We are standing on the shoulders of giants when it comes to fight for gender equality but by using gender specific language, we bury the lead which in turn halts us in shining the spotlight on the issues that really matters. In order to demand equal rights for women, both men & women must be part of cohesive whole as our society is crying for a new paradigm anchored around more gender neutral language & less binary divisions & can thus forge an overarching equality instead of expositing cavils.
By aforementioned phrase ‘gender specific language’, I want to specifically talk about the usage of term ‘feminist’. ‘Feminist’ seems to have first been used in 19th century in a french medical text to describe a cessation in development of the sexual organs and characteristics in male patients, who were perceived as thus suffering from ‘feminization’ of their bodies. The term then used by Alexander dumas, a republican (so obviously, an anti feminist) on the subject of adultery, to describe women behaving in a supposedly masculine way. Actually, Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympe de gouges and Theroigne de mericourt talked about women’s rights even before the term was coined.
Feminism is thus a term that emerged long after women started questioning their inferior status & demanding an amelioration in their social position. So, I don’t think the word ‘feminism’ is as essential as minimum three cups of chai a day for me.
In my view point, we are in dire need to inculcate a more inclusive word, we should use a word like ‘equalism’ to fight for our rights as a word ‘feminism’ is more likely to create a binary division. We should use a more gender neutral language & stop putting qualifiers on everything such as on clothes, colours, jobs etc. We need to understand that masculinity & feminity are formed by socio-cultural expectations and not by biological differences. It is important to feel included & the word ‘feminism’ is not at all unifying but polarizing as it focuses more on differences.
Formerly, I also used to be a staunch feminist & what made me so was my unshakable faith in Islam. At the age of 16, I read extensively about Islam (it’s history, prevalent practices & all other supplements to Quran) & what i found was ‘it is making a business out of selling patriarchal norms’. I tried extremely hard to unfold all the chaos & wrap my mind in comfortable conventions of the society but the rigid Shariah laws failed me to lift up. Accepting such misogynistic practices as the rules made by god was a bitter pill for me to swallow. It was harder than any other emotional riot my mind was fighting at that moment. The pain was so sharp that it teared me apart. It was the time when “feminism” came into my life like fresh air. I started believing that there would be a rainbow after storm of change & I took the onus of bringing that change, at least in my life if not in an entire world.
After reading a lot in this direction, I found that the misogynistic practices emerged in Islam are not only because of the flawed reading of Islam but also from a flawed epistemology of reading. Deification of women and the difference between the ideal and real women also led to their textual harassment. The meaning scholars ascribe to a text arises from the act of reading which is itself gendered or masculinized. If I say that, “Different readings of the same text can yield fundamentally different Islam”, it would appear as if I am shifting my loyalties from feminism to postmodern feminism but i am just trying to be more equal. Postmodern feminism I believe is the superlative form of liberalism. It bluntly rejects the notion of foundational truth or essence as truth is always partial, constructed & contingent. This means that there can no longer be any attempt to describe, analyse or explain reality in an objective or scientific way. It bluntly rejects feminism as it is conventional in nature & claims to know the truth which are not neutral but gender specific reflections of power. For instance, think about the ‘scientific’ claim common in 19th century Britain that the formal education & over development of the intellect would damage a woman’s reproductive capacities. Ironical?
It lays emphasis on the importance of ‘speakability’. Not only in terms of what can be spoken but also, who can speak it. It is not just what is allowed to be said but also by whom it is allowed to be said. Why can’t I, for instance, ever say to my parents that I will do an interfaith marriage (in order to break the norms) without adding a qualifier ‘may be’? It is all about dispersed nature of power.
This acceptance & fluidity is not the same for men and they are still widely expected to live within their conventional stereotypes such as they should not express their emotions publically, they should be ferocious & it is mandatory for men to maintain a socially dominant position over other gender identities & if they fail to do so, they can be thrusted out of this synthetically created fabrication of manhood. The expectations attached to differential roles of men & women serve as the foundation of gender inequality in society & trust me, these gender specific roles are way more threatening to men than to women. We are not gender conforming robots, we are complex human beings with countless traits that should not be confined by a gender. None of us can live on one side or the other. My identity should not be decided by my etiquettes, being assertive or my hatred for high heels & make-up.
Being a law student, it is obvious for me to substantiate my point with a legal example. For how long will we shun men’s rights & continue making one-sided gender centric laws? Let’s talk about Section 498a of Indian Penal Code, it is to prevent violence & cruelty perpetrated on married woman by her husband & his family but 35 years down the line, today 498a of IPC is known as the most abused law in the history of Indian jurisprudence. Hundreds of thousands of people have committed suicide fighting false dowry & domestic violence cases. Molestation & Rape cases are similar extensions to this fact, where many a times sour relations are shaped as sexual abuse.
So, we as a responsible citizenry should overcome this pull of conformity, I know it’s hard but when the stakes are high & the majority is wrong, the courage of one person can make all the difference. When you see injustice happening in the name of justice to women, refuse to remain neutral & go on off the beaten path & start fighting for equality.
SADAF RAJPUT, B.A. (LLB), JAMIA MILLIA ISLAMIA