"Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression"- bell hooks
There is no one single stream of thought in feminism and there have been different phases of the movement, both abroad and in India. Locally the women's movement has had a very different flavor compared to its European counterpart, and with good reason. The concerns and life struggles of Indian women differ vastly from those elsewhere in the world.
Within the movement, there are academics and activists. Academics study and decipher history, literature, social codes and norms, our economies and art in order to discern how patriarchy was built, and how it holds on to power through systemic and structural placements which place men in positions of power. They envisage the methods through which the patriarchy may be dismantled and women earn greater rights. While academic feminists theorise, activists do the work on the ground. They are not cut off from each other, rather there is a continuous exchange of ideas between them. Many of them cross over from one side to the other or some exist and thrive in both fields. There is a continuous exchange of ideas between them. There are myriads of women who are fighting for their rights in multitudinous ways of existence and they each negotiate the patriarchy in different ways.
Some of these acts are individual, they may achieve liberation to an extent, and enable them to extend freedoms in certain specific ways. Certainly, those particular negotiations are feminist acts in themselves.
Big media, the advertising industry, the fashion, clothing and cosmetics industries which thrive on and amplify each other. This close nexus between these. Feminism has become newsworthy of late and these entities have latched on to this. It's where the big money is.
Capitalism and it's handmaiden the beauty industry which encompasses fashion and advertising, keep you wondering about your worth, and your focus on trying to achieve this unattainable ideal. Desirability is a trap women work towards achieving all their lives, but never actually get there. You keep yourself devalued- it's a harsh critic, the voice in your head, which examines you for fuckability, and finds you failing, time and again.
"My choice is like my fingerprint" spouts Deepika Padukone, ironically, yet aptly for an advertising campaign for a fashion magazine, very obviously titled, My Choice. But of course, your choice is not unique! None of our choices in today's world are; either because we are choosing from a limited bouquet of choices, where we are denied access to many choices, only a few are on offer. In reality, a great deal of the choice on offer to consumer-citizens is illusionary. All the posturing at empowerment seems to only just strip away the word of any power. The hoopla around the word "empowerment" has made it to such a sorry pass where the sound of the word grates on the nerves. It's now a shorthand for a lot of things, save power to women.
Besides, in order to go on living in the materialistic, capitalist society, we have to pick our battles. For example, as a professional, you're expected to dress a certain way, in what "women's magazines" call " formal wear" or "work wear". The fashion industry organized around this, makes multiples of crores of rupees.
You would ignore these unstated rules at your own peril. You not only risk not being taken seriously, sidelined, but also probably lose your job. This woman who came to work as a receptionist, was sent home for not wearing heels in a story that seems equal parts to illustrate the lack of common sense and senseless objectification. Let us not even get started on the aspects of emotional labour women in the service industry are expected to put in.
So often so many hard won freedoms by our foremothers may enable us to exercise choices which may not have existed even half a century ago. But making a choice is not a feminist act in itself unless the playing field is level and the opportunities available to women were equal to those available to men. For example the wage gap or the fact that women quit well paying jobs to stay home to raise babies. These acts are often justified as feminist because the woman chose to do so. That would have been a real choice if both partners earned an equal amount, and the man taking time off to stay home with kids wouldn't be sneered at and it was no loss to the family in any way, regardless of which parent stays home. In an ideal world, they could probably take turns and none would lose out at work, by being devalued because of absence. Indeed in a feminist world, people would be living a life of dignity, not as corporate slaves and wouldn't be nervous wrecks for having missed a day of work.
Chasing the illusion of "having it all" while pushing through "the second shift" cannot be the life women dream of having.
Women continue to be paid less and so many of us depend on lowly paid workers to hold up the home front and provide care and house work, at very low costs, while we "get ahead". Do we realize we our role in passing on the oppression?
It is easy to forget that the struggles of upper class feminism are not the only feminist struggles. There are other feminisms and they are thriving, and they are also fighting capitalism and neoliberalism.
The Chipko volunteers and the Bangalore powrakarmikas, the Dalit Women Fight activists are all pushing the feminist agenda everyday. Women Irom Sharmila and Essar Batool are fighting the hegemonic Indian state that wants to rule with violence, under the shadow of draconian laws.
They do it quietly, away from the media glare and floodlights. These are the real assertions of worth. Feminism is alive, in a myriad of shapes and forms.