Wednesday, August 31, 2005

equality vs liberation.

Someone wrote to me some time back – one of those folks who claim that feminism is an irrational rant, and that men are the ones who are discriminated against. (For any further explanation on that head, sorry – youll have to question this species yourself!) why, they demanded triumphantly, do feminists never fight to be in the army? At the time I was too impatient to say much beyond this:

1. factually incorrect. There are feminist movements demanding that women be allowed into the armed forces.

2. I personally am for peace: violence is always a last option, and even then, it is not a solution. so I wouldn’t ever fight for access to violence – for man or woman.

Lets toss some ideas around shall we….

Lets start with the same army issue. Feminism is often open to a lot of misinterpretation because there is no one spokeswoman, no one definition. In this army issue too, there are different stands amongst the feminists. These are the two main camps-

One group of feminists thinks the right to defend and protect should be a feminist cause. Only first class citizens are allowed to defend their state and protect it. Their contention therefore, is that women should not be denied this privilege and treated as second class citizens simply because of their sex. Another angle is that women should protect women and children, and not allow it to be a male prerogative (breaking the habit of learned helplessness). Which indisputably does make sense.

The other group of feminists thinks that since the army is such a patriarchy stronghold, women cannot survive in the army without trying to play by the system – and when a woman slaps her thigh, mocks ten subordinates with sexual innuendos and helps to beat up a prisoner to show that shes as “ballsy” as any male soldier, she is doing herself and womenkind a lot of harm. The stories of the army’s ill treatment of women, of the kind of humiliation that women suffer in the armed forces are beyond count. So this camps contention is “are we liberated just because we can be as brutal as men?” While we may gain equality that way, liberation is still a far cry.

It is sad that for most of us, the feminine principle is only defined around the masculine: we simply look at the masculine and say yeah, everything that’s not like that is feminine. And so women remain the “other sex”. Unimportant, and not worthy of thought.

Even people who are liberal and progressive, speak of giving women “the same rights of men”. When are we going to stop and look at what women are entitled to in their own right?! This may seem like nitpicking, because when you look at gender neutral stuff like the right to education or religion, then this attitude doesn’t seem to particularly handicap the women, right? But consider something like reproductive health, contraception, birth control, abortion, safe sex, pregnancy and motherhood - all these intrinsically female concerns get ignored.

Patriarchy, while affecting women the most, also has its damaging effects on men. Women have been methodically taught to hate their bodies, that anything natural is ugly. That’s not news. But men are taught this too, and everyday in increasing doses. This morning I saw a tube of fairness cream for men. Ah-a! Welcome to our world. Now they too can spend heaps of money, time and effort to no avail, trying desperately to match up to unrealistic stereotypes. Now were all equal….. and in chains together.

nope. even if it were real, equality is no substitute for liberation.



Blogger Sreekesh Menon said...

.....anyone who resorts to the use of the term feminist should be termed a sexist.

And the so called liberators should try and liberate their own thoughts before thay try and liberate others( most of the time uninvited).

I stand by equality, I preach, I practice.

You are right equality should never be lowerd to the standard of liberation and the crimes that are commited with the loose interpretation of the word.

11:07 am  
Blogger KoPoS said...

Well put em.

but why try giving it a name? i mean, cant we call a wrong a wrong? why group so many issues under a single umbrella of feminism? the ideal of feminism that you hold up/look up to is something i would not try to even give a name... plainspeak its just justice, social, racial, ethical, economical, everything. branding it as feminism somehow limits its scope. and in most cases to something thats against/not masculine.

and still not sure with the point of

too much blah from me... :O

11:57 pm  
Blogger ~phobiac~ said...

interesting this world every thing is relative...equality we can gauge terms of physical things....but when it comes to things like attitude - thinking good bout oneself et all...liberation ? do we gauge that ?

well when the 'liberators' want all femmes to think like things different....and fight....hey wait a minute...let others what they wanna do...I have seen some femenists telling others what to dont take me worng...jus telling my exp....common they have brains...and there r things that they wanna do and let em do what they wanna thats liberation

not getting reservations and jus cause therez 40 % reserved .. u need to be there...women r more than jus numbers and titles !

the liberation must come from within .....not "let there be liberation" and they were liberated kinds....and now ok u r a liberated lot....go do what u have to do...and who defines what they have to do...not others..but that individual....

well if a female wants to have a family and raise kids....well let her do jus that...having a hound on their back and telling them no...u r here for the greater good of mankind now come out and do this or that.... !.....thats not liberation ...

helping thers realize id what is needed and not thrusting views on gullible ppl....

changes shud happen ...thats for sure....but in which direction...that needs some thought....

a great write up...asusual !

4:12 am  
Blogger Sea and Sky said...

This one's pretty close to the heart... so mind if i occupy a bit of blogspace?

very often feminism is viewed as a bunch of women fighting men. this is a terribly wrong, though popular, perception. feminists are not, i repeat, NOT a bunch of "bra-burning english-speaking chain-smoking pseudo-intellectual single/divorced women whose only mission on earth is to disrupt families". feminism simply means not accepting gender inequities as a given... only means that male-dominance is not an element we are inextricably linked to through our genes, but something we cutivate within ourselves through a process of socialisation... and that oppression based on gender is wrong, and thus unacceptable. simple, ain't it? it's high time we stop flunking Gender Studies 101.

and feminism is NOT about women only. it is about patriarchy. and patriarchy is as much about men as it is about women. there enough and more evidence available to vindicate the fact that it has caused enough damage to men as well... its just that we've been too stupid or too intoxicated with power (or both) to take cognizance of the fact. and there are thousands of men who are feminists/profeminists.

feminism is also not a single ideology. there are voices and voices within feminism too... liberal feminism, marxist feminism, radical feminism... just to name a few. similarly, femininity and masculinity is also not a single identity... so I believe they should be referred to as femininities and masculinities.

the army thing and the army masculine identity is strongly tied to the whole concept of militarisation of masculinity. why is it that armymen often celebrate their victory by raping women of the conquered territory? didn't this happen in vietnam? didn't it happen during World War II? didn't it happen in 1947 in india? "we've raped your women" - the ultimate humiliation!!! among many vehicles of perpetuating patriarchy, the existing military structures and sensibilities are one.

with women getting a stake in the existing patriarchal structures, we will not be able to unshackle ourselves from bonds of patriarchy. what about the iraq prison abuse? the women there were a part of the sexual victimization of inmates... the kind of victimization which is so very a characteristic of militarised patriarchy. people - men or women - are only actors. and these actors have certain factors operating upon them. factors that inform these actors to behave in ceratin patriarchal ways. so till we change those factors, we will keep just beating around the bush by blaming the actors.

thus, mere equality won't bring justice. that's why this fight is not about equality, but about justice. the effort is not create a gender equilibrium as per the structures as they exist today, but to take this equilibrium to a higher and just level... to redistribute power... to question... to analyze... to liberate ourselves so that the mind can be free... free to choose... free to be!

a very small example... very often people say that women working in the formal sector have more casual leaves than men. this discomforts them. they call this preferential treatment. they also see this as feminists' conspiracy to gain privileges for women over men. after all, this is inequality! yes, i too agree this is inequality. i agree that equality would mean equal leave opportunities for both male and female employees. but this is justice. WHY? HOW?? this is justice not bacause women have to take care of household chores (havn't we heard this one before?!), but for various other reasons... of which one being that men don't have periods while women do...!!! probably i'm being too simplistic and artless here, but this is just a very simple thing to illustrate that equality doesn't always mean justice. justice is a much more complex and much more librating concept than equality.

just a few last things...
* bodies i guess we all are taught to fear and hate... yup, i agree this applies more to women than men. just reminds me of "the female eunuch" (germaine greer)... an excellent book.

* in the feedback, there's a comment that if a woman just wants to have kids and take care of the family, what's wrong with that? nothing, provided it is an informed choice and not supplied by the patriarchal framework.

* probably nothing wrong in not using the term 'feminism' as long as we believe in the principles of justice and respect. similarly, nothing wrong in calling giving those principles a name either.

* "feminism is a radical notion that women are people." - anonymous

8:51 am  
Blogger m. said...

@ poorna shashank and phobiac: im sorry... im a little stunned - please read sea and skys comment. i think youll find your answers written there with a clarity that i can only wistfully dream of!

@ sea and sky: thanks. youve more or less summed up what ive been blathering about in this whole blog - youre welcome to all the space you want! i told you i was a big fan of your groups right? i guess you can count on my lifetime membership! :))

11:02 am  
Blogger sensiblystoned said...

very well written. *claps*

3:11 pm  
Blogger KoPoS said...

em & sea n sky:
all that you've told here, i agree completely. but tell me, is feminism basically about fighting against stereotyping of men (with their physicality) and women (with their sexuality)?

Or as i ask myself ever so frequently why are things the way they are? is there a reason? as with also the "armymen often celebrate their victory by raping women of the conquered territory" doesnt this come where already the men have been killed in war?

does that mean feminism is also a voice against war? against the economic and social inequalities?

as with the male-dominance part/gender inequities you've given, i see that men have been stereotyped as earning members while women homemakers. where the areas of influence have been more or less exclusive. so once we are out with the physicality of men, we are done with the sexuality of women also?

10:20 pm  
Blogger Sea and Sky said...

m, at the very outset, let me express that i'm beginning to feel a bit guilty about starting off a discussion on your blog. i mean, after all this is your blog, right? hope i'm not intruding into your space. it is just that i quite agreed with your post, and felt it was closely connected to some of my ideas/beliefs on gender. anyway, thanks for the remarks.

poorna shashank, i don't consider myself an authority on feminism or gender issues. it's a HUGE area to understand, and i've just about begun. so i really don't know if i can answer questions on what feminism is. i can only talk about what i think it is, based on my limited understanding of the subject. i would say feminism is also about fighting stereotypes... stereotypes based on gender, though i won't say it is only about men's physicality and women's sexuality. certainly, conventional notions of physicality and sexuality are vehicles of patriarchy, but any of these is not the sole property or prerogative of any one particular gender. let me make a humble attempt to illustrate...

consider iraq prison abuse cases. sexual violence? yes. but perpetrated against men! let's look at another example. what's a major insult to a boy? sissy? fag? eunuch? aren't these terms sexual in character? alright, yet another example. think of swear words used against men... in english, hindi, tamil or any other language. are they not sexual, do they not often refer to men as not being "men enough"? you bet. so is patriarchy, or specifically gender stereotypes that you speak of, not about men's sexuality?

let's look at women now. agreed that patriarchy has a big relation with construction and violation of their sexuality, but is it not about physicality at all? what's the "ideal" figure of the "modern-yet-homely" girl being exhibited in the sunday matrimonials in the newspapers across the country? an hour-glass figure? barbie doll? here's another illustration. girls are often discouraged to take up sports, or are discouraged to take them up seriously. why? because "they'll develop muscles", and who wants to marry a PT Usha? don't you feel the terrible fair & lovely ads are the most obscene displays of patriarchal hold over women's physicality?

about the reason/army thing, i believe these are less of reasons and more of reasonings. women don't just get raped because men are dead. masculinity, in the conventional sense, has always been defined as "what is as away from femininity as possible". therefore, to rape the women is not merely an act of sexual act of violence against the women, but also an attack on the masculinity of the men of that land. even in india, very often when a boy has "eloped" with a girl in a village, it is usual to parade the mother/sister of the boy naked. the military rape is also a way of attacking an entire race. for instance, in vietnam, the US soldiers often told the women they raped, "now you will give birth to americans"...

so, according to me, patriarchy is about physicality and sexuality, and many other things as well; and this both of these are applicable to men and women. and therefore, feminism is also about fighting this control.

yes, feminism is against other forms of discrimination as well which are connected with gender-based violence. for example, there's this group of marxist/socialist feminists who believe that gender oppression is a way of capitalist (mis)distribution of resources. the black feminist movement was as much against racism as it was against gender-oppression.

7:31 am  
Blogger Aditya Bidikar said...

I agree with m. and sea and sky here.

There's a lot I would have said here, but both of them have said most of it.

The 'armymen celebrating victory ...' thing reminded me of something Desmond Morris once wrote, and then I read that exact same thing said by S&S in his second comment.

Feminism is indeed a very loose term, and therefore, you have to define the way you mean it, otherwise people take it the 'wrong' way. I can't tell you how many people have asked me how I could be a feminist if I'm not even a woman.

10:10 am  
Blogger Woodworm said...

!!! :)

2:03 pm  
Blogger m. said...

awesome. im sitting back, kicking my heels and totally enjoying myself :D

keep it up people! (clap clap clap)

9:29 pm  
Blogger Sea and Sky said...

Just read this somewhere... by a 20 year old woman... guess it sums up what feminism means:

"People call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that distinguish me from a doormat."

11:41 pm  
Blogger KoPoS said...

awesome kt. eM, sorry for continuing with this discussion in the comments section of the blog? agree completely with the fair and lovely thingy; yes its the most gruesome thing to come and sadly its acceptance as a norm. and of course, i do remember being apalled at one of the ads in the hindu site of a martimonial site which had a woman smoking and there in the titles you have "homely girl?"

but tell me, what is patriarchy? how do you define it?

9:35 pm  
Blogger Senthil said...

M, S$S, very insightful thoughts there. Amazing.

Poorna Shashank, if I may venture, patriarchy, as far as I understand, is a social system where the father - or the eldest male in the family - is deemed supreme in that family. It also has to do with inheritance, the relatively diminished position of women in the system, and the wielding of power by the males in the social setting. Thus even a seemingly inconsequential act of changing a woman's last name after her marriage would be thanks to a patriarchal system. However, I am largely ignorant of the legal system followed in present-day India, so I am not clear on how much of Patriarchy is legally enforced today.

3:52 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@ sea and sky: ah yes, succinct one aint it! Rebecca West if i remember right :)

@ poorna shashank: senthil said "... the wielding of power by the males in a social setting". thats a neat starting point. how is that built into the social system? using selective masculine traits and distorting them, conditioning people to internalise these standards....
it leads to the politics of aggression for ends, justification of violence, perpetuation of damaging stereotypes.

@ senthil: thank you for that one :) and no, the legal system hasnt changed much. we dont even have justice in other aspects: the sex based discrimination issue is always the last to be addressed!
but anyway, whats more frightening than the legal support of patriarchy is the cultural acceptance of such a concept...

11:43 am  
Anonymous Charu said...

M, I somehow dont buy the equality thingy. men and women are different - and we need to accept that - not superior or inferior but different. your point is absolutely right - liberation and not equality is what counts.

9:02 pm  
Blogger KoPoS said...

eM, S&S, senthil:
Completely agree with your points of view. But as i see it, i never see them as equal, they arent and they wont be; coz again we would have to define what we mean by equal.

Men and women are never the same even from the basic dna. the muscle masses, the emotional level, periods/menopause, and all the stuff(im generalising into stuff coz i hope you all can extrapolate).

as charu has pointed out, its just that men and women are different. the point is to let the people take decisions for themselves based on their own views/situations without conforming to any views/dogma.

dont you think we are dealing with a much much bigger issue than just of the genders; i mean there is so much of subjectivity involved that making a generalised statement makes all the effort we do just a clone of the system we are fighting against?

11:49 pm  
Blogger Jake said...

thank you poorna. good point. subjectivity is it. against making generalisations.

11:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmm..good..but lotta gaps too..ok small neutral the prehistoric times why were men into hunting and other aggressive activities while women generally stuck to tasks that might be called mundane but equally important? Your answer lies in biology..M..
Understood that there are differences between sexes..but belittling one because of those differences is stupid. sad, but it has happd. while it was right at the time, for feminism to be born like all social movements, its meaning has waned and ppl do use it as an excuse nowadays. Equality in its literal sense is jus a word in a dictionary and has never been implemented fully. i think it is more important for individuals to learn to respect the genders and be given the freedom of choice( though that very choice might be influenced by prevalent social and cultural situations). The concept of male and females exists for a reason. the differences are meant to complement not contradict.
maybe all this is part of a cycle. Heck! maybe in a thousand yrs guys will be screaming for equal rights :D
try reading this M. and also this

12:25 pm  
Blogger Eroteme said...

"Lets toss some ideas around shall we…" But you didn't wait for an "Ok" ;-D

I totally agree with "When are we going to stop and look at what women are entitled to in their own right?!" I think we need to start looking at things on an absolute scale rather than with a "we can beat 'em attitude"

Again, what's with the "< ! --[if !supportEmptyParas] -- >"? :-o Makes reading the post a little difficult!

10:15 pm  
Blogger IdeaSmith said...

The point really is what defines masculinity and feminity? There are traits which are present to some extent in each human different degrees. We're moving into an age where people will do what they are suited for, by potential and not gender.

Nice post...I'm back after a bit. Thank you very much for linking me.

4:48 am  
Blogger Sea and Sky said...


are men/women fundamentally different?

let's get one thing straight:

- Sex: Refers to anatomical differences between the male and female of a species. purely biological. the differences arise out of physiological traits, the manifestations of which could be both physical and/or mental.

- Gender: Refers to the social norms/stereotypes/conventions associated traditionally with the sexes.

male/female = sex
man/woman = gender

nobody is denying the anatomical differences. the problem is with the socially constructed "differences".

the whole debate regarding gender differences is very complex. one can go on and on endlessly about this. but for now, just these 3 points:

1. this debate is much more complex that the "why can't men do ABC and why women are like XYZ" books. and for this reason, the argument about why women chose to take care of families while men went out to hunt does not simply and automatically support the argument that men and women are fundamentally different. there is whole lot of analytical text available on the topic and two streams of feminism i) socialist feminism and ii) sexual politics have attempted to get into depths of this whole thing. there is a strong argument that women didn't "choose" to take care of families and favored a secure lifestyle of comfort over the dangers of hunting. control over property and control over women are closely linked as per this school of thought, that is, control over women is one crucial way to have control over the capital.

2. we don't create such hue and cry when we overcome other natural things. so even if we think these differences are natural (though i personally am not a big supporter of the idea), why does the idea of overcoming these differences trouble us so much. we are not supposed to fly? ain't it? but we still do. don't we. and we enjoy that.

3. look around ourselves. men or women, people are different. period.

yes, we all are different. and perhaps to a certain extent, men and women too are, whether because of biological reasons or otherwise. equality/liberty/justice doesn't mean that we erase those differences. it means that we respect those differences and do away with conventions that take us away from who we are... conventions that try to feed us "unrealities" and make us feel as if that's real.

thinking that men are naturally aggressive and unemotional... and that women are obsessed with fair skin and jewellery... now that's unnatural.

10:31 am  
Blogger m. said...

this debate on the difference between men and women often leads to sweeping generalisations that also make masculine the same as male and feminine the same as female. gender stereotyping is by society: not biology.

"We are all born naked. The rest is just drag" - Ru Paul.

11:03 am  

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