment in almost every office. So, what is the problem here? How can we accept, and yet be hostile to the idea? The answer is simple– the mentality of the people still needs to change.

One might say, in big cities and towns, people have accepted the idea completely. Is that really true? Let me ask this very simple question – what is the first toy you’ll buy for your baby boy? Will it be the same that you’ll buy for your girl? Or will you too, like everyone else, buy a monster truck for your boy and a Barbie doll for your girl? There, you’ve already discriminated between them. This is exactly what needs to change. Why is it that we start discriminating between the two, right from the time they are born? We, in fact, bring them up differently as well. A crying baby boy is consoled by saying that real men don’t cry, while a crying baby girl is never told real women are strong. We buy t-shirts saying “aspiring astronaut” for our boy and for our girl we buy one that says “lovely princess”. What we fail to realize is that these are the little things that create the mentality of difference. We create the divide right from the time they are babies. Then how can we say that we are not party to this discrimination?

There are certain people, predominantly men, who seem to think that feminism has nothing to do with them. Well, let’s put this into perspective. Reports have suggested that Indian men are more prone to become suicidal than Indian women. The reason for this is that Indian men are far more unlikely to seek help for mental trauma than women. Why? Because we bring up our men in such a way that we establish in them the idea that they are supposed to be strong and tough. That is why they seem to prefer dying than to live with the disgrace of having being called “weak”. This idea affects men far more than they care to admit.

Hence, the idea of equality, the idea of feminism, is as important to men as it is to women. To make this society non-judgemental about women, we need to change its idea about men first. Why isn’t it normal for a man to be a homemaker while the woman goes out to earn the bread? Why isn’t it all right for a man to be able to freely express his emotions, to cry? Why do we look down on men who listen to their wives but expect women to always consider their husband’s decisions? It’s these ideas that need to change. The day the society accepts a man with the above qualities, a woman will no longer need to justify her returning late from work. That day, we can truly say that our society has been “civilized”. And if there still are people who do not think the word “feminism” is apt in itself, then so be it. Because it’s not the word that matters as much as the idea behind it does.

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