The ‘F’ Word

Published today at Pak Tea House. Ruffled a lot of feathers. 

You tell a male that this day forth he must not go out to work, he must marry to support himself, he must take permission from his wife or parents before he goes out, that he doesn’t need education… he would find such restrictions ridiculous. When a female has the same sentiments, she is thought to be ridiculous.

The sentiments of the sexes can be the same, because as humans we are similar and equal. This notion of gender equality is what has been riling up conservatives, stirring up traditions and changing cultures for centuries.

The strongest counter argument against feminism is based on physical traits. That men are physically stronger and so must go forth and earn. Women are weak and must go forth and be a tool of biological production.  Thus men and women have some pre-assigned roles, and this physical design is cemented into culture, religion and politics. This whole she-bang is part of traditional conservatism, and the doctrine is ancient (demise in the late 1800s). Many conservatives in the west do not even subscribe to this gender-separation view at all. This is of course not true for many other societies like ours.

Feminism is not an ideology based on female superiority. Just like racial justice or religious tolerance are not doctrines that advocate racial or religious supremacy. Formally it arose in the late 1700s as a rights-based liberal reaction to conservative political philosophy and a revision of liberal thought. The grand-daddy of liberalism, a man called John Locke in the 17th century premised the role of the state on the provision and prevention of natural rights of humans. Humans are free and self-governing because they are naturally rational and able to make decisions.

This was a radical challenge to dominant conservative thought; like the divine right of kings, feudal aristocratic supremacy, political representation for only the moneyed, educated and pedigreed, and an unquestioning faith in the clergy. Versions of which exist here and now. A hundred years later, a lady (called Mary Wollstonecraft, mother to Mary Shelly of ‘Frankenstein’ fame) put up her hand and added to the liberal shift saying: “Hey Locke talked of natural rights of humans. Is only the male a human being? Are women not as rational, intelligent or mentally capable? Should we also not work, be allowed to own land, vote, and contribute to society and economy.” How radical/unacceptable/scandalous/wrong!

So it was ironic to read this extreme conservative viewpoint by a girl called Paras Abbasi who has the opportunity to study at one of Karachi’s best institutes and has the opportunity to voice her concerns publicly. Let me quote from this article that represents the prevalent feminophobic position:

“What favor are you doing to the woman (specifically) and a human in general by brain washing her to work rather than letting her take care of her house and bring up her children?… And coming back to those who think women need the very same rights as men… How about dragging all the daughters to the borders to fight for the country if any war breaks out, just like we do to the sons of our nation? The reality is we cannot afford it…respect what importance both of us have been given naturally.” 

Feminism does not blame the male solely, it’s the female as well that perpetuates her own role in the patriarchal drama. As Nabiha Meher puts it: “Mothers collect dowries and makes sure their daughters are always presentable, always ready to impress any eligible… when these young women do want to work they are held back by their… If sisterhood did exist, wouldn’t their mothers fight for them?”

I hear you Paras Abassi. I hear you everyday. Telling me that its okay to say that I want to marry rich, that I deserve to live off a male, that I must have children to be a successful and complete human being, that I can’t serve my country as a soldier, that I cant travel without amahrem, that my career comes second to the happiness of my husband, that my children will be wasted if am a working mother.

It is not okay. If my rights and life is based on the fact that I am physically different from a male, the logic of the anti-feminist argument is no different from that that of a racist or of a creationist.

Must the female be boxed up in such spaces or can we allow for her to have the potential to be much more? It is not a debate for me. Political and social equality is my right, regardless of my sex.

*The title is borrowed from my colleague Qursum Qasim who wrote a similar themed article back in 2007.

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