Saturday, November 22, 2014

Falsely Feminist

Recently, Emma Watson delivered a touching speech about gender equality at a UN meeting. For those of you who are living in caves, Emma Watson is the actress who shot to fame playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. She's also considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, which I admit makes me suitably envious but has also given me a tiny Emma Watson girl crush to deal with. Yes, that Emma Watson. ever since the speech, the Internet's been buzzing with praise for the young thespian and much has been written about the UN's HeForShe campaign, of which Emma Watson serves as the face. It was the reaction the UN was hoping for. However, the speech made me think about certain things which are supposed to uphold the cause of feminism but, quite amusingly and confusingly, have quite the opposite effect.

1. Bringing pretty, young celebrities with shiny hair and designer handbags to endorse feminism. I understand that getting someone like Emma Watson does help feminism reach out to tons of people who care more about shopping than gender equality and trust me, that is a sizeable population. Also, I won't complain about how her UN speech didn't include anything that hasn't been said repeatedly for the past 40 years, or about how shameful it is to need celebrity endorsement for feminism as though it is a product, not a basic idea of human welfare. But look at this picture:
The article featuring Watson says, "This is what a feminist looks like".
 Hmmm. Now, Watson mentioned in her speech about how feminism is often misunderstood for man-hating or even manliness and the article may just be aiming to challenge those misconceptions by associating an ethereally beautiful, classy and feminine actress with the f-word. But this is NOT what a feminist looks like. In fact, no woman, feminist or not, looks like that. Even a beauty like Miss Watson needs makeup and Photoshop, not to mention the subtle glamour and visual appeal brought about by fame. Feminists have strived to destroy the white, blonde, skinny, made-up and most importantly, unrealistic ideals of female beauty portrayed by the media for decades now and saying this is what feminism looks like is like saying the real women with real bodies and faces and normal appearances are somehow not suitable to be the face of feminism. Of course, over the years many celebrities, like Beyonce, Jennifer Lawrence and so on, have declared themselves as feminists, making the idea if being a fethminist more acceptable than ever before. But these women, no matter how extraordinary or talented, don't embody feminism and have done much less for the cause of gender equality than women who have truly challenged notions of beauty, femininity and gender equality. It's time we accepted them as the new poster girls for the cause.

2. Making a huge deal about Women's Day. Remember those Women's Day adverts on TV which show females of all walks of life in a heartfelt montage accompanied by a soft background score, muted colors in the backdrop and words like 'mother', 'fighter' and 'goddess' flashing on the screen? The women in the advert always smile at the camera, each in her own way, as the advert goes on to try and show just how angelic these women are and how the world would stop spinning on it's axis without them. Really? Are we still buying into this brand of feminism that portrays women as the epitome of beauty, love, care and strength? Let me take a moment to roll my eyes. Look, we don't make a big deal about International Men's Day, so why is Women's Day such a special occasion? If men and women are equals, we don't need a special day. And why do we have to portray women as angels anyways? We're not angels. The point is that we are human  beings, just like men. We are not goddesses and we can be flawed in many different, individualistic ways. We don't need an advertisement on TV to show how good we are; we just need people to accept us when we are less than good. Besides, there's no point celebrating women for one day every year if we are going to forget all about it for the other 364?

2. Saying "She's one of the guys", and meaning it as a compliment. Do I even have to explain this one? When I was younger, I knew girls who proclaimed they were tomboys. For some reason the idea of being a boy appealed to them. It didn't matter they like pink and Barbies as much as the next girl. It took me a long time to understand their psyche. Have you ever seen those preteen Hollywood movies, where there's always a pretty tomboy who is sensible and kind while the girls wearing makeup and girly clothes prance around obsessing over boys and looks? Think about the show featuring the Olsen twins in which Ashley, the girlie twin, was always potrayed as a popularity obsessed airhead while her sister Mary-Kate was the sensible tomboy with the most clever comebacks. 

Or maybe think about the Sweet Valley books, with Jessica being the wannabe model with tons of boy problems and Elizabeth being the nerdy voice-of-reason. I mean, hello! These girls were twins so they looked exactly the same. Why would one be hot and the other not? What I'm trying to say here is that from a very young age, popular media teaches us to believe that there are two types of characteristics- girlish and boyish. Without a doubt, the second type is more worthy of admiration. If a guy tells me "hey, you're one of the guys," with a pat on my back, I'll confidently tell him, "No, I'm a girl and I'm happy being just that." It's not a compliment, because hey! Here's the breaking news! You have two X-chromosomes and you're female, so saying you're one of the guys and meaning it as a compliment basically goes against what you truly are because you're not a guy. It's like saying being a guy is an accomplishment, as though being one is better than being any kind of woman. Seriously!

3. Women trashing Other Women. We all know that one girl who always hangs out with guys and complains about how girls are so bitch and catty and lets the world know she's way above possessing those traits. Look around. You'll probably find one sitting in the same room as you, having a meal with her guy-friends. In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landeau-Banks, author E. Lockhart explains the different kinds of such women and the women who don't fall into any category at all. Now you can read what I've quoted below and the feminist you may scoff, but you can't dismiss what she says because you know there's some truth in it.

"Some, like Trish, will wonder what the point is, figure there
probably is no point and never was one, and opt for typically feminine or domestic activities such as crumble-making, leaving whatever boyfriends they have to “hang with the guys.”

Others, like Star, will be bored most of the time but will continue
attending such events because they are the girlfriends or would-be
girlfriends of said boys, and they don’t want to seem like killjoys or
harpies. If the boys are there, playing games on the Xbox (indoors) or letting off cherry bombs to make a big noise for no reason (outdoors), the girls will chatter among themselves and generally make a quiet display of being interested in whatever the boys think is interesting.

The third group aggressively embraces the activities at hand.
These girls dislike the marginalized position such events naturally put them in, and they are determined not to stay on those margins. They do what the boys do wholeheartedly, if sometimes a little falsely.They drink beer, play video games, light off the cherry bombs... They even buy the beer, win the video games, and show up with an M-80, just when the cherry bombs are beginning to get old....

Whether their enthusiasm is forced or entirely genuine, these
girls gain respect from the boys—who are not... cavemen, but enlightened twenty-first-century males who are happy to let females into their inner circles if the females prove their mettle.

As I said, most girls will engage in one of these three behaviors,
but Frankie Landau-Banks did none. Although she went home that
night feeling happier than she had ever been in her short life, she did not confuse the golf course party with a good party, and she did not tell herself that she had had a pleasant time."

It is the third kind of girls mentioned in the excerpt above that will be the first to tell you how inferior other girls are. But guess what? If they complain about how bitchy and catty girls are, they should not consider themselves to be exceptions to that rule. The complaining makes just like "other girls". They are not delicate snowflakes superior to others others of their kinds, they don't deserve extra respect from their male friends and they are, by no means, better than other girls. As women, the first thing we need to do is stand up for fellow women. Don't blame the victim in a rape case, don't badmouth a woman who can't have children and don't make comments about the character of a woman who likes to date. If you do, you're not one of us anymore, sister!

4. Making traditionally feminine attributes and occupations seem less important than traditionally male ones. Recently, I've encountered an increasing number of men who believe that women often use gender as an excuse to get out of 'real' work. They believe a woman can work just as hard as men, don't really require the privileges (like reserved seats on buses) that the government provides and are just too laze to go to work like men. Some even say that home-makers are basically women who are to lazy to earn for their family and leech off their husbands' wealth. Now, you may not believe such women exist, but they do. I won't be mean to them, because their condition may be a result of 1)  mental retardation 2) exceptionally small male parts hidden behind gigantic egos or 3) traumatic relationships with their mommies or 4) all of the above, and hey, I feel sorry for them. But think about this. Don't we look down upon housewives too? Don't we believe that a woman who looks after home and hearth is infinitely inferior to one who hires three servants and works at an MNC? Admit it, we do. It might have something to do with how women are portrayed in those horrifying Hindi soap operas, but I believe it's something more than that. The reason behind our viewpoint is the fact that we believe that traditionally feminie activity is inconsequential. 

Let's take an innocent example. Dancers are admired, but also laughed at and considered much less important that sports stars. hey don't have million-dollar endorsement deals, millions of fanpages, thousands of fans from the opposite sex cheering asking for their autograph and basically don't have a quarter of the fame a hure sports star enjoys. Why? I mean, dancers may have to practice their craft for upto 16 hours everyday. They require intense physical training and dieting, discipline, will power and an athleticism that most people don't possess. In many ways, they are quite similar to sports stars. But the fact remains that dance is feminine. No matter how much hard work goes into it, two men chasing after one ball and kicking it around like their life depends on it is much more socially respectable than a woman or even a man doing a perfect pirouette. 

Now let's move to more serious examples. When our mothers cook something nice and make our day, do we think twice about it. But if our dads work as the vice-president of a large corporation, that's something to feel proud of. Both contribute to our development and growth and love us with all their hearts, In fact, it was my mother who painstakingly taught me Math when I was young, not my father, and helped me out with homework. If I am engineering student at a prestigious university today, I have both my parents to thank for that. Neither of them was inferior to the other. Unfortunately, a lot of children today don't recognize this. It has become shameful to be a housewife and housewife associations across the world are changing their unions' names to dissociate themselves from the stigma associated with being a housewife. Children often respect their father more, thinking their moms have less consequence in society than their dads. I have a very important question for you guys. When you were a kid and your mother was pouring all her love and attention on you, did you complain? Did you think it was not worthy of respect that she, in spite of being an educated woman, didn't mind being surrounded by people her age and instead chose to spend all her time with your gurgling, crying, tantrum-throwing self? You know, the fact is, we expect women to do the same things as men in order to be respected. But do we expect men to take the roles traditionally performed by women the same way? The answer, quite truthfully, is no. Besides, we have forgotten that we need traditionally feminine skills just as much as skills of any other kind. Try going without them in your life for a week and then we'll talk.

That's all for now. I hope after reading this post, you'll reconsider the ideas of 'feminism'. Perhaps one day, something as basic as women being able to live freely won't need to have a whole movement behind it. 

Un-happy holiday

I'm taking a break from blogging as I am currently very busy. Note to self: do NOT study architecture in your next life. No, seriously. The pressure's mounting up & now I barely have time to shower, let alone blog. But I will be back next month and this is by no means the end of my blogging career. I still have loads to write and I will return.