I wake up every morning as a woman in this society, a child of the upper-middle-class, privileged and comfortable in my warm bed. I have the option to choose the course of my day as I like, as do most of the women in my surroundings. However, a lot of us forget amidst the warmth of our mornings that our choices or rather the right to choose weren’t granted to us on a platter of silverware. It has been a long, arduous, gory fight since the beginning of time. From colossal watershed moments like wars and suffrage to societal acceptance, from voting rights and the combat against harassment to as minuscule a subject as walking freely on the streets in a pair of your favourite blue jeans. The world hasn’t been a wish-granting factory for us.
Most men used to, still do, and always will wake up every day in a society that doesn’t refer to them as ‘The Second Sex’. They don’t have to walk the face of the earth with gills to breathe with on land. And in those moments when you forget what the millions of women, forgotten and faded through history, gave up, the ones who asked why and refuted with a staunch no, take a swift sift through the past that screams for you to protect this privilege. Yes, it’s a privilege, even if it shouldn’t have been because respecting another human being and walking with them instead of trooping ahead should be as easy as shutting your eyes close and lapsing into sleep. Instead of morphing this system into a more accepting and wholesome one, it might just be easier in a parallel world, where we can go back 200,000 years in time and reset the trail of human life on earth.
And that is my statement to everyone who has ever questioned me as to why we need feminism anymore. To those who still foolishly think of it as a process with an end date, a time when everything will be idyllic and we’ll stop the ‘train of feminism’. To those who question the label that it has gained over the last few decades, mindless of the fact that it was them who pejoratively stamped in that way- both men and women. Men, who are scared and alarmed at the thought of a world where their kind doesn’t dominate and take precedence anymore but exists in an unruffled state with the environment with all people, all genders. And the women who have so long been repressed and rewired that they don’t think that openly breathing is an option anymore. And to everybody who thinks that feminism is a struggle against men,
I vehemently disagree, for these people are way off-target. For two reasons- because I reckon women aren’t in the least powerless, let alone tenuous in front of any gender. And secondly, for those who think that men aren’t subjugated in this society are starkly mistaken.
Patriarchy is a friend to none, no gender; be it men, women or non-binary. It feeds and thrives on the politics of power and authority and throttles whatever comes in its way. Men who aren’t ‘masculine’ enough, women who are too ‘brazen’, ‘impure’ castes and races, and everyone who doesn’t fit inside their box; the icy-cold, suffocating box with pores impossible to permeate, into which it shoves all who refuse to conform to the beliefs of gender. Gender, which is just a socially constructed idea, gradually fabricated into a sheath of rules and norms, which in actuality is as abstract an idea as complex numbers, perhaps. Apart from the normal human physiology that describes a person’s sex, no science explains the attributes we innocently anoint to the ‘two’ genders. They say women are calm and understanding, whereas men are temperamental and impulsive. Of pinks and blues, cooking and driving, dominant and submissive, on top, on the bottom, floral and solid; gender is a role perfected intricately over years, contingent on patriarchy.
Judith Butler, a renowned gender theorist, contends that being female is not “natural” and that it appears natural only through repeated performances of gender; these performances in turn reproduce and define the traditional categories of gender. Maybe Shakespeare was right, maybe the world is a stage and we’re all mere players, nay, puppets of patriarchy. These roles assigned to us are bolstered into a cemented building, so tightly plastered that any attempt to subvert that structure is considered a convulsion of the society.
Stereotyping is the soul food of human civilisation, especially when it comes to gender. And a simple explanation for it could be the fact that it is easier on the brain to stereotype, in other words, a heuristic. When faced with a decision to be made quickly, our brain doesn’t have the time or resources to compare all the information before making a choice, and so people often rely on mental shortcuts known as representative heuristics. Stereotyping stems from these heuristics and when inculcated as a habit or unwittingly imbibed since an early age, can be spotted in children as young as six years old. If you take a neutral environment and raise two different sexes with the same treatment and knowledge, bereft of these norms, they will grow up to be free of gender stereotypes. The girl might not necessarily pick up the doll and the boy the copter, but if they do, it will be out of a liking, a choice and not a manoeuvred stereotype that the society has comfortably sunk into.
Patriarchal violence is not solely against women but nature as well, and when we stand up against the Satanic cousin that is patriarchy, tearing down this concrete-helix structure, we emerge loyal to the posterity and to the planet itself.
This is the foundation of ‘Eco-Feminism’, first ideated in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Eco-feminism is about connectedness and wholeness of the abstract and the actual. It asserts a special strength and integrity of every living thing. Vandana Shiva, a radical eco-feminist from India has changed the conception of this idea in her analysis of links between the degradation of women and the exploitation of nature in modern social setups. It highlights the gall of patriarchy to dominate and destroy not just ‘anything that isn’t masculine’ but the environment we’re living in. Both women and the environment are undervalued in our global system and economies and both are very essential elements of our world, if we are to see a changeover to a more inclusive and sustainable economy. Better use of the world’s female population would increase economic growth, reduce poverty, enhance societal well-being, and help ensure sustainable development in all countries since women have a smaller ecological footprint than men.
The fight hasn’t gotten any easier than it was before. It started with earning the rights and the place we deserved. And after a good 100 years, only six countries in the world give other genders absolute equal rights, the World Bank found out. And they ask what more do we need? Others do state those (hollow) rights in their constitution, but they don’t uphold them. So now it is about taking those values into everyday life and making them as real and tangible as possible. The fight now is to break down the barrier of being referred to as ‘The Second Sex’ and locomote to a non-ordinal world, where genders aren’t ranked, defined, suffocated, and bifurcated into pink and blue. Instead, they can breathe and identify themselves through the way that they feel and not necessarily their sex, manifesting through a rainbow of colours.
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