Sunday, October 18, 2009

To be a feminist or not to be a feminist? Is it really a question at all?

Indian blogger PRAGYA BHAGAT has posed a question regarding my search and conviction in her latest blogging. She has admitted from the first line that her idea about a feminist is ‘over exposed’ with the idea that, a feminist “must be aggressive. Slogan-bearing, perhaps. She must be progressive, willing to fight for what she believes in. You know, equality, education, independence, all that jazz. She doesn’t have to be a ‘she’.”
Ms. Bhagat compared me with her Nani (Grandma), who was, according to her, born a decade before me, and like many elderly women, she gossips, she cooks, and criticizes like no other. Although naniji has lived in the US for more than two decades, she is an Indian nari (woman) through and through. She started her own business while raising five children. She learned a new language after the age of fifty and still works in her seventies. Pragya asked whether this description classifies her as a feminist or not. She admitted that her grandma performs ‘karva chauth’ (while Pragya does not) and that this fasting empowers her. According to Pragya, “at night, she dresses up in her finest jewelry and silk-embroidered sari. She performs the patient ritual of breaking the fast only when she sees the moon. Through the practice of ‘karva chauth’, she is celebrating herself, her self-control, and her dedication to her marriage...This is how I am beginning to perceive feminism - being the woman you are and loving it.”
I am grateful to Pragya that she gives a favour by comparing me with her Grandma. But the total blogging, I think, is a result of a misconception and that Pragya could not follow my ideas of feminism, though she took much pain to go through my interviews and writings. Repeatedly, I have been saying that it is odd to think that feminism is only meant to protest against male hegemony. Nowadays, feminism is a multi-dimensional concept and it differs from culture to culture and from people to people.
The similarity of all the feminist ideas is the ultimate freedom of the female mass. There are different types of feminists. Some are shouting against male hegemony; some are even coming forward with their anti-sex and anti marriage voices; some are very radical; some are very moderate; and some are sex positive. After the famous ‘feminist’s sex war,’ you can’t describe fully anyone if you say ‘she is a feminist.’ It is also true that Pragya’s study on feminism is very limited, otherwise she would not confine ‘feminism’ to ‘slogan raising voices.’
As a creative writer, I have once told I am not an activist and that no creative writing, in my idea, should follow any ‘ism.’ It is the philosophy which follows the writing and not what the creative writer writes that follows any ‘ism.’ Secondly, its strange how could Pragya know that I keep myself away from family life or that I am different ‘woman’ who has no family bonding? I have to work outside; I have to manage my family; I have to cook and to take care of my household. I don’t rely upon domestic help for everything. Once I was in need of a motherhood (see my story” Waiting for Manna, from my second collection of short stories), I bore and brought up my children. It is another matter that I have a husband who is very liberal and more a ‘friend’ to me than a ‘husband’ in patriarchal sense. But what makes me any day a ‘feminist,’ if I am ever a ‘feminist’ (because Pragya uttered a word ‘self-described feminist’ for me)? It is not due to my ‘tomboy activities’ in my childhood. ‘Tomboy activities’ do not make anyone feminist. Rather, it is my mother, whose situation, condition, and life under the patriarchal milieu make me a ‘feminist.’ I have seen my father buy jewelry for her. But in India, these jewelries are considered as an asset of a person. He (my father) did not allow my mother to wear them publicly. Readers can read my story End of Fascination. I have pointed out that my father, along with many others of the masculine world in our society have an idea of possession of their wives. But, they always try to discard any thought of possession over them by their wives. My story Hatred may be a fine example to show the reason what made me a ‘feminist.’
From time to time, in my different articles, I have always stated that I always believed that man and woman are biologically different. I am not against any biological species. I am not against any social system like marriage, motherhood, or heterosexual love. I think man and woman are complimentary to each other in order to make nature’s law fulfilled. What I AM for is the same status of a female and a male in society. I am against patriarchal society but that does not mean that I want to replace a matriarchal society with a patriarchal one.
If Pragya’s grandma feels fasting for her husband empowers her, I have no problem with that. My problem arises if her Grandma would force Pragya to make fast in ‘krava chauth’ against her will, just like patriarchal society has been doing for an eternity. Our patriarchal society has exploited sexual difference to create systems of inequality and has exposed the facts of sexual politics. The patriarchy always tries to induce the women with three unauthentic attitudes.
These are the attitude of being a ‘devi’ or goddess of self-less goddess (Pragya should tell me why we don’t find a ‘self-less’ man as a god),a devoted mother, and a pure or Sati women. These ideas are good to hear but in my opinion, they are the tools of sexual politics that the patriarchy has been trying to play with women for ages. The patriarchy always attempts to trap women into an impossible ideal by denying their individuality and situations for all different kinds of women. In all three of these attitudes, women deny the original thrust of their freedom by submerging it into the object. In the case of the first, the object is herself; the second, her beloved and the third; the oppression of physical and psychological needs .
Actually, to be a feminist or not to be a feminist is not at all a question. Whoever is born with a feminine gender, has to remain as feminist as her thought, sufferings, feelings, even her language and speech type are also different from that of masculine world. I don’t believe a woman is more than a man. What is an objectionable matter for me is when someone says women are inferior or second class citizens in comparison with men.
Plato once said in his Republic that “... the only difference between men and women is one of physical function- one begets, the other bears children. Apart from that, they both can and should perform the same functions (though men on a whole, perform them better) and should receive the same education to enable them to do so; for in this way society will get the best value from both.” I admit that males can perform some functions better than women and that women can perform some functions better than men.
Yes it is true that some feminist thinkers and activists consider men as their No. 1 enemy. They use this idea to advertise and propagate themselves. But I think it is also similar to the idea of male hegemony. I always tried to develop the idea that love between two people has much importance and it should not interfere with gender equality.
I am sure, if Pragya’s grandma any day would read my stories, away from her shock as Pragya’s intuition, she would applaud and would find herself in my stories. Above all, we women are in the same boat, which women like Pragya forget sometimes.


satya p said...

You are right in underlining that there is a variety of feminisms in circulation. These variant or diverse articulations may turn out to be contrary to one another on several issues. But all these contentious and conflicting articulations share an aspiration for undoing the marginalisation of women - a fact in all patriarchical societies. To become a feminist, one has to learn to respect the principle of equality of opportunity for males and females, respect the dignity and autonomy of females by working towards creation of social conditions in which women are not excluded from living a life as full-fledged human beings.
A Feminist need not be anti-male but has to be anti-patriarchy, irrespective of the fact whether it is being practiced by males or females. I, born as a male, believe that by trying to become a feminist male, I try to get rid of many of the masculin prejudices which I may have unwittingly imbibed while growing up in a patriarchical society. Becoming a feminist would always mean differently to different persons as their experiences of patriarchy, and their location in a patriarchical society would give them vantage points to articulate their perspectives.
Satya P. Gautam

kuldip said...

I would perceive to be proud of being a female is being feminist.Everything else emerges from that.The entire gamut of equality and freedom takes shape from this premise.
My wife does "Karva Chouth" without any prodding. Rather my daughters have been trying to dissuade her since ages.Their logic,If Papa does not fast for his wife's long life why should Mom do.

vinay said...

Why are you so concerned,what prgaya has commented,according to me male and female are complimentry to each other to keep the balance of society of male will be remain male and female will remain female,i wonder some woman assert themselves by calling themselves feminist,men has his own needs and female are having there own needs,then why feminist or male dominating things ?
I think there should be balance for this issue.

pratima sinha said...

I liked your answer to pragya jee &100% agree with you.

hiranmayee said...

With all respect to the above discussion, I would say that feminism has a completley different meaning for different people with different backgrounds and different cultures. Feminism simply refers to a stream of thought which believes that men are responsible for the inequal treatment of women. I am working in a Womens' studies Centre (UK), teaching and reading feminsit theories and have been vigorously involved in feminist studies for the last 2 and half years. Academically, this may be a very small period of my confrontation with feminist literatures , but what I believe that I was a feminist even before that. I have certain observations which I would like to sum up as follows,
i- Feminism (as an academic concept) is basically western in origin as a trend of thought, and eastern feminism is different from this.
ii- What we fight for as feminist rights in east are nothing less important than human rights.
iii- Today Feminism in West has to learn a lot from the Eastern world.

Moreover, I would like to point out that there are many men who are feminists, and there is nothing wrong in that. This is just how you perceive your life. If you are a woman and at some points of time lack the freedom to deal with your life, then you cease to be a human being and here you have to become a feminist. It's nothing about our choice, we have been put time and again in situations where we have to declare , claim and demand it in public that as women we should have the access to all the aspects of life.
Hiranmayee Mishra,
Centre for Womens' Studies, University of York,
YORK, Great Britain

rajiv singh renusagar said...

sabki apani soch alag tarah ki hoti hai kisi se itna ghabrane ki jarurat nahi rahati .sabka apna jine ka tarika hai jaruri nahi hai ki sabhi log hamari soch se sahmat hi hon

rajiv singh renusagar said...

sabke apne bichar alag tarah ke hote hain aise kisi se ghbrane ki jarurat nahi hai aap apna kam karti rahen

Suman said...


Gayatri said...

It’s really true that to be a feminist doesn’t mean only to stand against male dominance. It is to bring a change in the attitude of the individuals towards the age old women subjugation system; to broaden the mental purview of the women kind; to enable them to create their own identity as a distinguished Individual / Personality, without forgetting their own customs.

In one line what I say being feminist is to bring a perfect blend of modernity and tradition within a woman. That makes you a complete woman, a competent person to stand against every odds of life.


Dr. Gayatri Mishra
Paharganj, New Delhi.

Kalimullah said...

It is true that feminist are in large numbers and their point of views are different. Some are revolutionary some believe in evolutions. But it does not matter very much of their point of views, their action will always ultimately beneficial.
Human nature is not an exact science; no one can say precisely what should be the exact justification.
For example distribution of wealth, There are two extreme views Marxism and capitalism. In practice no country follows the exactly including china former USSR or eastern or western Europe. Most of them follow according to wish of the people.
Same IS in the case of women rights. The theory is only good when in practice both men and women practically happy with its application.
It is a ongoing endeavor.
From the early history up to present time women condition gradually changed. There was a difference in the treatment of men and women. Married women were legally dead in the eyes of the law. Women were allowed to vote in 1920 in west. In some part of the world this right is still not given.
In past girls were not allowed to enter professions such as medicine or law. There were no chances of women getting an education because no college or university would accept a female with only a few exceptions. Women were not allowed to participate in the highly sensitive matters of the state. They thought they were totally dependent on men.

It is strange, how PRAGYA’S GRANDMA entered in this discussion.
I remember when I was studying in school, I was very uncomfortable with one of my teacher, as he was exceedingly strict (now I repent he was very sincere person). But I could not do anything against him, as in those days teacher can beat the students. As I entered in college, and become out of reach of him. I write a letter, abusing him in hidden word about his age calling him SITHIYA GAE HAIN
I was very happy thinking that he must be boiling. But he takes no time to return fire. I received his letter with only one sentence.
Your bad manners are exceeded only by your bad manners.
It struck me badly; I remember it for a long time until with experience I realize that abusing any one is very bad habit.
Unjust criticism is like homing pigeon. They always return home

Amaresh said...

good one ..

Pragya said...

i read your blogs and a few of your stories, and left feeling inspired. in fact, it led me to my musings on this f-word. "feminism" is a term i am constantly striving to understand. it is a label, and yet it is a process of knowing oneself. from what little i know of you and from what i know of my naniji, i find you both to be feminists, irregardless of your similarities and differences.

its a confusing term, feminism. what does it mean? people of both genders can be feminists, solely because i've found the only requirement to be a feminist is the following: empowering the feminine self. i realize it is quite vague; i am no expert on women's studies. i am simply trying to understand my role in my gender and how i fit into this concept of feminism. of course, one can argue it doesn't exist, but is there another term that defines empowerment for the feminine self in any dictionary? i have not been able to find one. hence, feminism is my small way of priding my feminine self, whatever that may be.

Prem Farrukhabadi said...

I think man and woman are complimentary to each other in order to make nature’s law fulfilled.

This is the deepest thought said in easiest way. This thought should be pondered and understood honestly and sympathetically by those who think themselves knowledgeable so called male or female in our society.
By reading you I found that you are very honest while giving your own sensible clarification along with others point of view.I like your sense of honesty and impartiality. I will come back again to go through your lovely blog.

Monika said...

"The patriarchy always attempts to trap women into an impossible ideal by denying their individuality and situations for all different kinds of women. In all three of these attitudes, women deny the original thrust of their freedom by submerging it into the object. In the case of the first, the object is herself; the second, her beloved and the third; the oppression of physical and psychological needs ."

Your article is very good, it's tragic times we are living in, that 'feminism' has to be explained to a woman.