I have been studying feminism for about a while now, trying to deconstruct what it really is and how the goals of feminism can be achieved. Before I go to the substance of what I actually meant to write about today, let me try to put into words what I believe feminism to be and why it is so important.
Feminism is the radical notion that every human being irrespective of sex, race or sexual orientation is entitled to basic human rights. What feminism tries to achieve is a society free from the oppression of patriarchy and what it dictates, a society where men and women are perceived as socio-economic-political equals and where human empathy prevails over narrow gender roles.
Now, feminism deals with a wide spectrum of issues and works towards finding their solutions, for the well-being of human beings in general, like body positivity, eradication of rape culture, LGBTQ+ rights, abortion rights etc. I want to write about none of that today, even though all of them are very, very important. I want to go down to the very core and crack the code to how we apply feminism in our daily lives and make our lives better by freeing ourselves of patriarchy.
And it all starts at this very basic step:
We must defy gender roles and embrace and practice basic human kindness.
Now let’s look at what gender roles really are. Gender roles are a list of requisites and rules set down specifically for each of the sexes to fit the poster image of that sex as chalked out by a society that has so gloriously segregated humankind into man and woman and made it an unnecessarily significant part of our identity. As women, we are taught to do it all- be a nurturing mother/wife/girlfriend, be able to single-handedly manage the entire household, raise the kids and ALSO have a distinguished well-paying job and excel at it. We are expected to be docile, soft-spoken, compromising and outwardly (and inwardly) appealing enough to the male gaze and psyche. As men, we are taught to shun weakness that might manifest itself in in any form, always be strong and resilient, successful and affluent, be the sole bread-earner of the family and ditch creative pursuits or anything that might not be perceived as ‘manly’.
This has resulted in generations of men and women raised in unjust and unfair ways, with the bogus poster images of man and woman settled as the yardstick of their worth in the society. Women even now have been victims of chronic or terminal bouts of acute lack of self-confidence and the feeling of not being good enough. As soon as we fall short of ‘doing it all’ and/or the ability to have stable/successful relationships with men, we feel less of a woman and judge ourselves with all the cynicism that we can possibly muster. This has not only resulted in women being judgmental of themselves and systematically undermining their own abilities and opinions, it has led them to be judgmental and cynical of the women around them who apparently excel at what they are expected to be. This has fueled girl-on-girl hate, as defense mechanism of one’s own insecurities and shortcomings. For men, the shunning of emotional weakness and vulnerability and the unjust pressure on them to succeed has led to disastrous results. Patriarchal roles result in men feeling inadequate when not harboring an interest in so called manly pursuits or when they feel vulnerable to their emotions. They feel ashamed to ask for help or to speak up when they are victims of abuse, for society has made it seem like it’s their fault in not being tough enough to resist it. It has disillusioned men into thinking that their opinions are supreme,that they have some kind of ownership of females and their bodies and that a violent sense of dominance is the primary requisite to occupying a space called man.
Interestingly, the instruction manual of how to defy these gender roles is simple and common to all, and it starts with a very simple act.
And that is, to be kinder to one self.
Women and men should understand that it is not their moral (or gender?) imperative to fit into the roles they have been involuntarily assigned to. That it’s okay if they are women and they do not like cooking or wearing pink floral dresses. It’s okay if they are women and DO like cooking or wearing pink. It’s okay if a woman wants to voice her opinions or succeed in their career before they have a family.Your worth is not a measure of the number of men you have been able to charm. You do not need to change yourself for that, no. Similarly it is okay for a man to like poetry more than sports, it is okay to feel upset and ask for help, it is okay if you want to be a stay at-home dad. You do not need to pay the bill just because you are a man, you do not need to give up your seat just because you are a man. Chivalry is a thing of the past, but kindness and humaneness are not. Hitting people is NOT okay, irrespective of whether you’re male or female. One should always give up seats to whoever needs it more than him/her. Success is not gender-normative, neither is kindness, creativity or vulnerability.
In short do whatever keeps you happy and treat those around you with empathy and kindness. This I believe is the first step to achieving equality of sexes and for the betterment of this world.