Looking Beyond Feminism
I proudly tell people that I am a fashion designer, fashion blogger, artist, atheist, libertarian, humanist and feminist. It’s been a while since I’ve been debating over the F-word though. Studying gender specific costume history made me understand how gender norms diverged with timeline. The gender constructs that evolved for more than 4000+ years were shunned and dismantled by feminism in barely 100 years. Feminism has laid modern foundations of fundamental social equality. However, I take this space to highlight the constricted and destructive angles of the feminist propaganda and the need to look beyond feminism.
The first wave of feminism in early 20th century, the classic form of feminism which laid foundation of women empowerment fought for absolute rights in legal issues such as in property, contractual, marriage, suffrage et cetera. The second wave feminism gaining prominence in 70s fought social stereotyping of women and aimed at liberation – sexual liberation, reproductive rights, childcare, education, career and welfare rights. The second wave feminism often focused on elite women of Western world & in many cases advocated misandry and female supremacy. Third wave feminists of 90s worked on the drawbacks of feminism and refined the ideology to focus on people other than white women of Western society. Third wave feminism addressed global issues like female genital mutilation, racism, homophobia, classism and issues within feminism.
BIRTH OF INTERNET FEMINISM
Arrival of social media manifested the most recent wave of feminism – the era of internet feminists and feminazis. Unfortunately our schools never gave much importance to gender studies and a major chunk of today’s feminists get their knowledge from click bait headlines, retweets and memes. FemiNAZI – term coined in 1990s, borrow the ideology of radical feminism from 1960s and found everywhere in 2010s.
Not all feminists (in 2016) are manufactured by internet and not all internet feminists are feminazis. Yet the cause of empowering women unites these many faces of feminism. Most feminists defend feminism like a religious man defends his holy book. The gospel cannot be wrong? Not really. Feminism isn’t as clean and crisp like feminists want you to believe. Feminism has its own dirty past and has been racist, misandric & misogynistic.
WHAT IS FEMINISM?
A dictionary is most powerful weapon in an internet feminist’s arsenal to defend feminism. Typical rant reads, “Meridian-Webster Dictionary refers to the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes as feminism. Hence you’re ignorant about feminism when you say feminism hates men or feminism is sexist.”
For several years, the primary problem within feminism was the inability to arrive at a standard definition of what feminism should stand for. What most internet feminists don’t realise is that feminism is a collection of movements aimed at empowering women and each movement had different definition, approach & priorities. Some feminist movements were sexist and some weren’t. Some feminist movements hated men and some didn’t. Some feminist movements believed in gender equality and others thought women were superior.
Over the years, different definitions are popularised by media and mainstream segments of the feminism to make it more inclusive & garner larger participation. Today, everything from gender equality and humanism is passed on as feminist ideologies to paint equality synonymous with feminism. Modern variations of feminism mostly borrow basic ideas on women oppression from radical feminism of 60s. Radical feminism not only held misandric views but several radical feminists questioned women roles based on biology. In response to radical feminism there were sex-positive feminist movements. Cultural feminism celebrated the differences between men and women, for example, “women are kinder and more gentle then men,” leading to the mentality that if women ruled the world there would be no wars. Cultural feminism celebrated women’s special qualities, often believing that the “woman’s way” is the better way. Libertarian feminism in contrast encompasses men and primarily focuses on individual autonomy, rights, liberty, independence and diversity.
One of the most widely used definition in modern era states, “Feminism is a fight against sexism, oppression & sexual exploitation.” By adding the word sexism, it takes it to the heart of the matter, calls attention to diversity of sexism and does not privilege women over men. Definitions vary with people but “women empowerment” is the core sentiment that strings together the different faces of feminism.
EMPHASISED MALE PRIVILEGE
Feminism describes a culture, in which women are treated differently than men, and in this difference of treatment, women are oppressed and men are privileged. The patriarchal culture that’s perceived to oppress women and privilege men lays the foundation of core feminist ideologies (except libertarian & inter-sectional variations). However in reality, neither sex had power in the past; what they had was roles – role of woman in raising children & role of men in earning for the family. Men didn’t have the power/choice to do what women did & women didn’t have the power/choice to do what men did. Gender roles put men at disadvantage just as much as it did to women, simply because gender roles weren’t a choice but a social compulsion.
In spite of all the gender revolution that’s happening right now, it’s still a taboo for a man to be a house-husband who is completely dependent on his wife’s income – a norm acceptable for women. Patriarchy demands men to be the bread winner of the family. In India for instance, a young man doesn’t have a choice to pay a lavish dowry and spend rest of his life depending on the money of a well settled woman who already owns a house, car and perhaps a solid career.
Feminism paints the patriarchal pressure as “privilege”. The ill effects of pressure bestowed by gender norms are visible in high suicide rate & lower life expectancy of men in comparison to women. In Russia, for instance, the difference between male and female life expectancy is 13 years (59 vs. 72). In 2012, the male suicide rate increased to over three times higher than the female suicide rate.
Feminism points at a small percentage of men’s population and complains how men enjoy most positions of power. In contrasts, feminism completely ignores how higher-risk jobs, such as soldiers, manual scavengers, fire fighters, and coal miners; almost all of the most hazardous professions are all-male dominated. Patriarchy perceives that women are the valuable gender (especially in evolutionary terms) that needs to be protected and preserved at all cost, while men are thought of as essentially disposable. And it is with that ideology, gender norms majorly dictated indoor & outdoor roles for women & men respectively.
“NO UTERUS, NO OPINION”
Rape & sexual abuse are as much of MEN’S ISSUE as it is a women’s issue. Staggering percentage of offenders are often men. Women’s role is discussed in newspaper articles, sensational TV news coverage & social media conversations. Why aren’t men’s attitudes & behaviours focused instead of discussing what women can do to avoid rape? One of the primary factors producing these sadistic men is the way our culture defines “manhood” or “macho”. Groups of young men videotaping rape to circulate the “macho” deed is the kinda news we read about on a regular basis. After a football match, social media celebrates how Real Madrid “raped” Barcelona or Barcelona “raped” Real Madrid. Every young boy is victim of oppression when he’s told, “be aggressive, be a dick, be macho, grow balls.” Sexual violence is an extremist result of toxic patriarchal values. By glorifying patriarchy a “male privilege”, we are only turning a blind eye towards how patriarchy oppresses men. Violent behaviour destroys a man psychologically & can potentially end his life. Every young boy is a victim of male-peer-culture that feeds dangerous ideas to the subconscious mind.
“No uterus, no opinion,” is a popular internet feminism rant. Twitter feeds are filled with tweets reading, “funny how men are educating women about feminism.” If modern internet feminism cannot involve men, there’s no way our society can address the issues of sexes.
FEMINISM OFTEN IGNORES WOMEN FROM LOWER ECONOMIC SECTIONS
Feminism aims to bring equality of sexes but the problem is men themselves are not social equals in white supremacist, caste supremacist, capitalist & patriarchal class structure. Which class of men does feminism wants women to be equal to?
When women of lower class & poor groups hear from feminists on how sexism enables men to have privileges in positions of power, they’re more likely to see exaggerated expressions of male chauvinism simply because even men in their groups do not have social, political and economic power. Feminism defined as social equality with men becomes a movement that affects the social standing of elite women of middle & upper class groups. These drawbacks paint feminism with a potential racist angle and it’s the primary reason why feminism doesn’t have participation of women from myriad of socio-economic classes.
An elite woman can afford to give birth to a baby, earn from paid maternity leave, afford to hire a nanny & get back to her work in no time. This is not the case with the wife of a poor farmer or coal mine worker. Career feminists can crib & cry but the poor woman doesn’t have an option demand equal opportunity to work & ask husband to instead sit at home and take care of the baby. The baby needs the woman’s mammary glands for nurture and that’s biology.
Poor women (& men) do not have the same opportunity as the elites who work in a fancy corporate building with gigantic glass facades. Elite women have choice & resources to tackle menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, child rearing et cetera and still work & earn. Same resources are far from reach for most women from lower income group who voluntarily embrace their role in reproduction, nurture of children and depend on man’s role in doing the outdoor toil. During much of its history, feminist movements and its theoretical developments were driven mainly by middle-class white women from Western Europe and North America and the larger chunk of feminism ignores the lifestyle and social problems of women elsewhere.
GENDER NEUTRALITY – LOOKING BEYOND FEMINISM
While internet feminists and meninists engage in binary battle of sexes, the new-wave gender movement targets gender norms instead of blaming men for oppressing women or women for advocating misandry. While the term feminism falls into the binary notion of gender, gender neutrality looks beyond the gender binary. Gender neutrality is neither a men’s movement nor women’s movement – it’s a gender transitional movement. Gender neutrality deals with the root cause of gender dichotomy – gender norms of masculinity & femininity. Men and women are not the same. Our biology is different. In primitive era, gender roles (what a man/woman should do) manifested due to difference in biological traits and gender norms (how a man/woman should behave) manifested due to varying gender roles and morals infested by religion. In modern day, gender roles have significantly changed but gender norms continue to stereotype men and women. Gender neutrality deals with freedom of individual choice by freeing people from chains of masculinity and femininity.
Gender neutrality emphasizes the equal treatment of men and women legally with no discrimination – a goal shared with both feminists and masculists. However, in gender neutralism, the emphasis is on transcending the perspective of gender altogether rather than focusing on gender specific rights.
Challenging these norms requires work on many levels and rapid results are superficial expectations since these norms are deep rooted in structures of gender & power.
OPPRESSION ARISES WHEN YOU ARE DENIED YOUR CHOICE. GENDER NEUTRALITY DEALS WITH FREEDOM OF PERSONAL CHOICE BY TRANSCENDING GENDER OR GENDER NORMS.
UPDATE 27th October 2017: Neutrality can never be achieved without achieving a certain degree of equality. Self-identified feminist or not, it’s important that we work together regardless of gender and dismantle the dogmatic gender norms out there.