“He is a gentleman, and I am a gentleman’s daughter. So far, we are equal.” — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen, in the above excerpt from her famed novel, perspicuously encapsulates the essence of equity between both the sexes. The first distinct sparks of the feminist movement ignited in 1610 when a French Noblewoman started the first salon (a conglomeration of notables at the home of a prominent person), to encourage educated women to participate in confabulations, which at the time was reserved only for the aristocrats of the society.
Feminism has come a long way and so, some fear that it could retrograde back to an age where men and women talking and getting into relationships with each other didn’t remain ubiquitous; while emphasizing on more serious perpetrations like rape culture and sexual harassment. Joanna Williams in her book Women vs Feminism regards it as a ‘False sense of victimhood’ and goes on to underscore on more pressing issues, like the difficulties particular groups face that get fewer chances than other groups; “a conversation that feminists shy away from,” she says. The #MeToo movement — first retweeted by actor-producer Alyssa Milano in 2017 — skyrocketed and garnered significant acceptance, as many Hollywood celebrities pitched in with their stories.
Deborah Frances-White, author of The Guilty Feminist, feels that there still is some tenacious stagnancy of patriarchy when men do not know if they are being inappropriately flirtatious, intimidating, or lecherous because they never thought of asking the women. On the other hand, some like Clementine Ford, Author of Boys will be Boys, argue, “We haven’t even begun yet”. The author bases her argument on bleak evidence, which claims that the mortal rate of women (compared to men) after a cataclysm was 14 times higher solely because women weren’t allowed to practice swimming, which might have helped them in the catastrophe. A UK study (#100Women, Sky Data) reveals polls that show a whopping 40% believe that feminism has gone too far.
For an ideology that deeply entrenched in a struggle for attaining equality, the ground reality reveals a different tale. Feminism, as fond, is a glorious concept whose cornerstones are equality and justice. But today, its meaning is lost on itself and has reduced to petty squabbles on social media. When postmodern feminism gained credence in late 1980s, it also sprinkled the seeds of Radical Feminism — an ultraistic class within feminism that dangerously lilts on misandry.
Postmodern feminism is a far cry from what is demanding of the status quo. An apple that fell too far away from the tree, postmodern feminism gained traction in the mid-1800s. Its raison d’être was clear: redefining the social order and destabilizing the patriarchal structures to promote equality between the genders. But as its tenets overlap with the pith of radical feminism, it inherently tends to discount the empiric evidence that points to the collateral damage towards men’s rights.
While its theme revolves hugely around gender equality, the concept substantially borrows from tools of Deconstructionism, like Phallogocentrism and Dualism, and essentially aims at unravelling the male privilege in literary work.
Waves of Feminism
Some acclaimed feminists like Linda Nicholson have blurred the lines of the wave metaphor, and profess, “The wave metaphor tends to have built into it an important metaphorical implication that is historically misleading and not helpful politically.” But one has to agree that each wave has served as a substratum to the next wave.
The first wave of the feminist movement washed over Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 when a group shy of just 300 men and women rallied for the basic rights denied to women at the time. The purpose of the demonstration was to attain suffrage for women. And so, it was delivered. This tour de force has been inscribed in modern history as one of the first major attempts at striving to achieve homeostasis in a society deprived of socio-political rights.
The second wave gushed over circa 1960s and took momentum from the civil rights movements and the New Left. Like the first wave, the second phase also was led by liberal feminists. Albeit the first woman to receive a baccalaureate was way back in the 1230s, it was the second wave of feminism that administered women the right to education on a global level, and flattened the lopsided socio-economical landscape. This dynamic was absolutely indispensable in upholding the values of true justice.
However, it was at the inception of the third wave when things started to go awry. The peripheral classes within the ambit of feminism — like Difference Feminism, Separatist Feminism, Radical Feminism — that often resorted to radical methods of working, started gaining prominence.
Consider the scenario for a moment: the first and second waves of feminism were crucial in providing women with fundamental rights. But right between the outskirts of the second wave and the advent of the third wave is when the space for true justice started shrinking.
To say the least, the constraints were majorly biological, a factor that could only be budged by trampling on the rights of the other gender. But the proponents of radical feminism see it fit to topple the extant, enjoyable rights of the male gender to achieve said equality.
Much to the detriment of liberal feminism, websites like Wikipedia euphemize the haecceity of Radical Feminism and define it as “a perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts…” To put it into perspective, one can attribute Actor-Comedian Bill Burr when he succinctly put: “Feminism today is a revenge fantasy.” No wonder this sentence reverberates not just with men but also with the most privileged of women.
No Country for Women
India harbors a rich history when it comes to observing equity between genders; but presently, it is nowhere near to what the west has achieved with the same ideals in place. In contrast to the west, women in India are victims of some of the most heinous acts. Rape is rife as ever and the systematic domestic violence against women is reaching new levels of abjection every day.
India is a country in exigent need of stringent anti-rape laws; laws that can hurl the country out of the Middle Ages. The female labor force participation in Indian politics stands at a (dismal) 23.3%, yet no visible progress is being made towards achieving equity. Such has the pestilence of the rape culture pervaded through the fabric of Indian society that rape victims are incinerated by venal cops as “missing evidence”. As the western society gravitates towards achieving a social balance, slacktivism and hashtag activism continue to fester social media in India, defying the very idea of feminism and bringing it to a standstill.
Feminism: a damsel in distress or a tool for crying wolf?
The million-dollar question; the third-wave feminism doesn’t have an unequivocal answer to is how it wants to establish the grounds of equity in today’s scenario — by prying out the prerogatives of the male gender and benefit off of it or by reevaluating its interests with the extant female privilege to attain true equality? A lot of evidence points to the former, making it highly undesirable, as it challenges the very tenets of equality to both the sexes.
The sorry state of affairs for Indian women with regards to their safety is quintessential of the way true feminism is being misused and impaired. The predicament of the rape culture in the Indian context is a two-pronged problem.
Firstly, unless the government doesn’t walk down from the pedestal of its apathy and uproot the rape culture by imposing stricter laws, women’s safety in India is a lost cause. Secondly, there is an imminent need of establishing a legal body dedicated to training women in all aspects of safety. Even if it’s a shoddy reincarnation of Sampat Pal Devi’s “Gulabi Gang,” — a vigilante group in the 1960s that tracked down abusers and meted out justice with bamboo sticks — there would be hope to balance the scales.
Understand that if you are advocating women’s safety, you need not necessarily do so under the guise of feminism. Safety is a cardinal prerogative of women and mustn’t necessarily need the aid of a special dynamic like feminism. The conviction that we are human and believe in humanity must suffice.
If you were to advert your attention to the accomplishments of postmodern feminism, you’re hardly bound to find any concrete actionable piece that challenges the rape culture on legal grounds. Any person in their right mind wanting to safeguard themselves from danger would take precautionary measures. But seeing as to how the idea of liberalism and personal freedom is held above anything else in third-wave feminism, a postmodern feminist would be inclined to wear the type of clothes they wish.
Ben Shapiro, a political commentator, exemplifies the problem perspicuously. He says that if you run around in a high-crime neighborhood flailing your wallet, you are bound to get robbed.
If one were to cast a glance at the Gallup World Poll (2019), they’d see that 5 out of the top 10 countries — Turkmenistan, UAE, Kuwait, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia — listed under countries/areas where people feel safe walking alone, are Muslim-majority countries that follow a modest dress code. Ergo, the common narrative that the type of clothes worn by the victim holds zero pertinence in contributing to sexual assault, is a falsity.
A good example that biological setbacks are truly one of the impedimenta and how female privilege reigns over them is when Zomato joined the bandwagon of providing its employees with menstrual leave. Barkha Dutt — acclaimed Indian journalist — took issue with this move and highlighted the double standards: “We cannot want to join the infantry, report war, fly fighter jets, go into space, want no exceptionalism and want period leave.”
A more visible example of female privilege came to light when Myntra — a drop-shipping service — was coerced into changing its official logo that purportedly represented ‘yonic imagery’. However, there were no legal repercussions when Airbnb faced a widespread social media backlash for the phallic imagery on its logo.
Dr Jordan Peterson, in an interview with Cathy Newman, exposits that there are 18 factors that constitute the 9% gender pay gap in the UK (and in general), and points that the gender of a person accounts for a mere 5% of the pay-gap discourse.
He further elaborates that closing the gender pay gap could not only come at the expense of men’s own freedom but also would go against women’s personal interests. “Men and women aren’t the same, will never be the same, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be treated fairly,” says a perspicacious Dr Peterson. He corroborates his statement by taking up the example of the most advanced society that has attempted the equal-pay experiment — Scandinavia. Much to the chagrin of radical feminists, the experiment failed to produce the expected results without corrupting men’s rights.
To sum it up, one needs to retrospect on the questions: “Is feminism an obsolete concept?” Only insofar as not adhering to the biological structures that are immutable. “Is it heading in the right direction?” No, it’s a shot in the dark; a blind arrow drifting to upend the scales of the objective truth. Steer it in the direction needed, and it will lend indomitable support to the women in need.