Feminists are often misunderstood as viragoes asserting equality with men. That’s exactly how, at least, men have come to understand the term. If you call yourself a feminist you will not make a good marriage partner, that they believe for sure.

When i first laid my hands on De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, some five years back, I shared my thoughts with a friend who was then newly married. She was not interested or did not want to be. She was afraid of letting her feminine anger lose its reins, “yes! we have been subjected to but to have happy married life we better not remind ourselves of that”

She was right. De Beauvoir was too strong a voice to resist. I could see my latent frustration take a form. It was not personal but communal anger against men in general. I came to discover the silent oppression women have faced and continue to face at the hands of their men folk. I was startled at the discovery.

My feminist reading, fortunately, did not end there. It was a beginning. Before embarking on the journey of feminist literature i had warned myself ” If i am to read fifty books of the De Beauvoir like voices will it not end up making me a men hating woman with homosexual tendencies or a virago obsessed with gender disparities?”

i was wrong. in fact the deeper i went into the mire the cleaner i came out. The later feminist writings no more remain a theory asserting itself. It is more of a discourse which in time fractured, divided and strengthened. It became a discussion of multiple ideas leading to the addition of s to the word feminism. it was now feminisms, a recognition of the multiplicity of the ideas.

We need to understand Feminisms in Toto before succumbing to the term. In India we are still living in De Beauvoir’s/ anti essentialist wave of feminisms. We are still trapped in the assertive “equality feminism”.
De Beauvoir talks of marginalization of women in the male centred society where women are the “other” the “second” sex, next to men. By evaluating causes that have led to the relegation of women to the inferior position Beauvoir talks of female passive and biological roles which have confined her to domesticity. She stands against depiction of women in stereotypical roles going as far as calling marriage as an oppressive and exploitative economic arrangement which reinforces sexual inequality and binds women to homes. For Beauvoir the key to female emancipation lay in woman’s release from marriage and bodily functions. To her a modern woman is one who would be equal to man, who thinks and works like a man, who frees herself from domesticity and her bodily responsibilities and who instead of bemoaning her inferiority to men declares herself equal.

In India the feminist wave is pocketted to selected regions. The rest have to come to understand it as menace striking their women folk disturbing the Indian social set up. Women are continuously trying to assert their superiority to men. They have newly discovered their marginal status and have acquired the skill of overcoming subjection. They are competing against their male counterparts by challenging to do ‘things that men do’. Some even like to call themselves ‘mardani’, male like when it comes to doing things they think women cannot do. They have gone as far as asking for freedom, liberty and self-identity little understanding things they ask freedom from. By asking for freedom are they asking for freedom from familial and social responsibilities, from womanhood, from their own selves? Do they understand the consequences of such demands? women today have become an iconoclast of their own traditions, an anti heroine of their own family drama.

Granted. let’s not allow others to subject us to a point where our space is encroached but beyond that let us also understand its implications beyond the gender debate, let us understand that subjectivity in Indian culture is also a part of love and responsibilities we have towards our loved ones.

We do not know how smooth our transition from the first to the second wave of feminist eras in India would be. or will it ever be? and in which direction? we are still struggling to comes to terms with it.
The second wave should be a move from “equality feminisms” to ” difference feminisms”. It should be a move from anti-essentialist to essentialist feminisms.

Why aim for masculinity? Is femininity an unnecessary or negative state? we must understand that women are not unequal, they are simply different and this difference is not something to overcome as though it were shameful not to be a man, it is something to celebrate. woman should be proud to be woman. This is the tenet by which “difference feminisms” live by. By asking for equality are we not asking for assimilation into the male dominated society? why assimilation? why not creation of ones own Identity? why ask for masculinity? why not a celebration of womanhood and sisterhood?
It was the domination of masculine culture that led to the to the suppression of feminine culture.The only way women can achieve liberation of any value would be to reclaim their female heritage.

What use is women empowerment, or for that matter any sort of empowerment, if it leads to disruption of the long venerated social set up? If it does nothing for mankind? If it is misunderstood and practiced? I do not say Women Empowerment is no more needed. It is important but not to liberate women from womanhood or her responsibilities and make them vie their male counterparts but to help them discover their unique female identity, by making them feel proud of things that women do.

Let every person call him/herself a feminist if he/she is proud of doing ‘things females do’. We all have androgynous qualities in us. Let what we become be our choice.

 

Copyright 2008, Tina Rathore

 

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