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Why feminism is not such a frightful word

india Updated: Apr 30, 2007 12:00 IST
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While writing this article I had a strong premonition that it might not go well with the traditional spheres of the society. However, before rejecting it straightaway just forget whether you are a man or a woman and give it a thought only as a human being.

This article is an effort to explore some aspects of the feminist thought and the ways feminism can transform the society.

The origins of the term feminism are not clear but the generally accepted version is that the Utopian Socialist Charles Fourier first used it in the 19th century to refer to the question of equal rights for women. All feminist positions throughout the world share a common recognition that women are placed in an inferior position in society and that this hierarchy is based on gender. Further, although this hierarchy is justified on grounds of natural differences between men and women, feminists hold that it is in fact based on socio-cultural and economic power structures, which have little to do with the biological difference between the sexes. This sex-gender distinction is one of the key issues in feminist thought; sex as referring to the biological differences between men and women and gender as indicating the vast range of cultural meanings attached to this basic difference.

Since, childhood boys and girls are trained in conventional gender-specific forms of behaviour, play, dress and so on. For example boys are given guns and cars as toys whereas girls are given dolls to play. This training is continuous and most of the time subtle, but when necessary, can involve punishments to bring about conformity. Many times one can hear most of the mothers coercing their daughters no matter how brilliant they are in other fields to learn how to cook, attached with the age old saying “ a man’s heart is through his stomach” while the same is rarely even asked from a son.

Thus, a range of institutions and beliefs that socialise boys and girls differently produce sex specific qualities (for example bravery and confidence as masculine and sensitivity and shyness as feminine). As a result “one is not born, but becomes a woman”.

In addition, society generally value “masculine” characteristics over “feminine” ones, and at the same time ensures that men and women who do not conform to these characteristics are continuously disciplined into this conventional behaviour.

Moreover, there is nothing to be categorised as a man’s work or a woman’s work. Apart, from the actual process of pregnancy a man can equally do all the work within home that a woman does. On the other hand, women who are supposed to be physically unfit for heavy manual labour do the heaviest of work both in home and outside. So the sexual division of labour, rather than “natural” is an ideological assumption.

I objectively think that household work is a service which should be paid, because it enables the man to go back to his work the next day. Women need to understand this and instead of accepting themselves subordinate to men, should demand equality.

Therefore, if the wife is not pursuing a profession, she should be rightly compensated by the husband for the household services rendered by her.
This should also include just and appropriate compensation from her man for the bearing and rearing of the children. It is this exclusion of sexuality, procreation and housework from the purview of justice and equality, which is uniformly detrimental to women’s interests.

Today, as more and more women are breaking the shackles of fundamentalism and tradition and stepping out of homes, more atrocities are directed against them as this is still not accepted in our conventional social structure. Many laws are already there which ensure the women of their rights but what needs to be done is not the making of laws but changing of mindsets.

I make a reckoning call to all the women out there to first change their mindsets towards themselves, mothers to change towards their daughters and mother-in-laws towards their daughter-in-laws. Women need to free themselves from all the restrictions imposed by the society and especially those, which are self-imposed. If mothers will instigate their sons with the same qualities of sensitivity, compassion, care and tolerance which they imbue in their daughters the world would eventually become a better place to live in with less brutality and more peace and happiness around.

Recently, Indra Nooyi, after becoming the chairman of PepsiCo said that she has achieved balance in life by choosing the right life partner. She further added that her husband’s co-operation became the secret of her success.

I hope a time comes when all the men think and act like Nooyi’s husband. However, for this reformation to happen it is on us the women to bring about a revolution to change the basic patriarchal structure of the society.

Mansi Aggarwal can be reached at mansiagg@gmail.com .

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