Mahatma Gandhi once remarked: “Women will not make her contribution to the world by mimicking or running a race with men. She can run the race, but she will not rise to the great heights she is capable of by mimicking man. She has to compliment of man.” Has feminism lost its grip with its true essence by “mimicking” and “running a race with men”? Do feminists even have a cogent understanding of that which they claim to proselytize? Or has feminism been reduced to trite sound bites and fashion statements?
Feminism is the belief and aim that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. Feminism at its commencement by popular definition was to acquire the right to vote for women. But although suffrage could be rightly termed as the focal point which ignited feminism, the word has evolved to embrace multifarious beliefs deemed favourable for the overall elevation of women.
Feminism is about gender equality, and not gender sameness. Men and women need to have equal rights and privileges. Having said that, men and women are different, and have contradistinctive qualities and attributes, and that's something which we should revere and hold in respect.
If we reminisce about the wave of feminist movements in the past, the purpose was to get equal status as men which include the right to vote vis-à-vis the role of women in society. It also gave emphasis on the issues of gender and race inequality and the campaign for women's rights and interests.
Mary Wollstonecraft, the English philosopher and advocate of women’s rights in her 1972 book, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” strongly promoted the rights of women. She professed that men and women have the same capabilities or potentialities and strongly denied that women were inferior to men. One of the most revered feminist writers of the modern age, Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay, “A Room of One's Own” is a specimen of twentieth-century feminist musing where she stressed on the importance of how a woman needs to have a specific income, and also a room of her own. It is through independence and solitude that women will be able to create or produce something new and finally have their voices heard.
Today's feminism is sadly losing grip on the true essence and values which the feminist movements of the past entailed. It is more or less metamorphosing into a fashion statement that people want to follow, without actually understanding what feminism actually is.
The real problem is that there are so many self-proclaimed feminists with their own vested interests, much like the thousands of self-proclaimed god-men we have in India. They have no clear goals for empowering women.
Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski, earlier this year tweeted a picture of themselves, topless and ‘flipping the bird’. These self-proclaimed feminists defended their gestures by asserting that it was a luminous example of liberating their sexual freedom, thereby empowering women to be more independent.
As someone who believes in gender equality, I was petrified by what they were actually trying to do. To me, it didn’t appear empowering at all. On the contrary, it appeared like fame-hungry women desperately trying to get attention by flaunting their bodies. A woman’s sexuality should not be oppressed by the patriarchal society, yes. But celebrities posting nude photographs of themselves I feel qualifies more as an exhibitionist act. It is downright pretentious, and has nothing to do with fighting the cause of gender equality.
The feminist fervour of the past and present are in stark contrast to each other. Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British Suffrage movement in the 1920s, asserted, "I demand the right to vote". Kim Kardashian, while accepting a Webby Award in 2016 said, "Nude selfies until I die." Young women have been brainwashed into believing that flaunting their bodies is actually self-empowering. They are following false ideals of feminism projected by female ‘role models’, many of whom call themselves "feminists".
It is downright tacky. Since when was feminism about complete narcissism? I am not against a woman dressing in a way that accentuates her femininity. What I do care about is women cheapening themselves into sexual objects. So many women claim to be feminist without truly knowing what it means to be a feminist.
‘Free the Nipple Campaign’ is a 2015 movement which claims to empower women. This campaign promotes women's equal right to go topless in public— a right that men have and are freely allowed anywhere. It is also important to take into account the many women who are against literally exposing their breasts in public. Just because men are allowed to be bare-chested doesn't mean women should do the same. That's not how equality works. Women and men have anatomically different bodies, and each has varied attributes. Some women, who claim to be feminists, are in support of walking bare-chested everywhere. To me, this is where the campaign fails miserably.
It is also worth mentioning that many celebrities are using this campaign to gain publicity. This campaign, an example of everything wrong with current trends in ‘feminism’, has no clear cut plans and ideologies. It is only an excuse for women to cheekily post topless selfies on social media week in, week out, without actually doing anything to promote gender equality in the true sense. This campaign is not really necessary. Faux movements like these have altered what people think and imagine feminism is all about.
I firmly believe in the message sent out by Emma Watson, a UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador. At an event for the HeForShe campaign, she said, “The more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating.” Gender inequality is not an issue which concerns and affects women alone. It will come to an end only if men are given a chance, and do actively partake in dealing with this issue. It is this one sided faux feminism which is flawed, and has no clear goals.
Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognized Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr. Hewasa Lorin, Anjan Behera, Dr. Salikyu Sangtam, Nivibo Yiki, and Kvulo Lorin. For feedback or comments please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.