All women are not feminists. All feminists are not women. While we can debate about whether feminism is the ultimate victory of women in the patriarchal societies or whether it should be a fundamental right for women, it is essentially true that feminism is one of the instruments of protest and resistance against the patriarchal society. But is feminism a safeguard for women in today’s intensely capitalistic world? To what extent are such questions familiar and relevant to our daily lives? I am talking about ordinary people here. Is feminism at all pertinent in our everyday lives involving family, friends and our social circles? And what is the opinion of women themselves about this issue? This is such a vast and complex subject that there can be no simple answer. But the answers can be found in the different layers of our daily lives and our social customs. It is not necessary to do a detailed analysis about the form and history of patriarchy to aver that its discourse and context have undergone a profound change, mainly as a result of the technological revolution globalization and capitalism. Whether it is a change in the essence of patriarchy or only a change in its outward manifestations is again a subject of debate. But one thing is certain – the new laws promulgated to ensure the safety of women in all countries across the globe have strengthened the feminist movement and curbed the excesses of patriarchy. While one can wonder about their effectiveness, it is true that these laws designed to provide greater security to women is a direct result of the feminist movements across the globe. The form and impetus of these laws differ depending on framework of different countries and societies, which is totally normal. But feminism is not only about economics or politics – economic independence does not necessarily make women independent in the true sense of the term. This is what needs to be understood and analyzed in detail. Economic independence is generally considered to be the key ingredient for women’s freedom, but this is directly related to the social norms and customs in different societies. It is necessary to analyze these aspects as well.

The social and political realities of developed countries are very different from developing countries, and consequently, the nature of feminism is bound to be different too. Communal cultures, economic classifications and racial divisiveness also play an important role in this context. We need therefore to take into account the social structure in which a girl child grows up, how her consciousness and thought process evolves and how her tradition and heredity shape her convictions and intuitions. These factors differ widely across countries, societies and communities – so do the nature and form of feminism and the position of women in different societies. It therefore becomes a true problem when we tend to treat this complex subject in a linear, one dimensional fashion. The position of women in Western and Eastern societies being radically different, the nature of feminism is different as well. Those who forget this simple fact and talk about universal feminism make a grave mistake. The beliefs, dreams and aspirations of European or American women are very different from women in third world countries like mine. That is undeniable. So feminism can’t be universal; it can’t be one-dimensional. The epoch we look at plays an important role as well – the world of women today is not the same as women half a century back – however traditional their beliefs and cultures. So feminism also evolves constantly, from one decade to next, and shall evolve in the future too.

The main factor that underlies patriarchy, albeit subtly, is the possession of women’s bodies by the men. This seems to be true across countries, societies and epochs. Herein lies the root of modern civilization. Both girls and boys become conscious of this proprietorship at puberty. This consciousness gets deeply rooted in their system of beliefs and convictions, to such an extent that neither sex even dreams of challenging the hypothesis. It takes the form of universal truth, as real as earth, water sky or wind. It becomes part of their mental makeup as they grow up. Feminism questions this system of beliefs and convictions. Those who actually raise the question are immediately stamped as feminists by their own families and society. Especially in countries like India family traditions and societal norms are so overwhelming that the range and capacity of independent thinking in children become more and more constricted as they grow up. So they lose the ability to ask questions, accepting the status-quo, thereby further strengthening the foundations of patriarchy. It is this solid foundation that distances women from important questions and enquiries concerning their own lives. They grow up to be silent and docile. Girls learn that they are not to ask questions, think differently or independently. They learn to conform. This silent surrender to patriarchy is the true face of women of the third world. Nothing much has changed even today, in spite of the technological revolution. The cult of conformity is enough to silence girls. If that does not work, the girl can then be stamped as Deviant, a Taslima. This is the politics patriarchy. How many girls have the courage and the strength of character to protest and want to break out of the traditional pattern that is their everyday reality? Obviously girls do not want to be different. On the contrary, they dream of a compassionate man who would surround them with love and protect them. After all, isn’t that the yardstick of love? Our society successfully implants this yardstick in the consciousness of women. Because that is the surest way of controlling her mind, and her body and her womb – this is the social contract imposed by the patriarchal society on women.

Hence, in countries like India and other third world countries, even economically independent women can’t think in a different way. Or act differently. Protest against the possession of her body and her womb in her own way. Women here either learn the theory of feminism by rote or regurgitate and follow blindly what they learn in seminars and discussions on feminism. 99% of women do not have the courage or the perseverance for self-introspection or analysis, irrespective of their level of education and economic independence. The curfew imposed by the patriarchal society dominates the consciousness of women whatever their social and economic standings. In fact, the higher the level of education or economic independence of a woman, greater is her aspiration to find a man who is more educated or economically better than she is. A man to whom she can surrender her womanhood, her body and her womb in exchange of love, security and protection. Almost all women think that in this lies their greatest achievement. It is only the minority who, due to different circumstances cannot achieve this objective easily, actually complain about being born as a woman in a patriarchal society. Complain about their fate and a life unfair. Still they can’t think or act differently; can’t figure out why, where and how things went wrong. In the context of this social reality in India, feminism is a luxury imported from America and Europe. Or sometimes a means to attain social and professional recognition and even fame in that specific domain.

I can’t blame women for their inability to rebel against society. The main reason is the way they are fashioned by family and the society from a very early age. Our society ensures that girls grow up with an inferiority complex in all domains. They may be successful academically or professionally and a lot of them are. But the self-confidence and individuality which is indispensable for independent personalities are deliberately refused to our women by our patriarchal society. Independence does not only mean the ability to choose a profession or spend the money earned by the husband on lavish shopping. A truly independent person would never accept to pledge her body, mind or her existence to anybody. Unfortunately, such independent women are rare in the underdeveloped societies of third world countries. Exceptions, rare too, are immediately punished by the society – shunned and labeled, they are immediately driven into a corner with their backs to the wall.

The tradition of total subjugation and possession of women by men in patriarchal societies is solidly aided and abetted by sectarian religions. All religions have efficiently carried out this role to a greater or lesser extent. Even in the current age of incredible technological progress, religion still has enormous power to ensure the supremacy of patriarchal societies. So in this context, religion and patriarchy are totally complementary. The origin of gender politics lies in their unholy alliance. So no individual woman can fight this unequal war alone. This is why feminism had to take up the mammoth task of empowering women to fight this war. They need not only to continue but to reinforce their efforts because, as pointed out earlier, there is no unique and one-dimensional representation of this problem. So the solution and the modus operandi will vary from one society to another. So feminism needs to become much more realistic. The nature of the discourse has to change from emotional appeals for doing something good. It is necessary to have a logical and materialistic approach to deal with today’s realities. Women’s education and awareness building should become the first step. Feminism will have to address the issue of empowering women not only through economic independence but also by giving women the necessary self-confidence. Through self-confidence will come the resilience that is indispensable to fight against gender politics and ensure women’s liberation. Only then will women will find the courage to fight their own battles and not surrender unconditionally to the male dominated patriarchal society. That is when women will be really free. A proud day for all women. A day to celebrate and lead others to freedom.

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