Misinterpreted Definitions Of Feminism and Gender Equality
Despite feminism being the most searched word on the internet in 2017, its definition is still thought to be “men vs. women” and every time a person announces to be a feminist, a false implication of extremism comes to our mind. The negative stigma attached to feminism is primarily because a majority of us fails to understand what it stands for. Allow me to define feminism before we proceed to comprehend whether we need feminism in our society or not. According to Wikipedia, feminism is ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes’. It does not mean that by fighting for equality of sexes this movement is trying to prove that women are better than men or men should be hated. The entire purpose of this movement is to make the masses understand that all human beings should be treated as equals on all platforms regardless of their gender.
The need for feminism can be well understood once we realize the repercussions of its absence. The non-existence of feminism means that men have to conform to stringent norms of masculinity. In this context, masculinity is not referred to the inherent traits of a man, but to the societal and cultural construct of manhood. The idealistic expectations from men give rise to the male privilege, which is a preconceived notion in the society that a man can perform a particular task better than the woman solely because of their gender. Consequently, this cultural and social belief sustains men on the top of the overall hierarchy, permitting them to succeed, achieve and benefit at the expense of other genders. This, in turn, propagates the unrealistic idea of how men are supposed to act and perform in their everyday life to be “man enough”. This is where it becomes toxic and problematic for the men. An ideal man is ‘supposed’ to hide all his emotions at all times except for anger, which is the primary reason men are unable to develop a strong emotional connection with their children and wives. An ideal ‘macho’ man is also expected to value physical strength and aggression over all other human traits, giving rise to violence. In a society which considers men equal to women, it is less likely for such problems to exist. A man would be free to seek help and ask for directions if needed without being criticized and judged. Feminism is a movement which aims to beat the long-standing concept of patriarchy which perpetuates that masculinity is better than femininity, and this kind of masculinity cannot sustain its own perishable bubble for long.
Most of us do believe in the equality for all human beings regardless of anything else, but beliefs of the established patriarchal system have been internalized in our minds over the years due to profound social conditioning. A blatant example of it can be seen when a girl is born. The general attitude amongst most people goes something like, ‘What a pity, wish it was a boy’. There is an underlying sadness at the birth of a daughter while sons are considered to be a prize. Mothers of girls are made to feel guilty and their status in the family goes down. It is also not unusual to see a man remarrying so he can have a son. The whole idea of feminism is to fight this status quo, not men. There is, nevertheless, a fraction of the population which sees no benefit in educating a girl because they believe ‘bringing up a girl is like watering a neighbour’s plant’, as they’ll eventually be married off. The complete circle of a woman’s life is centered around marriage, which is often thought be the sole purpose of her life. Though it is illegal to kill women in the name of family honour, this practice still continues to exist primarily because certain communities within the country consider women an inferior gender. As a responsible society, we need to understand and accept feminism so evils like female infanticide and honour killing can come to a halt.
The media makes a powerful impact on our society by integrating its message into our consciousness. However, by normalizing socially endorsed views on gender it portrays stereotypical images of both men and women which perpetuates unrealistic, idealistic and limited perceptions of genders.
Objectification of female bodies is promoted through advertisements and commercial proposals. Women portrayed in the media industry are shown to have flawless fair skin, slender body stature, long slender legs and all other socially accepted components of beauty. Though most images are altered and modified through a number of technical means to become more appealing, women in the ‘real world’ are made to strive towards achieving those impossible standards of beauty and men are taught to desire such women. Pakistani serials, more often than not, revolve around a storyline where the good woman is either illiterate or less educated damsel in distress who needs to be rescued from her troublesome life by a prince in shining armour. Such women are shown to value relationships above anything else. Showing discriminatory attitudes and gender-based violence against women has also been normalized.
It is imperative to support and encourage feminism in our society so women can get the respect they deserve and are not treated like objects anymore. It should be taken into consideration that feminism needs acceptance from both men and women alike in order to prevail. The women themselves need to recognize the power they have over themselves and their self-worth. Women who do not believe in feminism present the argument that feminism portrays women as victims and they are not victims, so they should not be treated as such. It is admirable that these women haven’t experienced any form of discrimination in their privileged lives, but one should not generalize and invalidate the experiences of all women. If sexism and discrimination have not affected their lives, it does not mean that it is non-existent. Many women have to face oppression and abuse just because of their gender.
The existence of the wage-gap and the lack of women in leadership roles and politics is also one of the many reasons we should let feminism prevail and prosper. Studies have proven that having more women in the workplace has a number of advantages, not only for their families but also the companies they choose to work in. Due to their strong communication and networking skills, women can manage a team very efficiently. Furthermore, women prefer to work with utmost morality and transparency creating fairness in the workplace.
Such attributes are not taken into consideration when people criticize that women at workplaces play the “woman card” if they do not work the same number of hours or do not put in the same effort as men, therefore, they are paid less, but it is really crucial to point out that the choices a woman makes are highly influenced by the societal expectations of womanhood which is not a woman’s fault to begin with. For example, a female mechanical engineer is more likely to work indoors than at the factory unit, not because she cannot work outdoors but, because of the little to no acceptance of women in such an industry. At other times, women are put off by the male dominant culture in such workplaces. As advocates of equal rights, we should ask the society to pay just as much a man receives for the same job and there is nothing wicked in that. According to The Washing Post, “Female financial specialists make 66 percent of what their male counterparts make, female doctors earn 71 percent, and female lawyers and judges make 82 percent. That’s all controlling for age, race, hours and education.” Owing to the fact that when it is more socially acceptable for a woman to perform household work, this wage-gap increases as she gets older and has children. Because of this cultural construct, women are overburdened with a disproportionate amount of household work and childcare as compared to their husbands. Eventually, they either end up leaving the corporate world or decreasing their working hours in order to balance it all out.
We also need more acceptance of feminism so that the women of our country are heard and their issues are addressed. The domain of politics is dominated by men and is a symbol of masculinity. Accordingly, women suffer largely at times due to the laws made by men which by all means affect them more, for example, in laws related to planned parenthood, maternity leaves and other anti-discriminatory policies, women have little or no say due to the lack of female representation on the political front. Feminist philosophy is that there should be an equal representation of women in politics. And every woman in politics, regardless of her political position, should be respected as a political being just as much the male politicians. In some areas of the country, women are still not allowed to vote, or independent enough to vote, and whatever voting options they have are quite influenced as well. As advocates of equal rights, feminists want to fight this situation.
All those who say we do not need feminism, need to ask themselves, “Really?” Although it is true that not all men believe in beating their wives, or catcalling women on the streets, or mocking their female colleagues in the workplace, but many men still do. If that wasn’t the case then women wouldn’t have been taught to be back home before dark. They wouldn’t have feared to be in public places without keys between their knuckles. Inventions like pepper spray would never have existed. Women in workplaces wouldn’t have had to ponder over how to use a paper-cutter as a makeshift weapon in case of encountering a predator. If men and women are equal then why do women feel threatened and unsafe? If all men don’t hurt, abuse or rape women then why is it that nearly every woman has faced some sort harassment or assault? As evident as it seems, we do need feminism and there is no way we can deny it. We need to promote it in our society so we can create a world where everyone receives the same treatment and has the same honour in the society – a community where we co-exist and do not determine each other’s worth through a narrow spectrum of the stereotypical social construct. No one benefits from the patriarchy, not even men. As Emma Watson said, “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive, both men and women should feel free to be strong.” By choosing feminism we will encourage this thought. Feminism and wanting equality for all genders is the same thing. So if you believe in equality for all genders and understand that it currently does not exist, then you are a feminist and you should be proud of it.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.