Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Women Whom Mainstream Feminism Forgot


Suddenly, the Indian media has discovered "working women".  There's a deluge of articles in the print media, TV shows,  and an explosion of social media handles and entities centering the "working woman". Most of this discourse is focused on the "empowerment" of working women. You'd be forgiven if you thought we'd been intentionally hiding all this time!

However, look a bit more closely, and you would discover that this definition of "working women" is largely confined to a certain category of : those working in offices or corporations, in well paying jobs. 

This should surprise nobody. Women with money of their own, and cash to spare, are now a big part of the consumer segment. It therefore makes sense for any business to focus on them - and the media is most certainly one! And middle and upper class feminists are lapping up this attention.

Don't get me wrong. Gender inequalities dog women every step of the way, and the higher up the ladder a woman travels, the tougher it gets for her. Sample these stats from a Catalyst report
1. Women earn 65% of what their male colleagues earn for the same work. 
2. The more educated a woman is, the wider the gender pay gap.
3. The gender pay gap increases as women advance in their careers.

Most businesses now employ a fair number of women. And the women who succeed in these fields, often work the buddy system system, just as men do. They come from families of privilege and they know how to leverage contacts.

But look closer. The victories that these women forge, are propped up on emotional and care work being performed on their behalf, by other, less paid women. 

Behind every successful man, so goes the adage, there's a woman,  usually his wife-cum-housekeeper-cum-baby-producer. Women continue to do more housework than men by overwhelming numbers. 

But with more women working outside the home in paid jobs, behind every successful woman there's a housekeeper, a maid, a cook. In all probability,  poorly paid and badly treated as Nivedita Menon writes. 

In the most important bastion of female subjugation, the home, the woman continues to slog away, marginalized. We've simply elevated one set of women and replaced it by another, less advantaged one. Yet, we lament endlessly about the lack of labour participation of women. This discourse cuts out working class women who don't belong to the upper or middle class. 

When the motivation is solely profit, humans are the first casualty.  Patriarchy has kept women tied to home and to caregiving work, yet this labour is not factored into wages. When called in to work, women are paid less, their work is deemed less valuable, then they are blamed for lowering wages. Capitalism and patriarchy work in tandem. 

All emotional work and a lot of care work is unpaid. Women continue to perform this labour unappreciated.
Close to two thirds of adult women  in India while away their most productive years engaged only in housework- uncounted, unpaid. 

Let's look at some other numbers. As more than 67% of all rural Indian households depend on firewood for cooking, every year Indian women spend 374 hours collecting firewood

Even as men flock to cities in search of better livelihoods, women left behind turn to the fields for sustenance. The number of women in agriculture has steadily increased, yet more of them are now labourers, tending to the lands of others with no land to their own names.

What is work? Economists say, only that which can contribute monetarily to the economy, can be counted in the GDP as work. When women stay home to raise babies it's decried as a loss to the GDP but nobody asks, without new members to add to the workforce, without children, where would your GDP be? Yet childcare continues to be devalued. 

The labour of women- productive and reproductive continues to run our families, our society and indeed our whole nation. Women keep the wheels of our national economy running. Feminism aims to improve the lot of all women, more so the marginalized, those away from the mainstream. We are nowhere near achieving that. 

And we are not even talking about these women in our public discourse. We mainstream feminists have left these working class women out in the cold. 
The light bouncing off the glass ceiling has left us so awestruck that it's been distracting us from looking at the women at the bottom of the pile, under the ladder. The real work of working towards a more humane and just society for all women hasn't even begun. 

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