Why I Am A Feminist
The firebrands of the second wave of feminism have mellowed and some noted feminists have even begun to see feminism as an anachronism in the 21st century. With this somewhat surprising backlash, whither art thou headed, Feminism? Although, in recent years, 'feminism' has been ridden with a miasma of contradictions and has received a sizeable amount of bad press, I am still proud to say that I am a feminist. Not because it is still fashionable in India to proclaim oneself as one, but because there is still an enormous amount that educated women like us need to do to improve the lot of less-privileged Indian women. Consequently, in my opinion, 'Feminism RIP' is still a long way off.
Contrary to current contentions that feminists are relics fighting a war that has already been won, feminism in India still has miles to go. One need only consider simple statistics to be assured that that indeed is the case. India is still the country with the lowest average age for marriage -- 14.5 years for females, as recent as in 1998. The sex ratio in India (excluding Kerala) is 927 women to every 1000 men, as against the international sex ratio average of 950 at present. The sex ratio has declined from 972 in 1901 to an appalling 927 in 1991, the primary reasons behind which are female foeticide and infant deaths (again, chiefly due to the preferential treatment of male children in early infancy). The significant difference in the literacy rates between men and women is also a clear indicator of the negligence accorded to the education of girl children in the country. According to the 1991 census, the literacy rate for Indian males is 64.13% while that of females is 39.29%. In Indian society, it is still the woman who is perceived as the primary caregiver within a family, and it is essentially the mother who teaches children the basic values of life. Thus, in the Indian context, the facilitation of the education of women is definitely a necessity, especially with regard to sanitation, hygiene, family planning, childcare etc. The situation of women in the rural areas is much worse -- for example, in rural Bihar, the female literacy rate is as low as 17.95%!
These dismal statistics emphatically confirm the fact that it isn't time yet to compose an epitaph for feminism. As long as domestic violence against women persists, as long as female foeticide continues, as long as dowry deaths and child marriages in India go on, as long as marital rape remains a reality, as long as sexual harassment in the workplace continues, I will remain a committed feminist. In my perception, feminism is an extension of humanism -- the ability to sympathise with the lot of the less fortunate and to attempt to alleviate their sufferings in any way possible. The Norwegian critic, Toril Moi had commented about Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex -- “[it] helps me to remember that the aim of feminism is to abolish itself.” Let us, then, hope that our daughters will live in an ideal India where they would be enjoying the fruit of our struggles, so that there wouldn't be a need for any 'feminists' or any kind of 'feminism' to exist. Let Janis Joplin's words be a beacon to the women of today and the generations to come -- “Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got.”