In the last week of August 2018, 150 men performed ‘last rites’ of their marriages to get rid of the ‘toxic’ feminism of their evil wives. The entire event was organised by the Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF). According to a foundation member, feminism has deviated from its original agenda of equality.
“This means that the government wants police to enter bedrooms now, which is a sure shot way to break a marriage as no relationship will work if these rules are enforced.”
-Save Indian Family Foundation on the proposed law against marital rape, 2017.
To have a foundation that does not acknowledge toxic masculinity and patriarchy, talk about toxic feminism is irony at its best. One must recognize, however, that as the feminist movement has developed, there are some pseudo-heads that occasionally creep up. What does feminism mean, then? And how right is it to disassociate oneself with the “feminist” tag?
Feminism and its origin in India
The original meaning of the term “feminism” is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes”. Consequently, it rules out the argument made by anyone who says feminism is torturing men unfairly. It doesn’t. The movement associates itself with equality, which means elimination of privilege- for any of the sexes. Any action taken in an opposite direction, is automatically not feminism.
Feminism in India is seen as divided into three phases, starting from the mid-eighteenth century. While there was were several strong women in the earlier times, continuously fighting against the societal norms, it was in the 18th century that reforms began on a visible scale.
Starting roughly in the 1850s, the torch bearers of first-phase feminism in India were largely men who worked to eradicate social evils. However, the effects were somewhat dampened because of the clash between the reform movement and the nationalist movement. The latter resisted any interference by the colonials in Indian households. As a result, even when the government tried to raise the minimum age of marriage for women, it was met with protests.
Modern day feminism
The Indian Feminist movement has come a long way over the years. From men “safeguarding” the rights of women, women have taken it upon themselves to hit the streets. There are regular movements to secure an equal niche for women in the society. Securing women’s right to equality, against rape and harassment, dismantling patriarchy etc have all been curbed under one umbrella- feminism.
While the early days of feminism started with the very basics like fighting against Sati pratha, child marriage etc; more diverse grounds can be reached now. Women fight for complete equality in all spheres of life- workplace, at home, and so on. Women from backward regions or societal hierarchies face different challenges than women from an urban or more privileged section. However, the issues more or less remain about equality.
In 2009, a group of women were attacked in Mangalore, allegedly for going to a pub. In response, a “Pink underwear” movement was started, mainly to stand against the right-wing activists behind it. Similarly, the Blank Noise project was started a few years earlier, in 2003. The aim was to protest against the rising lack of safety for Indian women. The project released posters like “I never asked for it”, depicting various forms of clothing. The conclusion being, the size and type of a women’s clothing is in no way a sign of her “willingness” or “consent”.
Criticisms and response
While hardly anybody speaks against the movements waged for bringing women empowerment to villages and backward areas, urban feminism often meets with harsh criticism. It is said that feminism is no longer needed in those areas, and is merely heading towards privilege. But, how correct is that, really?
A popular argument given is that wearing short skirts and drinking in clubs at night is not feminism, but a shame in its name. They say that fighting for a right to education, to career is the real feminism. However, in ways, this ideology itself speaks about the underlying patriarchy that still prevails in our country.
There is no certain degree of demanding for equality beyond which feminism becomes something else. When the movement started, it was for women to be treated the same way as men. And yes, that means equal responsibilities, too, not just opportunities. But that means equality in every single sphere- be it something as little as the right to roam in the streets at night without being questioned on your character. So, while we mutter no disapproval at a man walking in shorts, and call a woman out as “pseudo-feminist” for doing the same thing, we are essentially telling them that equality will only be granted till a certain level. This mentality is precisely what needs changing.
Making a man stand up from a metro seat is not feminism, agreed. But having one separate compartment out of 6-8 is. If women want to feel safe in a country where crime rates against their gender are shamelessly increasing every day, that’s not a demand for privilege.
A need for change
Recently, there has been a growing trend of people saying “I am not a feminist, I am a humanist”. However, that argument becomes a little similar to-
Why ‘Black lives matter’, why not ‘All lives matter’? Why? Because you are essentially missing the point of the problem. Yes, all lives matter and there is no denying that. The movement does not take away the essence of white lives, or any other ethnicity for that matter. But what it wants to say is, the black lives are endangered, there is a general greater share of crime and discrimination against them and it needs to be noticed.
Similarly, feminism is not called “humanism” because despite whatever long way we have come in women empowerment, there is still a long way to go. Even if only one single woman in the world is left without her equal rights, there would be a need for feminism. The movement works for equality of ALL the genders, and it does so, naturally by uplifting the gender that is under-privileged. Hence, feminism. To take it as a “man-hating” scheme is to miss out on the entire purpose of the movement. Even if women are granted privileges over men, it would mean feminism losing out.
Secondly, the modern day feminism while working for cis-gender women also needs to be more and more inclusive for transwomen. If their rights are ignored, or not brought into the feminist umbrella, that is a toxic privilege of its own.
Transwomen are women, and feminism is equality.