Feminism, Choice and Spaces

It disturbs me when female chauvinism passes off for Feminism. Female Chauvinism works in pretty much the same way that Male Chauvinism does. Among other things – it can assume superiority over another another sex, it stereotypes and begins to expect certain behaviour because one is of a certain sex. So if you’re a woman, you MUST not be a housewife. And that, is not feminism. To constantly compare men and women, and draw up a little checklist – that is also not feminism. To insist that men are incapable of change or sensitivity is also not feminism. Women don’t deserve rights because they are as good as Men. They deserve because they are human beings, regardless of how competent they are. The response to objectification of women – is not to objectify men.

What also bugs me is when somebody points their index finger at you and says you have betrayed the feminist movement. To me the only ways you can betray a feminist movement are these – To deny women choices and opportunities. To deny women their right to make the choices or access the opportunities. To deny women their rights. To not respect the rights of others.

I include others in this in a very generic way. For me, it’s crucial to understand that minorities continue to be denied their rights, or that there is a hierarchy that identities are slotted into because of patriarchy. If you’re looking for an enemy – it’s patriarchy – not men. Working at the field level one considers creating two kinds of spaces. One is a separate space, and the other collaborative. The seperate space is where women interact with each other and find a safer, more constructive and less judgmental space. The collaborative space is the one where they partner with others – men and movements to reconstruct identities or engage with institutions. On similar lines at a very practical level, one identifies two sorts of needs – Immediate and Strategic.

But nowhere does this involve judging the choices women make. If you want to study the choices women make and determine that no choice is really free – feel free to do so. But don’t attach a value to the choice. Don’t rate a choice as more feminist or less feminist. Yes, one does realize that women when they make the choice of staying home are not always make a free choice – that they are largely influenced by the media and family who tell them what good women are supposed to do – but why insult these women? Why are we benchmarking success according to patriarchal values? Worse still, why do we look at sexuality through patriarchal lens, and dismiss expression as raunch? (In the case of latter – it’s a series of carefully constructed parallels that are then passed off as analogies.)

Feminism is not a monolith. Nobody owns it. However, to pass off some sort of chauvinism as Feminism just amounts to hijacking a larger framework. The more we walk away from Equalism, the further we will alienate men and women from what feminism is fundamentally about. Outside of academic and media discourse, men and women have functional relationships. Feminism has to be more relevant to empowering women to make choices that they want to in these relationships – which really can’t happen if the “sisterhood” is laughing behind her back on her choices.

(Links via Nanopolitan)

20 Comments

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20 Responses to Feminism, Choice and Spaces

  1. Pingback: DesiPundit » Archives » Feminism, choice and spaces

  2. I agree entirely. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

  3. I had a few light bulb moments there!

  4. Neha,
    Agreed on every point except the one about dismissal of raunch culture part.The problem with raunch culture and’expressionism’ is that it feeds this ‘Body-objectification monster.I cannot see all this as expressionism until the time,when an advertising company wouldthinks its equally payable to have a handsome young man pitch its product as an attractive woman.That is not the case now.What we have now under the so-called expressionism is merely playing upto the hidden fantasies of patriarchy,and the mass media – be it Howard Stern or anyone else.So until that equality is established it is raunch culture and nothing more.I am not judging individuals here but talking about the trend or the phenomenon in general.

  5. I agree too.

    This is the kind of feminism that Greatbong would not bash, right? :)

  6. yes, of course. but you are building ‘feminism’ out there as a strawman/woman, aren’t you? of course it is much more complex- and appreciated as such- by many people who really engage with the movement and idea. in any case there is no one movement and idea. there’s socialist feminism, and the liberal variety, and the ecofeminist movement and even radical feminism…plus the stuff of the postcolonial women’s movements…very very different shades and voices…of which the journalistic sweeps are mere slivers…and it is a very very large pie. thank goodness:)

  7. Agree completely.
    A post long overdue, in my opinion.

  8. Very well said. I think you are doing your bit by criticizing female chauvnism as much as you criticize its male version. That is how it should be.

    Excellent and a very timely piece.

  9. Falstaff: No, I didn’t. :)

    sowmya: *cough*

    Vidya: I quite agree. Which is why I said If you want to study the choices women make and determine that no choice is really free – feel free to do so. But don’t attach a value to the choice. Objectification while it started with women’s concerns about media, I think will become a matter of wider concern as it affects more men. I am not entirely comfortable with raunch culture – especially because it is raunch FOR men, and women hardly get to be the audience. So it is a relationship of un-equals I guess.

    Patrix: Yes. I shiver. The GreatBong might jump from the behind the bushes!

    nikita: I think I do admit that it is not a monolith. While nobody owns feminism – it just worries me when feminism becomes associated with a school that a majority of feminists think doesn’t represent some of the basic tenets of feminism. To me – it is an evolving thought – how I engage myself with feminism, or how I use feminism to engage with the world. And yes – thank God there are more discourses in feminism that are dominant. I particularly am interested in what subaltern studies are and could for feminism.

    Happy-Go-Lucky: A disclaimer – I don’t believe I am right or wrong at this point. I am merely fitting feminism into my larger world view. People in the end are entitle to their opinions. This post doesn’t really claim to speak on anyone’s behalf. :)

    Confused: Thank you. Very much!

  10. Abi

    I realize that it is, at some level, okay to point to what is bad about women’s (own) choices (informed or otherwise); what I found disturbing in the two pieces is that they seem to blame women for their choices not because they are bad for them (or, just bad, period.), but because it’s bad for the ’cause’. It’s not exactly a great way to get new converts; I mean, if you treat your own like this, who would want to join your family, right?

    Also, are we at a stage where patriarchy and MCP-ness have been so thoroughly defeated that feminists can turn their sharp, critical eyes on women?

    Anyways, there are a couple of pieces in Slate.com that I would like to pass along: Meghan O’Rourke, and Emily Bazelon. They both respond to Linda Hirshman’s WaPo article.

  11. Very well put. I completely agree with you. I find that female chauvinism can also restrict a woman’s choices just as much – which can’t be good right?

    As an example is my desire to stay at home for a while and look after my son. But people around me are shocked when I even suggest such a thing – how can I even consider such a thing? What about my career? Why can’t my husband be the one who stays home? What about financial empowerment and emancipation? What kind of a role model would I be to younger women on the verge on launching their own careers?

    I think the good kind of feminism is the kind that gives women choices and the power to make the choice that they most want to make.

  12. sudha

    i thought the idea of unisexism was cool till i came upon the theory that chauvinism was inevitable in all forms of gender-isms. why cant each case of oppression be just a “humane” issue and not a “gender” issue?

  13. sudha

    oh forget it, i know the ans to tat one :P

  14. Good one!

    I’m sick and tired of all the misconceptions about feminism out there… the minute you tell someone you’re a feminist, you are assumed to be a man-hater.

    @ Rohini – You’ve said it very well.

    Give women the choice to do what she wants – not push her behind a wall saying this is what you’re supposed to do.

  15. What also bugs me is when somebody points their index finger at you and says you have betrayed the feminist movement.

    It is a slippery slope and has to be dealt tactfully.

    The goals of “Sex and the City” brand of feminism are different from the goals of a woman in Kuwait who is voting for the first time and different from the goals of the bar dancer in Mumbai who happens to be the sole breadwinner for the family. The lens is different in each of the cases.

    When fingers are pointed,it is understandable. Personally, I believe that *most* of the [equality] goals of feminism have been met in the west. With the concepts of freewill, personalization and people seeking identities, the definition of feminism has changed considerably. it is very fragmented. When a 50 year female executive looks at the comsumerism driven feminism as portrayed in pop culture of today, no wonder, she is gonna laugh and point fingers.

    Is she right or wrong in doing so? it depends on the lens through which you view. Feminists of the 60s might feel that women of today are having it easy and enjoying the fruits of their hardwork.

  16. [Jumping out from behind the bushes] Yes Neha….I totally agree with you….wish there were more such voices of reason.

  17. Sistah, you’re talking about feminism. Glad to know that I’m not the only “betrayer”. I’ve seen live examples of radical feminists – highly intelligent and full of vigour to do something good for the society – ruining their lives, their own and others’.

  18. Oops, please read the first sentence as “Sistah, you’re talking about radical feminism.”

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