The Question of Gender Equality: A Feminist Perspective

The Question of Gender Equality: A Feminist Perspective

Nazneen A. (Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2819-8.ch002
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The feminist perspective reshapes the categories through which gender is performed. Gender explores a dimension of human life that has proven to be troublesome in understanding oneself and causing disturbances in social relationships and structures. Though critics feel that gender loyalties will deprive the chances of redressing distortions and omissions, the fact is that in real ‘lived in experience', gender neutrality is a mirage. Hence ‘gender' matters. Gender justice is a desirable social goal. Feminism is a thought trend that refuses to identify human experience with male experience. The feminist perspective challenges the partial and biased account of knowledge. The attempt is to acknowledge feminine ways of knowledge and accommodate them in such a way that more appropriate and impartial ways of knowing the world are explored. This chapter explores the possibility and relevance of the feminist perspective in attaining gender equality.
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Back in the 90’s, Naomi Wolf had called upon to see the present times as an era of ‘Gender Quake’ in which the meaning of ‘being a woman’ is changed forever. Recently, a peculiar news item that many may have come across was a press release issued on 22nd September 2019 by an Organization ‘Save Indian Family’, about an upcoming event titled ‘Nationwide Pishachinimukti Puja for ending feminism’. It claimed to be a nationwide initiative to end feminism and what they call ‘digital mob lynching of men’ through the ‘Me Too Campaign’. Not much has changed in the societal attitude from the times when it was told by Pythagoras, “there is a good principle which created order, light and man, and an evil principle which created chaos, darkness and woman” (Beauvoir, 1949, Foreword).

Traditionally Indian culture places women in an exalted position, almost glorify them as the very embodiment of maternal care, virtue and selflessness. When Hinduism resort to idolizing women by assigning the status of Mother Goddess, Muslims forward rigid rules and regulations along with dress code, restricting the freedom of women in every possible form. In Christianity, woman is treated subordinate to men. Irrespective of different spiritual parameters, all religions are bending upon restricting the role of women in religious denominations and in social visibility. In the Indian scenario, women’s groups and collectives are always looked down with suspicion or sarcasm. The more benevolent critics point out that gender based ideology will confine women within the borders of ‘femininity’; so what is required is the attempt to come within the realistic realm of ‘human beings’. Of course, this is the idealistic situation where no one will demarcate themselves from others as ‘men’ or ‘women’, but just ‘human beings’. Unfortunately, in the present society, all civic spaces, natural, social and financial resources, assets, means of production and even value systems are rooted in gender. The usage such as ‘Gender Sensitization’ and ‘Women Empowerment’ itself is a pointer to the structural injustice rampant in the society.

Beneath all these outward expressions, lies the reality – exploitation, oppression and violence to which the marginalized sections, to be more gender specific, women or sexual minorities, are being subjected to, by legitimizing it through customs, traditions and religion with the sole purpose of sustaining foundations of patriarchy. Linguistic connotation of certain words which disturbed patriarchy has either been eliminated or re-interpreted as a part of the ‘politics of convenience’, that too in a concealed manner in the course of time. In India, Feminism is one such word which is being cornered as western concept and is being replaced with more acceptable term ‘Women Empowerment’. In the present day society, the civic spaces, natural, social and financial resources, assets, means of production and even value systems are rooted in gender. The institutionalized gender roles which are being customarily practiced in our society by which domestic chores and maternal care are assigned to women and policy making and decision making capacity to men ensures the privileges of patriarchy. In fact, ‘feminism’ is a term to be read with ‘empowerment’. Empowerment is possible only when those who are to be empowered have their representation in political and social structures.

Nivedita Menon in ‘Seeing like a Feminist’, rightly points out that:

To be a feminist is to understand that different identities –located hierarchically as dominant or subordinate are produced at different times and in different spaces along with becoming aware particularly of the processes of gendering. She shares her conviction that when a feminist ‘sees’ from the position of marginality he or she has deliberately chosen to occupy, it is a gesture of subversion towards power, it disorganizes the settled field, resists homogenization and opens up multiple possibilities rather than close them off. (Menon, 2012, Preface p.9.)

Contemporary feminism employs deconstructive strategies so as to destabilize binary model such as masculine/feminine. Replying to the question “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her work ‘We should all be Feminists’ says:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Intersectionality: It refers to the complex and cumulative ways in which different forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, and intersect in the experiences of marginalized people or groups. In feminist theory, the term as coined by Kimberle Crenshaw is related to triple oppression.

Second Wave Feminism: Towards the end of the 19 th century, second wave feminist thinking appeared which questioned social attitudes towards women, including cultural and literary representations and social prescriptions for women’s behavior. Central to second-wave feminism is the notion that the ‘Personal is Political’; that is, individual woman do not suffer oppression in isolation but as the result of wider social and political systems.

Feminism: It refers to the movement for gender equality and women’s rights.

First Wave Feminism: This term is used to refer to the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century feminist movements that were concerned (although not exclusively) with gaining equal rights of women, particularly the right to suffrage.

Feminist Epistemology: Study of origin, sources, and dissemination of knowledge from a feminist perspective, thereby creating a holistic approach to knowledge creation.

Third Wave Feminism: The third wave saw the emergence of various theories such as postmodern feminism, intersectionality, transfeminism, etc.

Subaltern: The term was originally used to denote a junior ranking officer in the British Army. It was the early twentieth century Italian Marxist Thinker Antonio Gramsci, who, in his Prison Notebooks brought the term ‘Subaltern’ into theoretical discourse to denote subordinate groups or classes. The term was later taken up by Subaltern studies collective, a group of historians to signify the subordinate groups of South Asia, who were marginalized based on caste, class, age, gender and office.

Patriarchy: The ideology that implies the privileged social position and domination of men resulting in the oppression of women who are marginalized in the political, social and economic structures.

Cyborg: It is generally a term assigned to describe a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body. The term was coined in 1960 by Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline.

Feminist Standpoint Theory: The belief that individual’s social and historical location or perspective contributes to knowledge, whereby a woman who has experienced oppression will be in a better position to understand another woman’s oppressed state.

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