It is term that has been thrown about haphazardly for decades, but when it comes to a definition, I highly doubt that anyone in the general public would be successful in providing one. Some may say it is about female empowerment, and some others that it is about hatred against men. There is so much confusion and entitlement that follows this term and it has unfortunately involved into something ought to avoid if you expect a social situation to flow smoothly as possible, without triggering any particular gender.
The definition given in the Merriam-Webster dictionary says otherwise. “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests…”. There is absolutely nothing in there, that signifies hatred on one particular gender!
Figure 1: Emma Watson launched HeForShe campaign with an inspiring speech at UN headquarters
Why it matters
How many times have you encountered the joke “don’t be such a girl!”? plenty of times I presume. Have you ever thought why we laugh at it? Is it humiliating to be a girl? Is one gender weaker than the other? If showing emotion and being submissive strictly limited just one gender, then that is unfair for all humans.
Figure 2: Emma Watson, UN women goodwill ambassador, explaining how feminism not only benefits women but men too.
It is high time that we all try to figure out how sexism affects our society. Differences between the two (or multiple) genders should be appreciated and embraced, for they cultivate values in our society. But there are instances that we should promote setting all the differences aside and try to treat each other the same way unless you expect ruination of the growth as a society. Expecting and endeavouring for success and growth will prove to be futile if it only focuses on half of the population. To achieve prosperity in economy, culture, politics and security, we need the inclusion of each member of our population. Hence gender equality is something that should be appraised at any cost. Since women are believed to be the oppressed gender (which is not always the case to be honest), a global feminist movement was born in the 19th century and thrives henceforth.
Feminism in Sri Lanka
There are various factors that play significant roles in our lives, and sometimes gender is one of them. There are still countries in the world that hinder people from pursuing education and careers solely based on their gender.
Our culture and traditions promote gender stereotypical clothing and have poor judgement on anything that goes against it. Culture and traditions along with fashion trends tend to evolve rapidly; they never stay still. People don’t frown with disgust, at women who wear tight pants and crop tops anymore; at least not as much as they used to, a few years back. People tolerate men who wear colours that are traditionally feminine. Our sense of fashion can make a huge impact thus people of all genders are interested in making a statement, convey messages with the way they dress. Hence, I believe that no one should be oppressed when it comes to choosing something to wear, until they are not showing what should be kept hidden. You should always think twice before passing a judgement about someone’s clothing, because behind that dress, stands a human being capable of having sound thoughts and making decisions.
You can never not find a Sri Lankan who has been victimized, witnessed or been involved in street harassment. It has become so common that it is overlooked as just another chore that you have to endure. It could be of sexual nature or just plainly something that compromises ones security or privacy. As a person who uses public transportation almost every day, I feel that each second I am commuting, my security and privacy is compromised. You can call me hyper-anxious and overreacting, but it is just the way that I personally react to what I have witnessed and experienced first-hand. I have seen many people being victimized but not being daring enough to speak up against it, for if they do, they will be accused of being unreasonable and prudish. Feminism is a concept that supports people who are convinced that they are too vulnerable and too weak to fight against the ones that oppress them, and if it is ingrained in the minds of a majority, I believe the frequency of unfortunate incidents could be reduced.
We have been progressive as a nation, regarding women in politics. After all, the world’s first female head of government was from our tiny but mighty island. Despite the seemingly encouragement of women in power, as well as the overall female population that slightly overrides the male, the female representation in parliament lies absurdly low at 5%. Yet anyone who says all Sri Lankan women are demure and submissive has clearly never met one. Then why would they let a majority who claim that it’s a real struggle to understand them, make decisions about their present and future? Yet most households tend to malfunction when its “second in command” happens to be out of order! Good leaders are not born but made, and we should encourage the hidden gems standing out instead of standing off, to have better leaders for our future.
Family and culture
Our family is our world. Our perspectives on the world are influenced by our family and culture more than anything else. If one’s family had always belittled and humiliated someone on his or her gender then that person will always hold on to the belief that it is okay to do so, even in the general public. Thus, cringeworthy and unfair double standards are born. It is vital to hold onto traditions that promote unity and uniqueness of each gender, and not to hesitate to say goodbye to the ones that hinder any. Parents play a decisive role in here. They could promote equality by the smallest thing. It could either be about the kid they ask to clean up after family dinner or the about the kid that is allowed to stay out late. It is all about embracing the differences the gender allows and promoting equality instead of treating each other with gender-based malice or jealousy.
People fear the term feminism due to the heavy judgment and prejudice that cling onto it. A feminist is anyone who believes and stands by the belief that gender inequality should cease to exist. After all, is it just that gender that you are born with, sexual orientation that you believe that you belong to should subject you to humiliation, harassment and embarrassment? Shouldn’t it be something that you should embrace and be proud of?
Respect is something that is never easily earned and kept. Regardless of the gender we are born with we all deserve some respect from each other. If you are a man who respects a woman, and considers her as his equal regarding the gender, then he deserves respect in return more than anything else. If you are a woman, then you should respect men and consider them your equal. Finally, feminism is not hatred towards men(that expression has its own term – misandry), it is about equity and respect towards all.
By: Nivi Gunawardhena