Feminism is a tricky word. And from what I, as a woman first and a feminist later, have observed, is that most don’t even know what it really means. They aren’t aware of its complexity, its various, often contradicting school of thoughts before they either use it or call themselves ‘feminists’. But, that itself is so rare that I’d rather acknowledge its presence than question its authenticity. More often than not, there is an undeniable level of hesitation, maybe even fear to accept that one is a feminist. During a discussion on women’s liberation and the empowerment of womanhood on the ‘occasion’ of International Women’s Day, I heard some very valid arguments and points being made by my classmates. However, every statement began with the following clarification: “I’m not a feminist but I feel…” or “I’m no feminist or believer of feminism but one needs to look at…” Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out the need to be aloof from this particular school of thought, when no one seems to mind being labeled as a Marxist, communist, socialist or even an atheist.
So, why is there this reluctance? Why is it so hard to accept (forget being proud of it) that one is a feminist? And no, this is not a case plaguing the men alone, who might throw open the baseless argument of being termed as effeminate by defending the rights of women, but women themselves who prefer shying away from being labeled as a ‘feminist’. The problem lies in the perspective. Being called a feminist is almost seen as being a rebel without a cause. Perhaps this is a consequence of the entire movement of feminism ,that began as early as the eighteenth century, now reduced to a state of dormancy and superficiality. Today, Women’s Day is ‘celebrated’ by inviting a few socialites and Bollywood divas in a “panel” to discuss what have we achieved over the years, in terms of women’s liberation and what still needs to be done. These women tell us how scary and dangerous they still feel in a 21st Century India, to go out late night clubbing. What about the million other women who feel insecure 24*7 and do not even have the promise of economic affluence? Kalpana Sharma raises these crucial points in her essay Women’s Day Circus.
Most believers of any feminist ideology (liberal, socialist, radical, to name a few) completely overlook the factor that feminism comprises of both the sexes, and not just the female. If the intention is to liberate one, the idea should also be to deal with the other. The accusation, largely, has been that men have been responsible for the oppression of women. This is historically true. But one cannot oversee that women themselves are also to be blamed for their own subjugation, according to John Stuart Mill’s theory that holds true in almost every context, culture and country.
Calling someone a feminist seems to be like calling someone something derogatory. Like you’ve just been called a Dalit or an untouchable. And the irony is that the one who calls you that himself/herself doesn’t know what it means, what it demands and what it requires to be a feminist. In the true sense.To raise your voice about the plight of women on March 8 every year does not make you a feminist. Neither does blaming the men for every oppression women go through. Peace!