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It’s important we respect different approaches to feminism
Feminism is a word that comes with decades of baggage and has numerous definitions. For some it is about advocating for women’s rights and equality of the sexes, while for others it is more of a political and social movement, an ideological agenda. The concept of feminism is fluid, subjective and open to adaptation by women (and men) in their respective and varying social, political and economic climates.
Identifying as feminist has not always been easy for people to accept. Indeed, some women dislike identifying as a feminist and the term has been utilised in political and consumerist manoeuvres which have tarnished its essence.
Born out the desire of white women in the western world to be recognised as an equal and valuable members of society, feminism has become synonymous with a myriad of statements and causes that have expanded to include racial, political and economic struggles.
Feminists have been traditionally thought of as bra burning, man hating, equality hungry, respect seeking, power hunting, hairy women. Disappointingly, these qualities are not seen as positive by society at large and the idea of being a feminist was (and still is) frowned upon in many circles. Especially in South Asian women, the double standards of wanting equality and respect, but deferring to a knight in shining armour to provide and love them is a worrying trend.
What does this mean? Does a feminist South Asian woman exist at all? Does she have to be short haired, butch and single? Or is she merely a figment of our imagination? It is imperative we question the status of feminism in Australia and South Asia respectively to understand who the Australian South Asian woman is and what her feminist reality looks like.
Feminism in Australian society has been largely defined by the developments taking place in America and Europe. Younger generations of Australian men and women are not familiar with the Germaine Greers of Australian feminism and, even if they are, find this stance to be divisive rather than helpful to the integration of feminism into mainstream discourse. The famous Julia Gillard Misogyny Speech was received well in Australia largely due to its global recognition.
Feminism in South Asia has been largely frowned upon, and whenever it came to the fore of social discourse, it was tinged with an ulterior motive. The English and Dutch colonisers used it to point out the tradition of structured subjugation of women as lower class citizens, then the political elite used it to ‘emancipate’ that same class of women into a new era of post-colonial ‘freedom’ where oppression was merely hidden under a different veil – sometimes literally. Hindu and Muslim women who covered themselves out of deference to their faith were mocked as the trends and fashions of post-colonial life pressured women into ‘freeing’ their minds and bodies both figuratively and literally.
Fast forward another 50 years and the rampant abuse of women both within and outside the home, the escalation in reported rapes and domestic violence, prove that women can wear what they want and say what they want but, until men are taught to respect a woman’s right to do as she pleases, feminism is and will remain a mythical ideal to which South Asian culture aspires (or not)?
What does this mean for the South Asian woman living in an Australian society? How can she grow out of the murky entrenched ‘values’ of shy deference and obedience that have been imbued gradually over centuries of instruction, to accept that seeking respect for her right to think and do as she pleases is as inherent in her psyche as it is to breathe.
That right can be called whatever you like, but it signifies a woman’s right to choose for herself. A woman who chooses to give up her career for a role as homemaker can be every bit a feminist as a woman who shuns the ‘traditional’ role for a more ‘masculine’ one. But women cannot do this alone. We co-exist with a male population that is just as crucial to the embedding of feminism in our social fabric as women themselves. Men have to accept, respect and encourage feminism with the same ardour as women for the concept to have any meaningful impact on our lives.
Feminism is genuinely showing respect for another individual.
Feminism is rejecting stereotypes of what a woman ‘should’ be doing with her life by a certain age and embracing that every life, every situation is different and equally worthy.
Feminism is the way we frame our discourse to abandon the classification of jobs as masculine or feminine, as traditional or untraditional.
Feminism is accepting that men and women are created differently physically and psychologically to serve differing purposes in life – each no more significant than the other.
Feminism is understanding how to engage in honest but polite discourse with another person, be it a man or a woman and respecting their personal space, wants and needs.
Feminism is – whatever you want it to be. It is an identity that you own and shape by upholding the values of love, respect and honesty. Whether you are a man or a woman, you can embrace your history, your religion, your culture and your values to form your own distinctly creative feminist identity.