Patriarchy, Feminism and Women’s Day

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, I received various messages in the form of inspirational quotes, funny memes, cartoons, jokes and videos, each with a spin on how women had to be celebrated on the 8th of March. Amongst all of these, I also received a short clip in a regional Indian language, with English subtitles. Obviously this video has been doing the rounds, as it came to me from three different sources.

In it a young, simple but not unattractive young woman is shown waiting hand and foot on her husband, who ignores her, treats her like domestic help, seems irritated by her neediness, yet does little to promote independence or encourage her talents. She is servile and eager to please. He is unkind and dismissive to the point of callousness. The video ends with a message to men to appreciate their women, love them and give them the time and attention they crave.

No doubt this is the plight of many women, not just in India but the world over. Yet it seems especially poignant that on International Women’s Day that women are still pleading for attention from menfolk like that would be the pinnacle of their life’s achievements. Two of the three sources that sent me this video were women themselves. In all fairness, we often forward things without reading too much into them. In this instance however, it felt as though this myth of the all sacrificing woman was being perpetuated and propagated. The irony being that all pervasive patriarchy was being shrouded in a message that on the outside seemed to be pro woman.

In a month that celebrates women’s achievements ( Women’s History Month) and a day that honours womankind, it is doubly ironic that we are unable to recognise patriarchal undertones in how we are portrayed in the media. A gun toting, scantily clad Lara Croft is no more the flag bearer of feminism than my previous example was. These are men’s fantasies upon which we try and superimpose our own agendas of freedom and equality.

Emma Watson is a young outspoken feminist whose recent Vanity Fair photo shoot caused quite a stir. The problem was two fold. It was her breasts. She chose to expose them partially in an outfit that covered her shoulders, but not so much her chest. The world cried Foul! How can she be a feminist when she is subscribing to objectification? Yet her pose was neither sexual nor provocative. As she said in response to being labelled an anti-feminist, “What do my tits have to do with it?”

This was a young woman who chose what she wore, and how she presented herself. That in no way dilutes the essence of her feminist ideology any more than the fact that Malala Yousafzai chooses to cover her head, yet is a staunch advocate for female education. Choice is the difference between patriarchal strictures and the freedom to expose or cover one’s own body.

Yet, paraphrasing Emma once again, feminism is often used as a stick to beat other women with. Instead of solidarity and sisterhood, there is jealousy and a need to disparage and diminish. For every one woman who supports another, there are five waiting for her to fall. Instead of being mentors and cheerleaders of one another, we resort to back biting and compartmentalising. Instead of seeing ambition and principle, outspokenness and drive as positive forces that will move us forward as an entire gender, we feel threatened and seek to destroy that which we are unable to emulate. It is a miracle that feminism still thrives despite such toxic conditions.

Sophie Gregoire Trudeau is being slated in the press for wanting to celebrate her ‘male ally’, her husband, the Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau. She is said to have ‘missed the point’ of International Women’s Day. Has she really? Her husband has championed women’s causes, has famously called himself a feminist, and has truly been a partner and ally in more ways than one.Yet she is not allowed to praise him? That feminist stick again.

In my experience, men; free thinking, educated, liberal and fantastically confident men have had just as much to contribute to feminism as women have. They have subverted patriarchy. They have understood the need and the desire of women to be equal contributing members of society. They have encouraged, they have opened doors, they have created opportunities where none existed before. To sideline or marginalise these men is tantamount to shooting our cause in the foot. So, acknowledge and praise these ‘allies’, keep them close for in the times ahead it will behove us to swell these numbers, particularly as the opposition swells.

2186. More than a hundred years is what is predicted for the gender gap in health, education, economics and politics to close. More than a hundred years! Don’t you think we need a few allies along the way?

As the world changes around us, and a right wing fervour grips the West, changes that pioneering women like Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Gloria Steinem and Maya Angelou amongst so many others effected, could so easily be eroded by backward looking administrations, and our own complacency and divisiveness.

On International Women’s Day, and Women’s History Month, let us be the proud torch bearers of the legacy of these incredible women. In solidarity let’s take this movement forward so that a century from now, patriarchy and feminism will no longer be combatants. On a level playing field, only equality will flourish.

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