Posts Tagged ‘gender equality’

What is Feminism?

Feminism is:

  • The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
  • Organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

It is ironic that at the beginning of the 21st century we are still debating this topic.

World history is full of mentions of brave and courageous women such as: Rani Lakshmi of Jhansi, Queen Zenobia, Joan of Arc, Arachidamia, Sacagawea, Queen Boudicca, Queen Mbande Zinga, but to name a few among many, who most probably had never heard about anything called feminism.

Did that stop them from doing what they did for their peoples and their country? No.

Did they reflect upon how a woman was supposed to behave? Did they ever stop and think whether history would remember them and their heroic exploits? Most likely not!

So, what is making us pay so much attention to the concept, the definition, if you will, of the word feminism in today’s world?

Is it because we are more into analysis and politics than getting our hands and feet dirty and just doing what is right?

Having said all that, here I am, expressing my own opinions about this subject – a subject which has been alive and kicking, whether acknowledged or not, for as long as humans have been in existence.

Please read on as to why I have taken a stroll down this path today…

A few weeks ago, one of my blogger friends A Cuban in London made a very interesting post on his blog. It was titled: Feminism: Has it gone wrong? 

Now, this is a subject that is very close to my heart, and has always been. So, of course, I read that article – which was based on a piece that was printed in the Guardian, a British daily newspaper, by the British journalist Charlotte Raven – with avid interest.

And then Cuban threw a challenge at me. Okay, not at me personally, but his article said that he was going to have a debate on his blog about feminism. He suggested bloggers interested in it should email him their willingness to do this, and he’d select five participants.

To make a long story short (yeah, I know… Too late for that, right? Anyway…), I’m one femme, among the five selected, who got to vent my feelings about this age-old topic.

Cuban gave each of us the same five questions (I have included them below) and asked us to respond to them in some detail.

Below are my responses to Cuban’s thought-provoking questions. Some of them gave me pause, and I had to occasionally dig deep within myself to even acknowledge some of the beliefs I held with regard to this subject, but I had a great time putting my responses together!

I’m posting only three of the five questions today. I will post the rest next week.

  • Cuban: Feminism has often been accused of being a movement led by and directly benefiting middle-class, educated, western women, thus, overlooking the role played by many female activists on the frontline of social and political struggles, such as: domestic violence, pay inequity, restrictions on reproductive rights. What do you think about it?

Hema: I would agree with this assessment, only when it comes to feminism as an organized movement.

As a teenager in India, in the 80s, I knew a woman (as just one example) who used to buy school supplies every year for her neighbor’s daughter, so that that girl wouldn’t have to drop out of school for lack of money. So, that lady helped empower a girl-child by supporting her education.

Did she do it keeping in mind the concept of ‘feminism’? Probably not. Just because she has not been part of the bigger movement, does that make her any less of a feminist? No.

I think the basic philosophy behind feminism – struggle for gender equality is practiced every day, either at grassroots level inside many homes, or on a bigger scale by female social activists and such all across the globe.

However, feminism as an organized movement has been more or less a western concept, or restricted to cities, for the most part, elsewhere in the world.

Overall, my take on feminism resonates very much with that of Sarojini Naidu – a poet and a prominent voice in the nationalist and women’s movements during India’s freedom struggle. She once said (I paraphrase) that she wouldn’t call herself a feminist because to do so would be to acknowledge that women are weak, and hence need an organized movement to uplift themselves.


  • Cuban: It seems that sometimes feminism is not compatible with women’s freedom to choose, especially if that choice sometimes hinders their own progress. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Hema: At the height of the feminist movement (and by that I mean the 1960s and 70s), this may have been partly true. (I concede this point with some reluctance because my impressions are from having read books and watched television shows about that time period, for lack of a more objective data for myself – I was too young in the 70s to have had first-hand understanding of the movement’s ideology and workings.)

During those days, if a woman chose of her own accord to give up a high-paying corporate job (for instance) to stay home and nurture her kids, then she’d have been labeled anti-feminist.

I would like to believe (though I don’t have concrete data either way) that the feminist movement ideally did not begin this way, and that this kind of hindrance to a woman’s personal choice was a radical off-shoot of the original campaign, as it usually happens with organized movements over time.

These days, I believe women definitely have more freedom (in view of feminism, at least) to make their own choices, based upon their own perception of progress, and not be tagged for it one way or the other.


  • Cuban: The author appears to believe that writers and journalists are the only ‘thinking women’. What’s your opinion about it?

Hema: I would like to give the author the benefit of the doubt, since she’s not in front of me to defend her stance, that she used writers and journalists in that context as examples of ‘thinking women’, not as all-encompassing categories of the same. Even then she would have done better to include others from disparate walks of life.

If I am being too generous and the author did mean it when she said that writers and journalists are the only thinking women, then she couldn’t be more off the mark.

Let’s take a woman who does menial labor for daily wages as but one instance of women who couldn’t be any farther in the spectrum from the thinking women that the author has come up with. The woman in our example – who would often be considered uneducated in the traditional sense of the word – is usually wise and astute; and at most times she shoulders the burden of her whole – usually large – family.

She may not be making momentous political and judicial decisions everyday that would make or break the country’s future, but she definitely is thinking about things that are far more important to her family’s survival. Just because her thoughts are more practical and immediate, do we have the right to trivialize them?


To read the other four panelists’ opinions, go to Cuban’s blog. Hey, but not before you give me a piece of your mind first  :0)!

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