Let me address the elephant in the room, err, air — the f-word that has almost come to haunt the current generation. The word that has been so misused, that it has almost been let down. The word that, even those who practise the notion that it was intended to convey, are afraid to say aloud nowadays. Yes, I am talking about feminism.
For the uninitiated, the basic idea is: All humans are equal, irrespective of gender. They may have different physical characteristics and needs — but the society should not treat them differently. Eligibility for job positions, choices of lifestyles, clothes, or anything at all — should be absolutely irrespective of gender. Equal positions in jobs warrant equal pay and equal respect, based on merit alone. Basically, one’s gender should not determine opportunities or returns from it. Society, however, discriminates between individuals based on their gender, and feminism is a movement trying to raise awareness and erase the difference at the grass-root level.
Feminism is not a war. There is no battlefield. If there is a struggle, it’s in the minds of people. It’s in the minds of you and me.
Being aware of the idea and actually practising it in daily life is important. That is always harder than preaching or carrying out heated debates. It requires everyone to do soul-searching, irrespective of gender. One needs to review one’s own behaviour, criticise oneself when one does exhibit inequality even subconsciously, call themselves out and look to not repeat such behaviour again, however subtle it is. It requires recognising out of cognitive biases. For example, while writing a scientific report or textbook, an article like this one, a poem or prose, or giving a lecture — instead of referring to the gender-less character in the narrative as “he,” one may simply say “they” — which is a perfectly-acceptable singular pronoun. This requires one to come out of the practices ingrained in our minds due to our upbringing in a non-equal society. It requires a practice of thinking objectively.
A few common questions that are asked about feminism, are: Why the terminology, “feminism”? Does not that mean more importance is given to women’s issues, than men’s issues? Does not that mean it is a movement by women, for women, against men? Are issues faced by men not important?
The answers are simple: Society has treated and continues to treat male gendered individuals more favourably over others (in a statistical sense). Is there any reason to do so? No. The terminology is an acknowledgement of this disproportionate practice. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that women are equally compatible. And no, it is not “against men”. You don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist. Feminism is not for-women, it is for gender-equality. Men’s issues are important, they are just not more important than women’s issues. Unfortunately, the situation is such that this needs to be explicitly stated.
It is the responsibility of both men and women to practice equality. Feminism acknowledges that women bear the brunt of the inequality that does exist. And finally, whether or not you claim you are a feminist, if you acknowledge and practise the idea consciously or sub-consciously, you are one.
The f-word has been highly abused. By individuals of both genders. Certain women have used the idea to play the woman-card and exploit men and get undue favours. Although we can debate about individual cases, this general truth is not a matter of debate. Taking offence about something that was not meant to offend anyone, misinterpreting facts, and asking questions of gender-equality in cases where the issue is clearly something else — is not practising feminism. No feminist condones such behaviour. On the other hand, some men have evidently used the feminist-card to portray themselves as light-bearers of the idea, to assume a higher moral ground than others in the eyes of women to gain personal favours. These men are manipulative, and it is a shame to have them around. In a nutshell, these women and men are hypocrites, not feminists. Feminism is not about chest-thumping.
Did you notice how I was being a hypocrite throughout this article? I started with defining feminism as gender-equality, and throughout the rest of it, I talked about equality of women and men. Do you see the hypocrisy in this?
If you don’t, then here it is: I talked about women and men only. Nowhere did I acknowledge that gender-equality is a wider term — that gender is non-binary, that gender is a choice, just like sexuality. It reminds me of the famous quote in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Irrespective of the gender you are assigned at birth, you can choose to associate yourself with either, or both, or neither (see Demystifying gender identity and homosexuality for a detailed study of these questions). Gender is an artificial term, and our making it a social norm, and especially a binary norm, has no bearing whatsoever on the humanity or efficiency of a person. Albeit a minority, there are individuals who are not born either male or female — society loosely calls them transgendered humans. Some of them are assigned a binary gender at birth, only to realise their true identity gradually while growing up, via a process that is very painful. Gender-equality is about making everyone feel at home in the society at large, it is about not discriminating against anyone because of their gender choices. Life is already difficult for transgendered individuals, let’s not make them any more difficult.
So what can we do? Have gender-neutral washrooms, use gender-neutral pronouns (like “them” as singular), have gender-neutral conversations. Let me give an example: We can simply ask a friend how their “partner” is doing, instead of asking them how their “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” is doing. In most cases, there is no difference. But this also ensures that one is not only not assuming a certain gender of either individual, but also not expecting them to be “straight”. You are leaving them the space for coming out as a transgendered male/female, or gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or queer, or whatever they prefer to call themself — in case they haven’t before but always wanted to. In any survey conducted that asks the respondent of their gender, there should be an option to choose other options than just male and female. The next time there is an article written on the sex ratio of a region or state, the published ratio should be at least three numbers, even if the third number (representing all those who do not associate themselves with the binary) is zero.
Whether you call gender-equality “feminism” or not is a choice that you are free to exercise. Just don’t go chest-thumping about it.