Guest post: The feminist take on equal rights

All hell broke loose on Friday the 13th with #WomenBoycottTwitter. The account of a Hollywood actress (Rose McGowan) was temporarily suspended on Twitter. Women ironically decided to protest by going silent on social media for a day. This is one of many contradictions of the equal rights and feminist movements, which this guest post addresses. 

priya1Today’s guest writer Dr Priyadarshini Manay is Assistant Professor at Seth G.S. Medical college in Mumbai) 

A friend shared Michael Kimmel’s TED talk – ‘Why gender equality is good for everyone’ – men included. It was a marvelously engaging talk demonstrating the awakening of the heterosexual Caucasian male to various gender roles and sexual orientations. And where the Caucasian goes, go men of all other races.

In the past I have often begrudged these white guys their arrogance and the supposed superiority men of other races have granted them. It’s only after I spent time in the States that I found Caucasian men do so out of ignorance.

Kimmel is so right when he says that privilege is blind. I can see the reflection of that statement in the upper castes of India. What’s more shocking is that up until very recently when I read about how the lower castes were forced to live less humanly, I felt very little sympathy for them.

To me, reservation for the lower castes was a reminder of how my hard work may not matter. I kept thinking I was not the one who enforced the caste system centuries ago. Why was I to pay for the sins of my fathers? At least, the forefathers I had seen in my lifetime had worked to educate these very same people. There seemed no sense in the lower castes now believing reservation was a payback for those old times. Furthermore when people know they can get away with less work wherefore remains the incentive to excel.

Anyway, reservation in India was supposed to be abolished 40 years ago. I doubt it will happen anytime soon. I have chosen to let my frustration go. May be children do have to pay for the sins of their fathers. I think may be even those who use the trump card of reservation when they don’t actually need it may do well to remember that. It would benefit them also to forget the past albeit in their own time.

As a member of the “privileged class”, I will, and have, moved on. So will others. Ultimately the caste system may end up surviving only in the minds of the supposed lower castes. And that is almost like not having made any progress at all.

If my forefathers have sinned against these people, not forgiving them is equally detrimental. Like Kimmel says, when my forefathers enforced their beliefs onto the society they did so because they knew no better. Women were treated equally badly throughout the ages.

That of course gave birth to the idea and movement of feminism.

Feminism – the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes. “Equality of the sexes…” Hmm.

Interesting definition.

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Me, born in the moderately liberated world of the late 20th century was never a witness to subjugation of women, at least not in my family or friend circle. Perhaps this makes me wonder why women want to be considered equal to men? I understand that when women were considered inferior to men, the first step they had to take was ask for equal rights. A right to education, to vote, to make personal decisions, to work outside the home, to choose to have or not have children, to live alone, to marry the person they love and so on. These were basic rights and we were correct to ask the same freedom as men.

One fine day, I moved away from thinking I am equal to men. I am not. Women look for love, men for passion. Love is never blind but passion is.

I suppose, for the tasks men have to perform, passion is a must. How else can men fight knowing fully well they can lose their life? Haven’t so many marriages fallen apart once the passion fades? The women are left wondering where the love went.

When I was younger, I once had confused passion for love. I shall never make that mistake again. God gave women the ability to look beyond passion. He gave us (in)sight. So how can we be equal to men? We are different, neither one being better than the other. But men and women should have equal rights.

No woman who knows her rights are to be respected as much as a man’s will ever try to usurp his position. What motivation will she have left?

A majority of the world believes feminists are man-haters, a popular media-projected misconception of the 70s and 80s. I was one of those people. As I realized my mistake, I was all the more reluctant to identify with being labeled a feminist because it may impede other people who equated it with hating men, from listening to me.

It was important for me to continue to make men realize we did not hate them. It was important for me to try to resolve misunderstandings and miscommunication between men and women so they may have happier and peaceful interactions with each other, most of all my parents. I wanted dad to understand that being financially independent was important for mom and that she wanted to share his burden like he shared hers in the kitchen.

Dad used to be most reluctant to ask her for financial help. He would get angry when she offered, when she could see he was in a tight spot. Wouldn’t they have had a happier life had he felt she was his equal? In encouraging her to work, he was a feminist. So why did he falter when he could have turned to her for help as a partner? Was he a chauvinist then? Was he a limited feminist? It’s difficult for me to typecast him into any one category.

Life is like that. Much as we want to make it black or white (it’s easy for us to discern), most of it happens in the grey zone.

I understand the principle behind using words. They are definite, like thoughts. But emotions are more like watercolours. They overlap, mix and spread beyond intended boundaries sometimes. Men and women are like watercolours.

As a woman, I have often wondered what constitutes the feminine? Is it the sway of my hips, or the way I wear my hair, the type of clothes I wear or doing the tasks that traditionally are assigned to women?

Perhaps it is easier to define feminine energy as that energy which complements the masculine. Historically, women have been encouraged to inculcate feminine energy and men, masculine energy. But haven’t we come across fathers who cook better than mothers?

The one characteristic of feminine energy is it comes without an ego. That is very important when it comes to a loving environment at home.

Any movement needs a name, a flag, leaders and participants. Although the feminist movement had women in large numbers, would they have had the same level of success without the participation of those fewer-in-number male feminists. It’s some quirk of fate that in today’s world, it’s men who are labeled feminist or otherwise. So what originated in a man’s mind has now come to rest on his shoulders. And we need his shoulders as much today as a century ago.

We don’t need them because we are weak and men are strong. We need them because there can be no peace and prosperity until men and women become true partners. Partners don’t fight for equality. They look to complement each other. They look to win together as a team rather than keep score. What is weak in women is strong in men and what is weak in men is strong in women.

Men were not sensible in the past when they thought physical superiority alone was sufficient to make them masters of the universe. Let’s forgive them their foolishness. A mature man knows the importance of the emotional strength and love of his woman. There are more mature men today than there were, a millennium ago. Literally.

We still have a long way to go, however. My sister-in-law came home from an interview looking hunted. The interviewer had asked her if she was married and whether she was planning to have children in the next two years. I asked her what she was going to do about it. There was no plan… more frustrated ranting.

She had not been able to give a rude enough answer to his question. I told her that she must, the next time. If she couldn’t, she should forget such a person beyond that day. Remembering the incident over and over would only harm her.

There is another way, however. As women, we can support each other to file a petition with the court requesting to declare such questions illegal. It would be a long-drawn fight but this is my way of awakening men to the issue of women’s rights. It could also result in it being made compulsory that men are asked the same question as well, because a man would be able to ask for paternity leave.

So perhaps this whole situation may help a man ask for the right to spend time rearing his newborn child and so bond with his children. As women, we’d also be ensuring that our daughters and sons do not face discrimination in future. Isn’t it discrimination to think new fathers don’t need paternity leave?

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Now for my take on why I, as a woman, may ask another woman the same questions before hiring her:

  1. It is her God-given right to have children.
  2. I’d like to be ready to support her in any way she needs, including hiring men in all other positions so there will be enough of man power [pun unintended] to continue work in the office.
  3. I am looking out for my tasks not getting messed up because I hired a girl who is not able to answer satisfactorily. Even a clear answer like: “I don’t want to discuss it” (means something). I may be testing her to know if she is aware of her rights. I know there can be an unplanned pregnancy or she might be pregnant and not know it.

We cannot control everything. But to always assume she is being discriminated against because she will take maternity leave is a bit extreme. Maybe, by asking her such a question a man is actually showing her he has accepted her right to maternity leave.

I work in a male-dominated field [medicine]. I put myself in my sister-in-law’s position and tried to think of how I’d have answered the man who had interviewed me six years ago. He was someone I respected and trusted. Furthermore, I know that I would have to depend on my male colleagues to do my work in my absence. Yes, my maternity leave is my right but it doesn’t hurt to accept that these very men could be called upon to support me.

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If you feel an interviewer’s intention is suspicious, answer how you best think. I am not going to judge you. I trust a woman’s intuition. I will not say you were wrong or right. Suppose he is discriminating, give a written complaint to the firm. Don’t take it quietly. Ultimately, that interviewer is a representative of the company he works for. Use your brains to bring him to book. But in order to best use your brain, you need to be calm and collected.

The way I see it many women have yet to take to the fight for equal rights. Those of us who know our power have great responsibility. The responsibility of not appearing arrogant, of educating more women, of respecting the women and men who helped us reach our current status…

The responsibility of being mature, kind, loving, caring, and daring, dreaming, nurturing, fighting, respecting, accepting, teaching, partnering men/women, enjoying our present and enhancing the future of our children.

Men and women are partners. We were never equals. But yes, we have equal rights.

by Dr Priyadarshini Manay

 

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