“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.”
Rebecca West mentions this in her compilation “Young Rebecca: Writings” as she wrote about how it felt to speak out against notions that perturb us. This thought begs the question – What does it mean after all to be called a feminist? What are the parameters and the eligibility criteria that qualify one as a representative for feminism? What does the real feminist look like? What do the voices for feminism sound like? How is being a feminist so different from being human? How does this divide even come into existence? What urge was so strong and what brought about such a strong revolution that it impelled the emergence of a different category altogether to protect human rights?
The conventional image of a feminist forms the picture of a seemingly strong woman, shabbily dressed, unkempt hair, mostly short, no or negligible make-up and gestures and moves that mainstream ideas would term as “un-feminine”. They are assumed to have a loud, strong voice which is also imposing and stubborn by its virtue. Add to that, a woman who does not normally settle for things. Someone who’ll fight and scream and won’t think twice before creating an issue if she is not getting her way around. These are the typical tags attached to the quintessential feminist of this society.
A head doctor leads the protests of female nurses of a hospital, against late working hours and she is termed a feminist. A girl comes to the streets screaming against the college professor, known for harassing girl students and she carries the tag as well. A lady lawyer fights the case of a housewife who is seeking an out, from an estranged marriage, and she might as well be from the group advertising feminism too. A white American elite socialite woman walks into the hall and up on the stage with a speech on her efforts to empower females through her charity trust, and the audience applauds a feminist. It is like the common man’s eyes are looking out for a chance. A chance to spot feminists and an opportunity to pat them on the back. But how many of them are actually willing to do something about it? Everyone wants to join the parade. Everyone wants the laurels. But is it enough to wear the badge and walk around the streets with it and be awarded for having your name in the category? What ticks me to ask this question is the fact that neither does appreciating the thought imply your contribution to the cause, nor does the name tag ensure your actual involvement in the action plan.
If standing up for rights as basic as the right to choose to terminate a failed marriage, provokes people enough to put the protestors in the category, then the day is not far when there would be no woman left on the face of earth who wouldn’t belong to the bracket of feminists. Feminists don’t exist to pick out every woman from every household and elicit her to object against the men of their families. Feminists took birth at a time when the realization struck that the world needed a more accommodating attitude towards the women. It was the need of the hour as the violation of women rights was being recognized, but only by a minority of the population. It exists till date, because till date, there are women who need uplifting and support and shoulders to climb up on. To be a feminist is not to be pro-women and anti-men; it is not to choose a life of celibacy. To be a feminist is to speak out and ensure the realization of the rights of a woman as and when required. Every woman can be a feminist when the situation demands. There is no dire need for a category of set females who are forced to take to the streets because nothing else seems to affect the larger masses.
When a man walks across a masculine female who also appears strong and powerful and declares that she is a feminist as she prefers women to men, it disturbs my peace of mind. When a man claims that his neighbour – marriageable age, single, living alone with her dog, shows an aversion towards men – is a feminist, it baffles my concepts and understanding. When a boy meets a girl who has ideas and notions that are against romantic liaisons because she doesn’t trust men and he simply concludes that she can’t be anything but a feminist, it surpasses my toleration levels.
It is basic rights that one is looking out for. Since time immemorial, men and women have lived in a system captivated by dominating patriarchal ideologies. It is time for them to come out from the entailing of such a system and cross the barriers that limit them within such pseudo-boundaries. Naturally, most of the practices favoured men and the women needed saving. That is what it means to be a feminist. To be the guardian and the saviour where it is needed. To stand up for rights where the victims are asking for the help. It might be tough to be a female. But with all that it warrants, it is tougher to be a female.
Like its said “Feminism is, but the radical notion that women are people.”