Friday, 11 April 2014

Feminist Friday: Meditations on a Popular Topic

Feminism. It’s a word that is often thrown around, at things, towards things, about things etc. It’s a concept that was endorsed by both the suffragettes and currently Beyoncé, but what is feminism?

Like James Dean once sung, it’s a man’s world. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big feminist. ‘You go girl’ is one of my many mantras, but at the end of the day James Dean knew it, you and I both know it and the cat sitting on the wall knows it. The powers of the world are still very much male orientated, and by this I focus on the well-oiled machine that keeps the world ticking. Investment bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs – the men are the majority stake holders. And whilst it pleases me to see strong women get ahead and stand up for feminist rights like Wendy Davis, these women are still a small contingency and feminist rights are still a taboo subject for many.

Being born to liberal parents, one from Bangladesh and the other from India, I can say with relief that they themselves do not hold any warped cultural views in regards to the way females and males should be brought up. My sister and I have always been instructed to follow our desires, not to take shit from anyone, remain respectful to others and ourselves, be independent till the end and forever be the rulers of our lives. Basically we could tell millions of people that we wrote ‘Independent Women’ for Destiny’s Child and they’d believe us. However, that cultural stigma associated with women is still very much alive. Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Burma are just some of the countries where women are still faced with the reality of not having a choice in the way their life will unfold. Far too often, I have heard an older family member talking about the ‘westernization’ of ‘our girls’, which only displayed their lack of evolution from the thick veil of sexism in the 1950’s. What’s the big deal if we choose to wear short shorts or have a boyfriend? The healthy middle ground between being too sheltered and having absolutely no discipline is being independent secure in yourself, your morals and your beliefs. As a young person, may you be male or female, these two things are the soul’s foundation, yet so many people I know, suffer from not being either of them. How can people be feminists or even human, when they are unsure about what they are, who they are and where they are going? Incidents, like the Taliban shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the appalling level of female mutilation, the gang rape of a young Indian student and the ongoing issue of the father’s rights movement are all signs that we must ALL take the initiative to encourage and instill values of equality, harmony and security within ourselves and others. Aside from these horrific events, I am at peace to also know that women all around the world are fighting against misogynistic thought and practice. It is refreshing to see the successful return of Miss Yousafzai, the initiative of the Pussy Rioters and the outspoken women (and rightly so), such as novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who won’t stand for inequality. 

In relation to the questions I posed at the beginning of my post, I have concluded that being a feminist is more than crushing the image of man, but believing in total equality of the sexes. It is a concept, when properly understood and considered, that should provoke thoughts on how BOTH sexes are threatened, judged and consequently treated everyday and in an array of circumstances. I already clarified that females are still considered lower in the hierarchal way of the world, but this does not mean that one can simply ignore the prominent existence of sexism against the male population. However, despite the threat to the male race, the fact that women must still strive twice as hard to be heard in society undermines the egalitarian definition of feminism that I have sought to give it. In an ideal world, feminism would be a branch of egalitarianism, which focused solely on trying to rebuild upon the persecution of women through the ages, but alas the struggle for females is still as real and troublesome as ever.

Being a feminist is a personal choice and it is moreover a personal philosophy. Whilst the fundamentals of the concept are equality, independence, and freedom of thought, speech and being, it is through the vulgarity and ignorance of ‘false feminists’ that the concept is taken for a joke. I mentioned Beyoncé at the start because she, like Tina Fey, is a feminist. Regardless of her choice in clothing and desire to film provocative music videos, she is both sure of herself and highly independent. What is so non-feminist about that? She is confident in promoting herself as she does and nobody asked her to do it. It was a personal choice, so why all the bitching and attacking from so called ‘feminists’? She is a successful African American woman who looks good, is doing what she loves and puts the hours in. She is a mother who has a career and a husband who supports her… isn’t that what feminists are fighting for? A woman’s right to follow her dreams and a husband who supports and encourages her choice?  Of course it is.

Beyoncé in her 'Partition' video

Given the above reality, feminism’s image remains somewhat hypocritical and polemical. However, to return to my optimistic version of it, I would say that more and more young men and women are all seeking this egalitarian ideal, a society which is formed upon individual differences, strengths, opinions and interests rather than the discrimination of gender or origin. I don’t want to sound like a supporter of masculism or extreme feminism, as I am neither. I am a feminist, ONLY by my own definition of it, a humanitarian and a believer that everyone’s needs, rights and well-being are important. I would like to think that being a feminist is something that everyone could be, because at the end of the day it should stand for a human’s right to equality, strength, freedom and empowerment.

[I could go for hours about feminism, the world, the hypocrisy and the plight of humanity. This is a small and very personal meditation on a concept that is multifaceted and opinionated, but a meditation in which I wished to share what feminism is for me and how I think it should be approached.]