Welcome to today’s episode of Mythbusters on Colors magazine, as we tell the mysterious tales of feminism and debunk most of the pre-existing false notions regarding it. Hop on board as we embark on this journey through the history of feminism and see how it has pushed for equality rather than taking over the world to establish a female-dominated order where men are the slaves. By the end of this article, you will see how feminism is globally achieving a balanced social order by creating equal opportunities and outcomes for both men and women. Curing your fear of the word in the process.
By Mubasher Hasan
As you can see by the title we will be talking about the dreaded ‘F’ word today. That’s right, we are going to try and understand what Feminism exactly is and why we have nothing to fear from it. The subject itself frequently causes controversy in discussions, debates, online comment threads, and even casual conversations. On top of that, it is also confusing. Different people have different understandings of the concept. Some think it preaches women’s superiority over men, some think it is a systematic free pass for women to be brazen, for some it is an attack on religious teachings, and it has even been taken as an excuse for misandrist behavior. But there never seems to be accurate knowledge about what we understand as feminism. So let us try and clear that up first.
Now, being a man myself, I had no firsthand experience with misogyny or the usual sexist situations that come up on the regular. So the only way for me to understand what all the fuss about feminism is was by studying for myself and doing a little research. If you look it up, there are multiple definitions of feminism explained from different points of view. “The advocacy of women’s rights based on equality of the sexes”, “The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men”, and “The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”.
No matter how the term feminism is defined, one word that keeps coming up is equality. And this equality is the basis on which feminism stands. Therefore, in a few words, Feminism is the wild concept that everyone deserves equal privileges and opportunities regardless of their gender.
Now equality(unsurprisingly) can also seem confusing. For example, if you think that you support feminism but you don’t see how men and women can be equals, you are confusing equality with similarity. Men and women are not anatomically the same, but in social structures, they have equal roles and responsibilities, therefore deserve equal opportunities and returns. That means equal rights to individuality, freedom, education, opportunities, politics, properties, and all other social platforms. This means claims like “I am not a feminist, I am an equalist” are redundant. The two are the same thing.
There is still a persistent misunderstanding that women already achieved equality or that women and men were created as equals from the start, so why is feminism needed? To answer that, we have to take a short trip through the history of feminism.
Well, we all know the quick version of the emergence of feminism and its four waves. The first wave started sometime in the late 19th century and the fourth wave is going on right now. But a deeper look in history will show many different incidents of women fighting for liberation and autonomy long before feminism was a familiar concept. The process of working for women’s rights before feminism was an accepted theory is known as protofeminism. Recorded incidents of protofeminism have been found as early as the 3rd century BCE, when Roman women blocked all the entrances to the Capitoline Hill Forum to protest laws that limited their use of expensive goods. Sexism was visibly rampant and normal at the time as seen in the way the consul Marcus Porcius Cato responded to these protests claiming, “As soon as they begin to be your equals, they will have become your superiors”. The man was afraid he would be treated the same way he had been treating women.
Though there seems to be no recorded history of women’s revolution in the ancient east, significantly powerful women consistently appear in religious documents and local literature. The many prominent women in Islamic history, the ancient Chinese tale of Hua Mulan, and many characters from Bengali folk tales are among the mentionable ones.
My favorite incident of protofeminism was when the 17th century English protofeminist author Mary Astell suggested that women who aren’t interested in marriage or religion can set up convents where they can live and study as their will. Imagine the paranoia among medieval conservatives when they heard women want to join convents to stay away from society and study in secret. *cough* “Light the pyres!!” *cough*.
Feminism flourished in the east almost parallel with the west, with writers and activists like Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain forging the way for women’s education and career in a very religiously controlled Indian subcontinent. Especially for Muslim women. Also in recent years, we see activists like Malala Yousufzai securing education for Afghan girls and Kamala Bhasin’s many achievements through her organizations and writings.
Now, the point of all the history lessons is to highlight that society has always thought, that balance was already achieved in whatever order was prevailing. But problems like religious confinement, burning widows, education deprivation, and many others were persisting. Problems that feminism uprooted one by one through the decades. So, to think that gender equality has been achieved is just repeating the same illusion through the centuries. Though we have come a long way towards the equality we visualize, we are still not quite there yet. A vivid example of sexism is how different the national men’s cricket team and women’s cricket team get treated. Despite bagging a significant amount of wins, we don’t celebrate the women’s team nearly as much as we do the men’s. The board does not provide an equal budget for them either. We’ve all followed the T20 men’s world cup recently. There can’t be a better time to reflect on our blind biases towards the men’s team.
On a global scope, 4th-wave feminism is fighting sexual harassment and rape culture. Bangladesh is no different, along with the globally surging #metoo movement, Bangladesh has also seen significant reformations in-laws against sex crimes and how sexual harassment is being handled in general. As we can see with the new adjustments in capital punishments and how news media handles coverage of rape and assault. Despite the remarkable success in some fields, sexual safety remains unachieved. Underage marriage, marital rape, victim-blaming, and power abuse are still rampant, which is why feminism is still needed to illuminate these issues and bring forward a safer and better functioning society.
So what did we learn today? Despite all the made-up scary stories that your nosy, neighborhood aunties and sexist, middle-aged uncles tell you; feminism will not be the end of men. Rather it ensures that women can be equally skilled and equipped to be functioning members of society and contribute to progress without being burned alive and enjoy individual freedom without being judged or violated. We should all try to educate ourselves and understand feminism better or else the feminazis will keep blankly shouting “Free women!” and the male chauvinists will keep screaming back “Free women where?”, and we won’t be getting anywhere with all the mud-slinging blinding everyone.