The term ‘Feminism’ is used to describe a political, cultural or economic movement aimed at establishing equal rights and legal protection for women. Feminism has vastly changed predominant perspectives within our society. Feminist activists have campaigned for women’s legal rights including rights to property, the right to vote, and reproductive rights; protection of women and girls from domestic violence, sexual harassment and rape, workplace rights, maternity leave, equal pay, and other forms of gender-specific discrimination against women.
Early feminism focused on acquiring equal rights on property and ending ownership of married women by their husbands. Later on, feminism focused on gaining political power in order to promote equal rights for women. Voltairine de Cleyre and Margaret Sanger were the most notable feminists of the time. The campaign for the right to vote began in Britain and it was granted to those above the age of 30. Shortly, the age of voting for women was reduced to 21. Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony were the notable leaders of this movement in the United States. The campaign soon extended to gaining equality in other areas and in ending the gender discrimination.
Many modern “feminists” argue that the movement is not relevant in today’s society. Though this argument might hold in developed countries, it is far from truth in developing and underdeveloped countries. Many have even argued that this movement has been a cause of problems faced by women, as opposed to its enormous efforts in ending discrimination and promoting equality. These baseless opinions are often promoted by the media without evidence to defame the movement. This has even given rise to the so called “Anti-Feminist movement.” As dumb as it sounds, it is spearheaded by women.
Feminism today is being appropriated by the urban upper classes who portray themselves as true advocates of feminism. Their views often tend to be very narrow and too shallow. The reaches of feminism go much deeper than that. Maybe feminism is no longer needed in developed countries, but that doesn’t mean discrimination has ended in other parts of the world. Let us not forget that even in developed countries women acquired voting rights less than a hundred years ago.
In most developing and underdeveloped countries, women are still being oppressed. We say feminism is not needed anymore, yet in many countries, even developed ones, women cannot choose what they wear. That qualifies as oppression. It is saddening that most countries refuse to recognize rape within marriage (Sexual Intercourse without consent) as a criminal offense. Domestic violence cases are rising day to day, and most of them do not come to light.
As horrifying as it is, there are cases of rape being used as punishment in many primitive villages. One such incident, a young man in Eastern India was accused of sexually assaulting a married woman. As a punishment, the village elder ordered that the man’s fourteen year old sister be raped by the victim’s husband as punishment. As the young girl was dragged off, onlookers merely watched.
In another case, a 20 year old woman fell in love with “an outsider” and after she refused to give up the relationship, she was captured. When she and her family were unable to pay the fine, it was ruled that she would be gang raped as a punishment. After the act, her family was not even allowed to take her to a hospital.
Even though these kind of actions are not accepted by the government, many villages still operate outside the law and follow their own flawed “justice” system. In some villages, women are viewed as family or community property. Here rape isn’t considered a assault on women and is a blow to the man she belongs to. The father “suffers” because his daughter is considered impure and no family will accept her as bride, rather than love.
In some countries, when a woman is accused of a crime without evidence, it is the woman who has to prove her innocence, but when a woman accuses a man, she has to provide evidence against him. Even stoning is prevalent in most countries. This is an example of how the patriarchy and gender roles hurt women. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by feminism.
To make it worse, most rapists receive minimum sentence. In India, after the Anti Rape Bill of April 2013, culprits are liable to 14 years up to life imprisonment (which is actually bail or less than 14 years since “upto life” comes into picture only when the case becomes an international issue), and even the death sentence in the rarest of cases. But we all know the latter two sentences are just to keep the activists quiet, since they are rarely passed. But 14 years is a poor excuse of a punishment for such a heinous crime. Instead of telling women to be careful and dress modestly, why not switch to proper life imprisonment and death sentence and provide more workplace safety? This will certainly make the offenders think twice.
The Stanford rape case is a prime example that rapists come in all forms. In the United States, the hub of modern feminism, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one in six women were sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 17.7 million American women were victims of attempted or completed rape. And to top it off, only six percent of rapists serve their sentence in jail. According to a United Nations report, one in three women, (33% of women around the world) “has been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some way, most often by someone she knows.” Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2013 annual report, 24,923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012. Out of these, 24,470 were committed by someone known to the victim (98% of the cases).
In many cases, feminism is perceived as a men hating faction, but this not true. Maybe there are women claiming to be “Feminists” who do nothing but criticize men, but to judge the entire feminist movement based off the bad actions of a few is not only ignorant but it gives the real feminists a bad reputation. It seems that the term ‘feminism’ has been hijacked by men hating leftist women who paint themselves as victims and blame each and every men for the actions of the few, and most of them fight for personal reasons. Of course, because of the individual statements of these so called “Feminists”, the third wave of western feminism is now considered a joke and many hesitate to consider themselves a feminist even though they believe in equality. If you think feminism is all about hating men and protesting maleness, you are very wrong.
Lest we forget, let us remind ourselves what feminism has gotten women in the modern world. 1. Women’s Sufferage. 2. Reproductive rights, which includes birth control and abortion rights. 3. Equal Pay for Equal Work Laws. 4. Education Rights. 5. Abolishment of mandatory gender roles. 6. Sexual assault and harassment laws.
Women often tend to forget how feminism helped them gain the freedom and equality they have today. Feminism is definitely needed, especially when women are viewed as nothing but property, when rape is considered as an insult rather than a crime against women, when domestic violence is acceptable, when they are punished for wrongdoings of men, when they have no voice of their own, when women live and die at the word of men. We need independent, feminist women in the parliament. Not one or two yes women, but enough pro feminists to change the pathetic anti-rape laws in existence today, and make them severe enough that the criminals won’t be able to rape anyone ever again. We can only hope that feminism can tackle these issues and bring about real equality into the world.
“There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers” – Susan B Anthony, women rights activist.