Why Is Feminism Such A Misunderstood Concept?
One of the best things about doing a PhD in Beijing, China, is that apart from all the learning and knowledge one gets to interact with a richly diverse pool of fellow scholars from all around the world. As the international women’s day has just passed and debate about feminism is at its peak I indulged in questions with my male colleagues about their perception of this ideology. Most of the answers were disappointing to say the least and prompted me to write in an attempt to truly define Feminism.
I feel ‘feminism’ has become the most misunderstood and wrongly interpreted term by the larger section of society. According to the typical definition of feminism, “it is the range of social, political movements and ideologies which aim to define, establish and achieve the political, economic, personal and social equality of the both sexes”.
The debate of women rights and equality, to the surprise of many, goes back to thousands of years – in ancient times. This idea that we are discussing now were debated under the rubric of protofeminist.
Plato demanded the equality for women and advocated women’s participation in his highest class. 18th century women started challenging the typical women’s “proper role and sphere”, including the cultural and social inequities. Many raised their voice against typical ‘Victorian ideal’ of dichotomy of separate spheres for men and women. In this school of thought, men were supposed to occupy the public sphere and women have to hold on private sphere.
Earlier in this century, Charlotte Bronte, Anna Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot started depicting the women’s misery and frustration and men like, George Meredith, George Gissing and Thomas Hardy supported and recognized injustices against women.
For the first time, The Seneca Falls Convention was held in July 1848 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. This convention discussed the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women where 300 people attended and 40 remained there throughout the event. The most historic part of convention was Signing of the declaration sentiments which Elizabeth Cady Senton wrote the most of its part herself that summarized the injustices women had to face almost every day. She mentioned that declaration as ‘the declaration of independence’. Over the course of time, numerous feminist movements sprang up owing primarily to these six reasons:
- one in three women were beaten or sexually abused during her lifetime;
- still 62 million girls were denied access to education worldwide;
- one in seven girls in developing countries was married before the age of 15;
- twenty percent of women still didn’t have access to family planning resources;
- women were still earning 20 percent less than their male counterparts
- finally, the gender gap in health, education, economics, and politics which was not expected to close until 2186.
As I have mentioned earlier, when I asked men about ‘feminism’, most of the answers were along the lines of ‘we don’t like it’ emanating a certain, subtle fear. Some categorically mentioned that they were afraid of it as ‘it’s about supremacy over men’. Also, I noticed the tendency of western men who went straight went into the point of women’s right to have sex (and supporting it). At that point I was also thinking, over the course of history men always associated women with sex and entertainment and nothing else.
Women are concerned about basic human rights e.g.: right to education, right to earn, right to get married with her own choice, right to life and liberty, right to have an opinion and many more, not just only sex.
To conclude, the ideology of feminism is adulterated by many misconceptions and very few truly understand, what feminism is. I think some women are also responsible for this misunderstanding – those who apparently claim to be the champion of feminism and women rights for fame or money, not in true and actual sense.
I am an average Pakistani woman, who truly values the right of women and how much we need to do more it in this sector. Being afraid to talk about, we (woman) will continue to suffer, if this school of thought is not perceived well and not presented maturely as women have already faced enough of non-acknowledgment and violence over the course of centuries in all perspectives emotionally, physically, mentally, socially and economically.
The author is a Ph.D. candidate at China Agriculture University, Beijing