‘Feminism’ is ‘humanism’

“We have to be careful in this era of radical feminism, not to emphasise an equality of the sexes that leads women to imitate men to prove their equality. To be equal does not mean you have to be the same” — Eva Burrows.

The term ‘feminism’ has been interpreted in many ways. There are the correct interpretations and then there are the misinterpretations. The basic purpose of feminism is to establish that women are ‘people’ who are equal to and/or better than their male counterparts and that they do not have to be subordinated to men or oppressed by them. This in no way suggests that women have to do anything and everything that men do and be “a man”.

From literature to the media, from sports to education, from politics to the business world, we can see discrimination based on gender biases. Women are used as commercial objects; they face sexual harassment, sexual abuse, physical abuse at the hands of men, and various other forms of discrimination. When feminism talks about equality, it really talks about requiring the same respect and rights as those commanded by any man. The principle that all human beings have equal rights under the law is what feminism advocates. Everyone should have an equal opportunity based on meritocracy when getting interviewed for a job; when being adjudicated in a court of law; or when being treated as a human being. This would ensure a society where there will not be widespread sexism because women would be economically empowered and would be respected for their freedom of choice regarding their roles in society. Male chauvinism would not have any place in such a society.

An important reason for male chauvinism is the patriarchal mindset that has prevailed over the centuries. Since ancient times, men have been overprotective of their female partners and have restrained them so that they do not gain freedom that might jeopardise the men’s future lineage, or so it is feared. A man would not want to invest his time, energy and resources on another man’s child.

Stereotypes such as blue is for boys, pink is for girls; boys with short hair, girls with long hair; boys with guns, girls with dolls, etc., are all created by society and are an exaggeration. One should not treat their minds as simply tabula rasas (blank slates), which are filled by society when they treat one as a boy and the other as a girl. It may be the case that some girls would like holding guns more and some boys might want to play with dolls inherently when not discouraged. Such factors have nothing to do with their performance in any specific field based on their gender alone. If a girl excels in something that is generally dominated by men, she should be given an equal opportunity to participate and contribute in that field instead of preferring someone similar or with less talent merely on the basis of gender. That would be unjust and discriminatory.

Feminism is not evil as most of the religious scholars or other men portray; it is something that these men fear. Some people have misinterpreted feminism to poison the minds of females so that they themselves would feel proud in saying, “I am not a feminist!” Men’s own perception of feminism is something that is evil. It is true that certain branches of feminism have exceeded the real demands in certain cases, but there are also cases where they have gone to an extreme and become reactionary. For instance, some feminists are of the view that since man sees motherhood as an inferior trait and tries to fit women into that role, therefore they try to deny motherhood’s importance and choose not to give birth to spite their male counterparts. Such practice in itself is not healthy because a woman should fight for the dignity and value of motherhood, instead of being embarrassed about it because of some male chauvinist views. It is probably only about women asking rights to take off their shirts in public and things similar, which has given a wrong impression and the men now use it to keep women subdued and suppressed.

Women have been subjugated over the centuries due to men creating religious institutions or distorting ancient religions to sanctify the supremacy of man. While Islam may have emancipated women 1,400 years ago, some of its decrees do give men the upper hand (I would like to take up this subject in another column). These decrees are now distorted even further by so-called ulema (Islamic scholars) to terrorise women. It is time for the Muslim women to challenge these mullahs and ask for their just rights and realise that they are equally human and deserve equal rights and protection under law. Only then can a society become egalitarian and the role of parents would be mutual companionship to raise their children instead of a strong father model, where the father is the head of a family who guides the discipline and morality of the children.

Contrary to what many critics of feminism say, it does not designate men as a benchmark for women to follow; yes, a man can be an inspiration if he is good at something (for instance, a sport) and women may desire to be not only as good as him, but even better. The goal is not to copy the man; it is outdoing him. This desire should not emanate just because the top person in that field/sport is a man, but should be taken in the context of achieving something higher than anyone else. It should be just like the desire to break a world record, which may have been set by a man or a woman. Regardless of who has set it, if the desire is to beat it, then one cannot say that one is trying to follow men. One is just trying to be the best one has ever been. In fields such as the arts and crafts, literature and philosophy, science and technology, etc., anyone can make a mark. There is new knowledge to be learned and progress to be made to move ahead. Women can contribute as much (and even more) as men do.

In certain cases, it is important to realise that men and women are physiologically different, and therefore require some extra benefits such as an allowance for maternity leave or additional medical expenditure allowance for women in case of pregnancy. Therefore, it would not be unfair for men if women have extra medical benefits, since men do not face similar issues and thus do not require as much for their health as women do.

There have been questions raised such as how would a female really benefit from entering an institution such as the Pakistan military, which to many has become more of a political entity rather than remaining a defence unit. Women would be co-opted into the system and accept its values, which would not really benefit Pakistan society. But without entering the military, how can women think of bringing about any change in such a system? Their numbers in the military ranks are very low at the moment compared to men, so it is impossible to expect them to bring about a change soon. It would take many years before women can actually make a mark there and try to bring some change. There is no guarantee that they would manage this, but this criticism should not deter women from joining the military. Who knows what lies in our future?

Today, women are suppressed and are underperforming. If only they learn to survive on their own, they would not become dependent on someone else’s morsels and can become equally important in guiding their children along with the father. Feminism is not competition between the sexes, it is merely humanism.


Anonymous said…
This is an interesting post. Though I agree with most of it, I have a minor quibble.

You say - "The basic purpose of feminism is to establish that women are ‘people’ who are equal to and/or better than their male counterparts.."(emphasis mine). I think you're mistaken in this regard - Feminism, as I understand it is against asserting that women are superior.

The feminists I know of would see no point in going from a state where one gender is dominant to a state where the other is dominant.The answer to patriarchy is not matriarchy ! Nor is female chauvinism an answer to male chauvinism.

This is a common misunderstanding among critics of feminism and I am surprised that you are repeating it despite you having a demonstrably better understanding of what feminism is.

The main point which many feminists have tried to communicate and which most its critics have failed to appreciate, is this - what enslaves women also enslaves men. What enslaves the mother cannot but end up enslaving the son !

So, when feminism fights against patriarchy, it is fighting for the freedom of both genders. As you say later in the post, when feminism is fighting for girls who like toy guns , it is also fighting for boys who like dolls. When it rejects the assumption that women have to be submissive, it is simultaneously rejecting the assumption that men have to be rude and arrogant.

This minor quibble apart, I very much agree with your broad conclusion that feminism is humanism.
mehmal said…
Thanks for the comments, really appreciate them :)
Btw, I am sorry if that sentence sounded like women are (or should be) superior to men, but I didn’t mean it in that way. What I said is that just as Man A can be better than Man B due to his intellect, a woman can be better than Man A or Man B the same way. All humans deserve equal respect, so there is no question of superiority of any race, ethnicity or gender over another merely on the basis of their birth. Feminism is a voice against the injustice women face in a patriarchal society, where others prefer men over women and think women are less intelligent than men.

It appears to me that you have understood the real message very well. I am glad that you pointed out a sentence that appeared slightly incoherent with the rest of the article. I can assure you that my meaning is consistent with the rest of the article and I also do not believe that rights of women should exceed that of men or transgress their freedom in any way. I would consider such a thought breach in intellectual honesty and objective journalism, which I try extremely hard to achieve even if at times I have to go against my own viewpoint.

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