Friday, December 01, 2006

... anger, despair and what else? ...

A couple of days ago a friend of mine and I were talking about feminism. He mentioned some of the blogs on my sidebar saying that well, the posts always generate such heated arguments but it was hard to believe everyone commenting felt that strongly about feminism. It would be nice, he said, to believe that feminism was an idea men floated so that women would be more open.*

I hate the idea that feminists in general are often caricaturized as men hating, bra burning types without a sense of humour. Isn’t it about time we moved away from that stereotype? I don’t doubt that men can be feminists too, I dislike male bashing and I do think it is very important to have easier communication amongst genders. And I think most feminists would agree.

It’s easy to say feminism is over rated. Then you have to read stuff like this and feel at a complete loss as to how to react. Is there even a way to react? When you say patriarchy is still existent isn’t this a real life example of that? I think a lot of us are lucky because even as girls we have had freedom to live life the way we choose to. I always thank my stars that my parents are so liberal. And it makes me wonder – I need to say thanks for freedom? I still need to argue against people who think that wearing revealing clothes means I am asking for it? What feminism fights for are women’s rights. Bringing attention to issues that everyone knows about, but, if a hue and cry wasn't raised would be swept under the carpet. Like any movement feminism has evolved over time and in relation to the issues that are facing women today. It’s not always femi-narcissism. And it is still important. Whether it’s fighting against abuse or for a woman’s right to wear a hijab.

* Ok, I have been asked to clarify that that was a jocular reference and I very nicely took it out of context. I apologise. The whole point is that it is easy to write off feminism but the fact remains that in spite of all the progress we have made there is still so much left to accomplish. Feminism is as important today as it ever was. Having more people believe in and supporting feminist ideals is important.

P.S: This post was just a very knee jerk reaction to reading the NYTimes article. If it came out as a rant, I apologise because it isn't meant to be one. And I would have put more thought into writing this, but I have my Advanced Macro final on Monday and, therefore, a barely functional brain.


MISSquoted** said...

Perhaps I should not be the first one commenting...I have a vague feeling that you read particular post of mine...err...correct me if I am mistaken ;-)

Anyway I'll just proceed believing that you in fact did read it.
You are right feminism is not always about feminarcissism. And feminism ideally should be a collective outcry against so much that is wrong with how women are treated and expected to behave everywhere. And because you sometimes hear stories that are so fantastic and unbelievable [marrying off 10 year old girls to DOGS because they have overdeveloped canine teeth, bizarre rituals that are still followed in most African tribes where a girl has her hair pulled out strand by strand once she hits puberty] I also think feminism as of now should start prioritising. Rape, dowry deaths, female foeticide, sexual exploitation by your family etc all need immediate attention and rectification. Feminism should be about THAT. And I would like to point out that eradicating these evils in fact require the eradication of a particularly nasty mindset that has so comfortably embedded itself into our daily lives that it is an uphill task all the way. Is that why most women I have interacted wit recently are adopting the bottom-up approach?? Male bashing is rampant. I refuse to believe that I just happened to be the unlucky idiot who chanced upon ONLY male bashers. The only reason I brought up the entire reservation issue is because I have faith not in men specifically but in basic intelligence that recognises human right abuse. Raping a 5 year old should outrage anyone irrespective of their genders and I believe that a sufficiently outraged man will take corrective measures equivalent to those taken by a woman.
I only wish we recognize the immediate need to follow the top-down approach. Human right abuse definitely needs more attention and investment rather than debating whether a woman should wear the hijab. The afore mentioned mindset has ensured that enough women actually wear the hijab willingly. They care more about whether their daughters are safe in their homes.
Apologies for the verbosity. I have a feeling my post was misconstrued.

Szerelem said...

Ah, I was pointed to your post!
And here I should clarify that I don’t disagree with what you are saying. I do agree that gender stereo typing of any sort is, well, really quite harmful. And I don’t disagree with you about the reservation issue either. Rape should outrage anyone irrespective of their gender.
But what about how to tackle the issue? Every time rape is discussed there is always mention of how women are dressed, how they are often asking for it. Take the Rakhi Sawant case… she was fair game because she is an item girl. That kind of talk is distressing. And you hear it from men and women!
Human rights are important – that goes without saying. But then human rights have a much larger scope than just abuse, dowry, and foeticide. Abortion rights being revoked was a huge threat for women in the US (with the Democrats in power hopefully things will be better). The Bush government refused repeatedly to sanction funds for the UN Population Fund unless they included an article condemning abortion.
A lot depends on the context as well - debating the hijab is important especially in Europe where countries are struggling to reach an amicable coexistence with Islam. Or even in Turkey which has had such stifling secularism that women are, as you mentioned, wearing the hijab willingly as a sign of protest. These are human rights issues as well, no?

thalassa_mikra said...

Count me in the proudly feminist brigade. The world is still not a place where a female child and a male child have exactly the same set of opportunities and resources available to them at birth.

Serious issues of income disparity, nutrition disparity, domestic violence and patriarchal control exist, and we'd be addressing them for a while.

Feminism is as relevant today as it was a century ago, and I'm very proud of the fact that feminist thought and activism in India started around the same time as modern feminism in the West. We've been early adopters, and we have substantial gains to show for it.

anonymouse said...

Rape should outrage anyone irrespective of their gender.

Should is a wrong word. Should is optional. I recommend MUST. No choices, no if or buts.

Missquoted**, I have met feminists of both kinds. I can't stand the male bashers, because they entice the desire to bash them back in me. As for prioritisation, I would let people choose their own priorities. People tend to fight what hurts them most.

WRT the Rakhi Sawant issue, I have only heard the "item girl" comment from two women.

Disclaimer: I am not a feminist (or any other -ist for that matter). I refuse to be slotted into a box, or aspected into a view. I will willingly acknowledge that you have the same rights I have.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

Than you szerelem for this post (and for the mention). It pains me to see that feminism generates so much flak, but thats how its been and thats how it will be for quite sometime at least and what folks like you and me can do is to just keep doing what were doing and push forward.

I read that article and I couldnt eat for the rest of the day. That is one of the most petrifying examples of patriarchy that I have ever come across.


Antonia said...

"I hate the idea that feminists in general are often caricaturized as men hating, bra burning types without a sense of humour. Isn’t it about time we moved away from that stereotype?"

I agree this is often used as a stereotypical descritpion and doesn't cover at all all sorts of feminism, but then on the other hand, you mentioned this artcile and everyone reads this is of course repulsed, but for me a question is, how can you be shiny and friendly when at the same such ugly things happen. To some extent - note here I wrote so some extent - it is completely justified to be pissed of and hate men, because, some men - note: some men, not all - are responsible for that. These things are not ok, and it is reasonable to be pissed of. So this is not exactly a stereotype....
I guess this problem of the aggressive feminists is still also linked to the ideal that women have to be kind and pleasing and not to stand up for themselves. Nobody wants to be an aggressive feminist because one still wants to be liked. You apologized at the end of your post that this was a rant....but I dont see a need for such apology....perfectly ok what you wrote

Antonia said...

addition: the socalled 'aggressive' feminists I was meant to write in my last paragraph

MockTurtle said...

Well writtn, but I think I'll stay out of this one...

hedonistic hobo said...

Oh I'm not going to dwell on the excesses of the patriarchal system or on the sad plight of women anymore than I normally do. Will confirm that your post didn't sound like a rant but I am highly intrigued by the bunch of you bloggers who identify themselves as feminists. How about yoy guys exploring the daily oppression of patriarchal family strcutres and not just harsh extreme events as rape et. al. Consider work that's been done on how rural migrant maids in metro cities negotiate with the hierarchy. Being financially independent but not socially etc. and how the disparity affects their attitudes. Or the hierarchy of dances in Bollywood cinema (I am obsessed with Bollywood haha!). Just suggesting some newer themes within the same subject area to write about. By the bye, might be better if we meet in Jan?

MISSquoted** said...

Fair enough. Human rights abuse does have a much wider scope. Now if Muslim women everywhere claim they are wearing the hijab willingly, we assume it is to come together in a time when the world is suffering from acute Islamophobia. Or it could be a clever persuasive tactic by the Islamic clerics to shut up the widespread detractors. Or the women could be wearing the hijab out of their own accord to actually escape prying male eyes. Whatever it is, the women are wearing the hijab willingly. Let’s take that at face value shall we.
In some Muslim countries women suspected of having committed adultery are asked to prove their innocence by striking a red-hot iron rod against their tongues. If they get blisters on their tongues, they are definitely guilty and subsequently brought to book by the very effective and fun stoning to death . If not they are undoubtedly innocent. Now, red hot iron rod + poor sensitive tongue = ?? I’ll let you do the math.
Some issues just need more help.
A million things will evoke fantastic levels of indignation. Indira Nooyi’s capabilities are doubted because she was a [hold your breath] ‘mediocre student’ at the [let it out now] most prestigious B-school in the country. We can cry ourselves hoarse over it, but the last one laughing is our PepsiCo CEO eh?
All I am trying to say is that some issues just need more help than others.

Surly Girl In The Corner said...

Ooooh I love a good impassioned debate on feminism. Suspect I read this a little too late to contribute effectively but I'll tell you something [slightly tangential, but anyway]: earlier this year I was co-organising a festival for student media people in Australia, and we had a panel called 'The F Word'. There were many women, espousing different types of feminisms, with starkly different points of view. One of them was a freelance writer, who is often commissioned by Dolly and Girlfriend to write articles centering around topics that are accessible to teenage readers with gentle admonitions ['Acting like a spoilt princess is not good', and 'You shouldn't make fun of other girls who don't dress like you do']. Anyhow, she went on to say that she thinks that the word 'feminism' is what causes half the hulabaloo and that we need to perhaps start referring to the act of reading and engaging with feminist authors, activists and academics as 'women's/female literature and theory'. This woman was very sweet to look at and spoke in a very gentle manner, and amazingly, half the women in the room started nodding their heads in agreement. The other half [myself included], told her that we needed to challenge the effects of the word 'feminism', and destigmatize it, rather than sugarcoating it with patriarchal fairy floss so it becomes palatable for society. [I have a point, I promise!].

The moral of my story is: I don't think there is anything wrong with the word feminism; I think it needs to be reinvigorated, and I don't think there is anything wrong with being associated with the 'angry' archetype, and I'm sick of people saying 'I'm not angry, I'm still a feminist!': I AM angry, and as long as my ire and that of other 'angries' is directed to specific occurences and particular patriarchs, I don't think we have a problem.

A blanket male-bashing policy, of course, is undesirable :).

Surly Girl In The Corner said...

Oh, and hope Advanced Macro went well!

Szerelem said...

TM: Agree absolutely especially about feminism in India.

Anonymouse: Yes, MUST is the word. I don’t call myself a feminist either because I dislike adhering to a specific philosophy. But if believing that men and women are equal makes me a feminist in other peoples opinion then so be it.

Punkster: yeah it made me feel terrible as well. You know I understand that people are turned off by male bashing – I am as well. But the number of chauvinistic responses one gets to issues on women’s rights and feminists is quite ridiculous. Need I mention the trolls on your blog?

Antonia: hmmm I know what you mean. But I do think that it is important not to vent anger at men in general – because I know that all men are not like that. There are numerous perverts out there and they deserve our collective scorn and (dare I say) hatred. But all men – no. I do agree with you about how the ideal of what women should be like affects the view of the aggressive feminists. Hopefully that cultural stereotype will change soon as well.

Szerelem said...

MT: hmmm I remember you saying something about not knowing what to say around feminist types?

Hobo: well, I guess rape always gets the most impassioned response. But yeah no doubt there are so many issues (almost all!) that can be looked at from a feminist perspective. In fact, funnily enough, my friend and I recently had an interesting discussion on the plight of Pilipino maids. Oooh and Bollywood – yes there’s something to think about.

Miss**: Yep, I know its always hard to deal with the hijab issue because the reasons women choose to wear one can never really be singled out I think. And like I said no doubt some issues are more important than others. But I don’t think we need to limit ourselves to specific topics that feminism debates.
As for Indira Nooyi, well everyone knows once you’re out working its results not your B School grades that matter!! There are loads of sour lemons out there just waiting to pull people down =P They should just be ignored!

Surly: interesting point. In fact I read a similar article online somewhere recently that said that one of the reasons feminism connotes such negative feelings is because of the word itself. Any ism is generally associated with a stereotype extreme representation – conservatism, liberalism what have you.
I agree with you completely in that I don’t think the problem is the use of feminism and that anger should be directed at specific occurrences and efforts made to bring attention to them.
Macro was – oh well, its over!! =D

anonymouse said...

Szerelem, we need to find a few points to disagree on.

MISSquoted** said...

as long as you acquiesce that male bashing is unnecessary ;-)

and i will be linking to your blog. i hope you don't mind. it is but humble appreciation...i loooooowe your blog *err...i am a lil melodramatic*

Szerelem said...

anonymouse: Sigh, I know! :P

Miss*: Wow, you just made my day...hehe.. thank you!