There are various schools of thought on feminism. First wave, new age, radical, classic…. You name it, and a book on it probably exists in your local library. However, for those looking from a distance, the word “feminism” automatically refers to “demand for equality”.
Although the feminist movement began while keeping in mind the atrocities faced by women, its meaning has evolved over time. The word ‘feminism’, its definition, morals, principles and the resolve around is not taught in a very educative manner in an environment where many people want to understand it . The very essence of feminism has been altered so much since its inception in the mid-19th century and it has its reasons.
“Social progress and changes of historical period take place in proportion to the advance of women toward liberty, and social decline occurs as a result of the diminution of the liberty of women.”
– Charles Fourier (mid-19th century)
“Feminism, really, is the social awakening of the women of all the world”
– Charlotte Perkins Gilman(early 20th century)
“Feminist is a person who believes that there should be social, economic and political equality for women.”
– Bella Abzug (mid-20th century)
“Feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”
– Merriam-Webster (21st Century)
If we observe closely, the definition of the word feminism stayed pretty much the same until the 1950s and 60s, but as we entered the 21st century we observe a noticeable change in it.
Why did this happen?
Since its very inception, feminism’s goal was for women to obtain equal rights. This was because since prehistoric times, men had had the upper hand and women were fighting for basic rights such as the right to vote. So, as we entered the 21st century, feminism started being used for advocacy of equal rights on the basis of equality of sexes, hence not keeping it limited to women.
Many people have their own version of this word but what remains common is the idea of equality.
French Philosopher and Utopian socialist, Charles Fourier coined the word feminism in the year 1837, because he saw the role of women in bourgeois marriage at the time in France as oppressive. Historians used the word feminism for all those movements in the 18th, 19th and 20th century which demanded equality of rights irrespective of sexes, gender and race. There were movements before 18thcentury, before the term feminism was coined, hence historians called it protofeminism. Protofeminism finds its way back to Ancient Greek where Plato, a famous thinker and philosopher, wrote about equal rights for women in every social aspect in his book The Republic. In 12th century, Ibn Asakir, a Sunni scholar, wrote that women could study and earn ijazahs in order to transmit religious texts like the hadiths. Protofeminism was also observed in Medieval Europe when in England many female leaders took part in revolts against high taxes and beheaded the authorities. Sounds like the feminist revolutionaries of that era were ready to wage wars for their rights.
If we closely look at the history of feminism, we can see that it has widely occurred in 4 waves:
- First Wave Feminism:
First wave feminism was the period of feminist activities around the world which occurred in the 19th and early 20th century. This focused more on women’s political power as compared to unofficial inequalities.
- Second Wave Feminism:
It was the period of feminist activity and thought which took place in United States in the early 1960s and lasted for about 2 decades. Second wave feminism came to an end in early 1980s . During this period, there were many intra-feminism disputes of feminist sex wars over certain issues like pornography and sexuality, and these issues ushered in the period of 3rd wave feminism.
- Third Wave Feminism:
Third wave feminism emerged in the early ‘90s. Many new issues and theories like transfeminism, intersectionality, sex positivity, vegetarian ecofeminism and postmodern feminism.
- Fourth Wave Feminism:
Fourth Wave Feminism emerged in 2012, which was more of a digital feminism, because heavy usage of social media sites and app was done to fight against sexual harassment, violence against women and rape culture.
Feminist movement in modern India also helped quite a lot of women to gain their rights such as right of inheritance, in which a woman has the right to inherit equal amount of property from her father as her brothers. Along with that, the banning of Triple Talaq System in 2019 was an outcome of feminist movement in which millions of Muslim women participated. Hence feminism has helped women from various developing nations like India to raise their voice and fight for injustice against them. As a result, today every form of a public transport has a reserved compartment for ladies.
Feminism has changed many women’s lives around the globe, yet in today’s society, many people would still won’t believe in it and oppose it. Let’s have a look at what these misconceptions really are and how we can bust them:
1. “Feminists hate men”
This “anti-men” idea is the main reason why many people are afraid of identifying themselves as feminists. Yes, some women who call themselves feminists hate men, there is no point in avoiding it so let’s address it right here. The difference lies in calling yourself a feminist and in reality, being a misandrist.
Misandrists hate men and usually have nothing to do with feminism. Whereas, most feminists actively disagree with the belief that women are better than men and think that the so-called feminists who are anti-men are going against the fundamental principles of feminism, which says we’re all deserving and worthy human beings – women, men, transgenders – and should be treated as such.
So, hating men isn’t a part of that goal. It’s an unfortunate reactionary sentiment brought in by some people (misandrists) who also identify with the feminist movement.
It’s not man vs woman instead it is about us vs patriarchy.
But then again, someone can ask, “If you believe in equality why don’t you feminists use a gender-neutral term?”
Maybe someday we can but we haven’t reached there yet. ‘Egalitarianism is the doctrine that all people should be treated equally and deserve equal rights and opportunities.’ The fundamental difference between the two is that feminism believes gender discrimination needs to be eliminated so that egalitarianism can reach its maximum potential.
It is naive to think that gender discrimination can be fixed by moving forward and immediately treating everyone the same.
2. “Basic equality has been achieved”
“What are you even fighting for we have already achieved the basic equality?”
We hear this phrase thrown around quite a lot. Or something on the lines that the rural women whom you claim to be your point for this debate don’t even know what feminism is. Well, just because they are not aware of their rights does not strip away the fact that they need to be treated as humans. We would not see the atrocities that these women face on a daily basis, often turning a blind eye to what they go through.
We speak for women who still are taught that menstruation is a taboo. For victims of female genital mutilation, women who were attacked with acid just for saying no, girls shamed for speaking up and being told that they have no say in the decisions that affect their lives the most, women who are cat-called on their way to work. Most women have faced sexual assault in one way or the other, mostly at the hands of men and most of them thought it was their fault and never spoke about it.
Equal in front of law does not translate to equality in a practical sense. Even voicing an opinion is a privilege that unfortunately a lot of women still don’t have even in the 21st century.
3. “Why don’t feminists address men’s issues?”
Before you ask “why”, ponder on the “if”. A lot of feminists talk about issues that affect men, especially when these are the issues that came about as a result of the same structures that cause problems for women. In a plain manner, if you are trying to make two sides balance, you would not add the same amount to each side unless they already were equal. Adding to both is a good, but you’re going to need to add more to the side that has less to even things out. That is why feminism focuses on women.
Of course, men face problems as well. Often times these aren’t talked about as much as they should be:
- There are higher suicide rates among men. A large reason why men often commit suicide is loneliness or depression that is unrecognized and untreated. This is, in huge part, due to the expectation that men are supposed to be stoic, masculine (or, “unfeminine”), emotionless robots. Feminism fights to allow men to show emotions and seek help without any shame. It encourages them to share their feelings without being embarrassed of their emotions.
- Sexual-abuse against men. A large proportion of sexual abuse against men is perpetrated by men, though of course, some are perpetrated by women as well. For the longest time, women feared accusing any man of assaulting her for fear of nemesis of some kind. That is starting to change for the better. However, this fear still exists for men. How can help and necessary support be given when men have been told from a young age that ‘men cannot be raped’? Feminism fights to eliminate that expectation, which would in turn make it easier for men to come forward with charges.
4. Equality vs Equity
Equity means recognizing that the differences in ability means that fairness often requires treating people differently. Gender equality is seeing men and women as being of equal status and value. In order to reach equality especially in a non-homogeneous environment we require equity.
“If equality is the end goal, equity is the means to get there.”
Feminism, as a movement, has been beneficial to millions of women around the globe throughout the timeline. It has given women the courage to step out of the patriarchal shackles they were kept in and fight for their basic rights but there is still a long way to go.
Today, there are many misconceptions regarding ‘the f-word’, but if we are expecting another wave of feminism, to achieve the goal we must understand the meaning and implications of this. Only then will we come closer to a safer, more equal world for everyone.
–Manasi and Rutwij