Women’s right, women’s liberation, or equal rights for women are topics that have been among us for many years. The demands of women have changed over time and the manifestations of the protests have taken many forms. This topic, however, seems to be a favorite among the ‘so called’ forward class of the times.
By definition, feminism is the ‘advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes’. The equality that is sought is social, political and economic. Before the advent of the call for feministic rights, women were responsible for domestic duties and men were held positions in the public eye.
Circumstances That Shook Things Up
One would wonder what was wrong with a society where women were domestic rulers and where men went out to earn a living. This was the way of the world even when society was not like it is today. The cavemen went out to hunt since he was physically stronger. The women reared children and kept house, since they were better at multitasking than chasing wild animals for food!
However, society developed, and humans settled into a different lifestyle. Hunting was not required to get a meal into the household. There were other ways in which one could ‘earn’. No longer did it require physical strength to eat and survive. However, for many years after we left the caves men continued to shine in the public eye.
In Medieval times, women could not own property and were not allowed to study. Towards the end of the 19th century, women in France were forced to cover their heads in public. In Germany a wife was considered property and a husband could sell her. In the late 20th century also women could not vote or hold an office in a public position in Europe or the United States of America. They could not engage in a commercial venture unless they had a male representative. In fact, they did not even have rights over their own children.
How did all this come about? One can only hypothesize how society turned. Since men were in the public eye and were making laws and rules by which society was changing, they thought it best to ‘keep it among themselves’. Power corrupts all and with physical and economic strength, it was easy to ensure that women did not receive the same social, political or economic status that was awarded to men.
A Small Lesson in Feminist History
It is interesting to note that women seem to have been rebelling against this disparity and inequality for more years than we can imagine. These are not terms and movements of the 20th or 21st century alone.
First Wave of Feminism
The first rebellion took place in 3rd century BC in Capitoline Hill in Rome where women blocked the entrance to the forum. This revolt was to protest against a rule that did not allow women to use ‘expensive goods’. At the start of the 15th century, Christine de Pisan, a Frenchwoman spoke up to defend the right of education for women. This was continued by Laura Cereta from Venice. In the 17th century, English author Mary Astell proposed that women who were not inclined towards marriage or religion should start convents that allowed women to live, study and teach. This was done in a two-volume book called ‘A Serious Proposal to the Ladies’.
Not much happened during the Renaissance period and women were continued to be portrayed as silly, objects of desire and subordinate to men. The first women’s rights convention was held in July 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York. Eleven resolutions were made among which were the right to vote and participate in commerce. All these resolutions were passed. However, they failed to include women from the working class and limited these rights to only ‘upper-class’ women.
Second Wave of Feminism
The second wave of feminism is said to have surfaced during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Presidents Commission on the Status of Women was appointed by US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1963. It documented the inequality in pay, legal status and meagre support services for women. Guarantees of equality were made in The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
At this time, there were three mainstream ideas about feminism. Liberal feminism that was a pragmatic and practical approach towards equality. Radical feminism that believed that the submissive role of women in society needed to change and therefore called for a major change in the way of life. And Cultural feminism that believed that men and women are not the same and the differences between the two genders needs to be celebrated.
Third Wave of Feminism
By this time, globalization had happened to the world. Women, in developed countries where veils were no longer mandatory and witch burning had seen the end of their days, figured that this was still happening in other countries. They considered them to be the saviors of the women in these third world countries. Gen X, who were the offspring of the first feminist rebels took things forward. Today, feminism is about sexual liberation – stopping the use of derogatory slang for women, eve teasing and vaginal and breast centered topics.
Have We Gotten There Yet?
Given the fact that women have been rebelling against the way in which they are treated for more than 2000 years, one wonders what has been achieved. Those who believe in this cause would say that women can now vote, they can participate in a business, own property, and pretty much do whatever a man can do today. Despite this equality, there is still dissent. Some issue or another is raised every now and then. Sometimes it is the about the number of rapes that are taking place in the world and at other times it is how women are considered to be sex objects. And then there is also the most recent issue of eve teasing and abuse that brought on the rage of #metoo!
Where Did Feminism Go Wrong?
If what has happened over these hundreds of years has not led to a situation that is happy for women, then surely there was something wrong with this concept. Was it wrong to have asked for the right to learn and be educated? Was it wrong to want a say in the person who led the country? Was it wrong to not want to be treated like a piece of property? Surely not!
On hindsight, the feminism made its gravest mistake when women started to go out into the society to prove that the are equal to men. It was the order of the day for every feminist to claim that they could do whatever men could do. Not only did it stop at intellectual arenas like writing, arts, and economic pursuits, women wanted to prove that they could fly planes, fight wars and climb mountains too. (Don’t get me wrong, if this is what a particular woman thinks is her passion or calling, she should do it by all means. We are however, talking about society as whole here.)
By trying to do what men did, women gave a stamp of approval to men and acknowledged that what men did was superior. They had to do what men did to prove their equality in the eyes of all. In other words, they undermined what they were doing. They did not value their own contribution of raising children and keeping house as significant enough.
While undervaluing their own tasks, women did not realize that they had the highest power of all. They had the upbringing of the next generation in their hands. If only women had valued what they contribute to society and had not been fooled into assuming that the public life is the way to go, they would have shaped the next generation of men and women; men and women who believed and valued themselves for what they are without looking at everyone with a gender-filter.
Instead, what has occurred is the highest level of imbalance in the world where we have males and females but the feminine is slowly vanishing from the world (as women become more masculine in their behavior and approach to life).
In addition to that, feminists have called it upon themselves to bear a fate where they are today the upholders in the public eye and at home. Men never really tried to claim that they can do everything that a woman can (they could not do so technically since they are biologically disadvantaged with regards to child bearing and breast feeding) and so they are safe from having to take care of the kids, running a household and maintaining the semblance of a family.
All this leading to what we see in this video (have a laugh):