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March 1, 2021

Who’s afraid of feminism?

Opinion

March 1, 2021

Every now and then we hear people saying, “Oh no, I am not a feminist”. Sometimes it is a politician, sometimes an actor or a celebrity. People are seen to have been making singular efforts in dissociating themselves from the term, as if it means something horrible. What is so bad about this term which makes them run away from it, you may ask.

It is because people probably think feminism is a foreign concept. But everything foreign is not bad per se, so there must be more to it. Yes, it is considered not only foreign but also anti-religion, and against our mashriqi values (one wonders if those values can be stated in a non-misogynistic way). Hence, it is deemed sufficient to denounce the term.

Another reason for this behavior is that feminism is equated with an ideology which leads women to an immoral path. The idea is that if women are free, they will go astray – as if promiscuity is the objective of feminism. This will be the end of the family institution we so highly value, so the reasoning goes. Another reason given for the unacceptability of feminism is that human society cannot survive without men. This implies that feminism is determined to do away with men. In this interpretation, feminism would mean women should dominate society and push men to a subordinate position (the way men, rather society, has been doing all along with women).

Does feminism stand for all these ideals? Even a very superficial glance at feminist discourse will show this is not the case. Feminism does not advocate men-hating. Rather, this allegation misses the whole point feminism tries hard to make. Feminism is not against a particular gender; its fight is not against a few individuals either, but more importantly, against the system which creates the oppressive values upheld by such individuals.

Likewise, feminism does not promote promiscuity. Yes, it does advocate consensual and informed sexual relations, but its focus is on women’s freedom to make such decisions. What opponents of feminism do not understand is that feminism asks society to treat women as humans who can decide for themselves. Many decisions are already made for a woman by society, decisions about her career choices, decisions about her marriage, decisions about child bearing, decisions about when and why to go out of her house, decisions about which misogynistic behavior to tolerate and which to brush off as jokes at work places, decisions to not be ambitious in life, decisions to leave politics and thinking to men, decision to tolerate violence, decisions to accept that she is weak, and many, many more.

Feminism stands for ending the systematic violence which robs women (and non-binary people) of the opportunities to live a life dictated by one’s own informed decisions. It asks for equality and equity. What could be so problematic about such an ideology? Why is our society so afraid of this?

Feminists have probably failed to properly communicate the concept to its opponents one may think. But the truth is that this misconception has been repeatedly called out by feminists. Representatives of Aurat March and some amazing feminists with their YouTube channels and many others on social media have been constantly trying to clear these misinterpretations. They have been in the public eye for a long time now. Today more than ever there are voices that tell us what feminism stands for. But why are they not being heard?

But probably the problem is not that they are not being heard; rather, I think they are being heard loud and clear. The problem is that anti-feminists are not willing to engage with them. The reason lies more in how people want to make sense of feminism than what feminism actually stands for. It is easier for the opponents of feminism to make a caricature of it and then hate that caricature. This is not very uncommon human behavior when people encounter challenging ideas. But what challenge does feminism pose for our society?

Feminism is a threat to an age-old tradition of patriarchy which is a cause of the systematic oppression of women. It struggles to end patriarchy, a system which has been like second skin for us. Gender disparity has been so deeply ingrained in our collective thinking that we have internalized it. Such is the state of our conditioning that even the question of women’s equality seems to shatter the fabric of our society.

We are afraid of an independent woman who refuses to be oppressed by the patriarchal ideals of izzat and haya, who knows that she is not the only bearer of chastity, and who refuses to take responsibility for men’s ideal of her moral behavior. She challenges the hypocritical values of society and demands equality.

It is our fear of losing this norm (system of oppression) that haunts us the most. It is the collective failure of our society to term feminists’ demand as Western propaganda or anti-religion instead of seeing it for what it is – a cry for a more egalitarian society. Our society does not like feminists because they ask uneasy questions. But instead of dismissing them let us ask ourselves why we are afraid of an ideology which demands equal opportunities for all humans without the discrimination of gender.

The writer teaches philosophy at a public-sector university.

Email: [email protected]