I remember hearing Mr Binayak Sen speak one day. It was after he had been released on bail, and the lecture was at TISS in Mumbai.
I went there expecting a fiery rhetorical speaker, but I found a quiet soft spoken man who gave the audience facts. Facts of deprivation, malnutrition and the way a significant chunk of our population lives in, what he called (by giving evidence for the same), ‘a state of famine’.
That has a lasting impact on me that fiery oratory could not have. That day was very important for me, for since then I have realized two things:
1) All discussions/ debates must be conducted on logic and evidence alone, if you want to have a lasting legacy.
2) Never make personal attacks on your opponent.
Now *feminism* has suffered from what can only be called a gross character assassination. What you will read in the following paragraphs in a dispassionate analysis of the criticisms feminism faces. Parallels can be seen with what ‘liberals’ are facing in India these days. Opposition that is logically flawed, but manages to undercut the logic with personal attacks.
Before I start with that, let me state fairly that feminism is not a monolith. There are different schools of feminism that state different things. But for the purposes of this very general blog post, I will define feminism as a movement that tries to ensure the substantive equality of all genders.
The arguments listed below are not exhaustive arguments.
1) The feminazi argument:
This is probably the argument employed by the least well informed lot of persons. Here what someone (usually a woman) says is countered by calling her a feminazi. Meaning thereby that her views lack perspective or are not in proportion.
Of course I don’t have to spell out the irony here. But I will. It’s fun.
If you want to make a case for proportion do not compare women with strong views to a group that conducted one of the largest genocides in memory.
Digressing a little bit, I don’t like the term grammar nazis and fashoin nazis or whatever, for the same reason. But somehow it is okay (sometimes even cool) to be a grammar nazi, but not a feminazi.
2) The ‘if- you-feminists-want-this-you-should-do-that’ argument.
So a typical espousal of this argument would be to tell a woman advocating for the civil domestic violence legislation, that if she wants more people to support it (usually meaning if she wants the speaker to support it), she should tell other women to stop misusing the criminal law.
Well, firstly it is deplorable when any law is misused, but frankly laws often are. There is nothing to show statistically that criminal laws protecting women are more often misused. (I know some of my able friends will try to cite the number of acquittals in rape cases, but rape is traditionally very difficult to prove, with victims turning hostile very often, sometimes out of fear, sometimes due to inducement, and sometimes because they want to avoid the second round of assault from the criminal justice system)
But for a moment, if we assume that a section of women do misuse the law, I would like to remind people THERE IS NO INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S HOTLINE.
I can’t call up and ask other women to do so and so or stop doing so and so.
So the next time I am trying to advocate for correcting a wrong, and you tell me ‘ask other feminists to stop spamming my facebook with where-do-you-want- your hangbag posts then I will support you’, please take a breath and remember THERE IS NO HOTLINE I CAN CALL. If logic/ reason/ your conscience supports the content of my argument, the support me. If not I respect your right to disagree.
3) The arm-chair feminist argument.
There are a lot of times you may not like what a affluent woman is saying regarding women’s rights or gender equality. Sometimes it may be due to your prejudices. Sometimes it may be due to hers.
But her bank balance or the fact that she lives in an affluent urban setting is not a very smart way to counter what she is saying.
I have met some amazing women working in villages for the rights of women, battling poverty and standing tall. But that role is not for everyone. And it does not mean that a person cannot be affluent and still have a legitimate perspective on gender equality.
The experiences of Dalit women and the so called ‘upper caste’ women do not preclude empathy from both sides, and if either one is wrong on facts, fight her on that.
4) Feminism is concerned about women’s rights only.
Yes, feminism began as a movement that agitated for the rights of women. That is because women are historically disadvantaged. But with time, schools of feminism have taken into account queer voices/ voices of other genders/ dalit voices . Sometimes this has been to the satisfaction of all parties. Sometimes it has not.
But we are past the time when feminism meant a group of women fighting for women (if ever there was such a time). A large number of men are supportive of the idea that men and women (and other genders) are equal and should enjoy equal opportunities.
A society where men and women are equal benefits everyone, because your public and familial relationships are not based on the exploitation of any gender . I could go on in this vein, but am sure you get the picture.
5) Feminists are too naive/ too extreme/ lesbians.
I would stipulate this argument is as true as any gross racial/ community stereotype. Don’t want to devote much time to this sillyness, Punjabi’s have a notoriously low attention span and I want them to finish reading. (See what I did there?)
6) Patriarchy does not exist any more, so feminism is not necessary.
Sigh, well this is for my friends from the planet Mars, who have just arrived on earth. Being oblivious to the historical social context, I can quite understand why they would make this argument.
But let me assure you. Patriarchy still exists. Just like racism does. People still have a prejudice against those with disability.
For proof that patriarchy exists please refer to:
a) Statistics for violence against women all over the world
b) Statistics on sex selective abortion in south asia
c) Statistics of misogyny and sexism at the workplace. Or you could just keep you eyes open, that helps too.
d) Employment statistics of men vis a vis women
e) Access to healthcare of men vis a vis women.
I could go one like this, but I am sure you get the idea.
7) Feminists have multiple divorces, can’t sustain relationships.
This one was particularly low, and I have seen this smear campaign play out in front of my eyes, about an incredible woman.
Most of the times it is untrue. But since we have been doing so much assuming, let us assume for a moment that such an allegation is true. Please repeat after me: TWO people get divorced. So for every woman who gets a divorce, there is a man getting a divorce as well. And frankly, a lot of men with multiple failed marriages/ relationships are very well respected in our society. I don’t see anyone trying to dispute their theories on economics or their oscars based on failed marriages.
Do you know why?
Because it does NOT matter.
8) Feminists can not take jokes.
Sure we can.
Did you hear that one about the higgs boson entering a church?
Some of us will, however, get mad if you make jokes about rape, vaginas and hair brushes etc.
On closer introspection you will find it has something to do with us being decent human beings.
In the beginning I promised to write a dispassionate analysis. I hope I have been correct in my logic and reasoning. Some of you will come to me with criticisms of feminism based on its inadequacy to do certain things, address certain perspectives. I welcome that discussion.
Some of you will come up with a variant of the feminazi argument (or its more sophisticated sisters). I will not respond to you.
Feminism is changing with the changing needs of society, but it is the reason I am here today. Writing this blog post. It is the reason I and many girls like me are educated, we can vote, and that some girls are born at all.
In a world that is getting more and more insensitive and violent, the triumph of feminism is what keeps me going.
Its triumph is that I am here writing this, with no fear of repercussions.
P.S The higgs boson went to church since there can be no mass without it.