Friday, April 07, 2017

F for Feminism

Feminism is the bad boy of the Oxford English Dictionary this decade, perhaps usurping Atheism from that coveted position it held on to for centuries. Since the word has given itself a bad name, for reasons hitherto unknown, I wanted to clear the air a bit on what Feminism means to the average Feminist, when he / she calls himself / herself a Feminist. 

  1. Feminism advocates equality of the male and female genders across all walks of life - school, college, work, home.
  2. Feminism does not call for extra powers or privileges for females. In fact, it just asks for females to have the same privileges as males. 
  3. As you would have already noticed from the introduction, both men and women can be Feminists. It is a gender neutral word.
  4. Feminism does not advocate hatred towards the male gender. If that were the case, it would be quite weird because then, male feminists would be calling out that the male gender (not just their own but themselves) should be hated.
  5. Feminism is not a new fangled idea or movement. It can historically be traced back to the 19th century when feminist movements were focused on winning the "right to vote" for women. Yes, there was a time when females were not equal enough to males to have the right to vote their leaders into power.

Now that we have the basics sorted, let's move on to some detailed FAQs. 

There is so much equality now between the genders when compared to the previous generation. Then, why do you crib so much?
There is a reason we have more equality today as compared to the past decade or century. Equality isn't about luck or being in the right place at the right time. Women are able to vote today because the feminist movement fought for it in the 19th and 20th centuries. Women can have assets registered in their names today because that right was fought for and won. But, there are many other areas where equality doesn't exist. At the work place, there is enough evidence of females being constantly passed up for promotions, hikes and bonuses, because they are females and the team runs the risk of losing them to marriage or childbirth for substantial periods of time. At home, equality is still something to be strived for and far from the reality. And, I am not even talking about the "married woman surname changing" practice, perhaps that's more a token gesture we can tackle in the next few generations to come. 

  • The fight for equality starts even before the female is born. As per the 2011 census, child sex ratio is at an all time low of 914 females to every 1,000 males, with studies claiming that around 2,000 girls are killed everyday. 
  • The same census pegs female literacy rate in India at 65% compared to the male literacy rate at 82%. Many of you might have heard of the popular STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) argument - females don't have that much aptitude for STEM as males, hence there are lesser females in STEM careers compared to males. But, seriously, when the bottlenecks are so much for a female to even finish her basic education, isn't it that much harder for her to get to the step of considering a career in STEM? 
  • Eventually, we get to work and pay, where the gender pay gap is as high as 25%. And, even if the female manages to get through all these bottlenecks and sits in a job that pays her 25% lesser than her male counterpart, she quits after she has a child. 
  • According to multiple studies, as low as 20% women continue working after they have their first child*.
  • Beyond all these bottlenecks, if the female still wants to and puts fight to continue in the workplace, she is passed over on projects citing "safety" as an issue. I remember a few years back how a male colleague mentioned he doesn't want women on his project because the project was expected to be hectic with potential night outs and he doesn't want to shoulder the responsibility of the safety of the women on his project because Gurgaon and Noida are unsafe places. Fair point from his perspective. In a similar vein, a recent observation by lawmakers in Karnataka that women should be banned from night shifts is nothing but counter-productive. It means that slowly fewer and fewer women would be recruited because they are not as employable or as productive as men, and that's not for lack of capability from their end. 

Why do women have to keep calling out that they are lesser than men and asking for equality? Doesn't that show weakness?
If my 9 year long corporate career has taught me something valuable, it is this. We need to ask for things we believe that we deserve. It could be a role expansion, a team expansion, a promotion, a hike. We may well deserve it and everyone around us, including our bosses, may well be aware of it. However, we need to ask for it, building a case for why we deserve it. I find it difficult to implement this strategy because I feel a little cheap about flaunting my accomplishments and skills. However, there is nothing cheap about it. If it isn't important enough for us to ask and fight for what we deserve, no one is going to find it important enough to give it to us on a platter.
So is the case with equality. If we feel that females are treated the lesser of the two genders and we believe that females deserve to be equal, we need to ask for it and fight for it. There is no other way this is going to work.

What about men, men who are discriminated against, men who face domestic abuse, men who are sexually harassed? If you are talking about equality, you should fight for that too.
Yes, agree, there is definitely a percentage of men who are discriminated against, those that face fake rape cases, those that are domestically abused. But, this movement isn't about that. This movement focuses on equality for the female gender with the male gender. That doesn't mean one cannot focus on and try to resolve issues faced by men. Only that such a movement will be different from the feminist movement. Both movements can exist, strive for and win for their respective core groups, surely.
Why can't we have a normal conversation, why do we need to get into this feminist type language?
I am not really sure when the tilt happened, when Feminism started being looked at with a negative connotation. Perhaps, it happened in the era of the millennials, perhaps much before. Perhaps, since the time the movement started, a sizeable number of men and women may have secretly admonished it, rationalising, "Why should we stir the pot? Why can't we let things be?" For instance, I know a number of men - good at heart, well educated, striving for equality between the genders though not always achieving it - who vociferously proclaim that they hate feminists. "Don't talk in this feminist type language. Let's have a normal conversation," is something I have heard for many years now. Actually, not just men, many women also hold this view, some even going as far as to brand this clan "Feminazi". I have an infinite capacity to absorb shit, but this is shit I refuse to accept any longer. So, yeah, before we proceed, I am making it crystal clear - I am a feminist. If you hate feminists, you hate me. And the hatred is mutual, this is the last of conversations I will be having with you.

* All statistics and data points pertain to the Indian population

P. S. This post is the sixth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

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