The Bipolar Feminist: Dissecting the Nuances of Modern Day Feminism
By Akanksha Gopinath, Official JLF@Boulder Blogger
What is feminism anyway? It is a movement that advocates gender equality in an inherently patriarchal society, and condemns lopsided gender power equations. Yet, this simple ideology has evolved into abstruse conceptions since its inception, and its expressions vary as much as the sexism it seeks to counter. This is largely because dynamics and forms of female oppression and sexual violence vary widely across geographies. In some places, it is disguised, in others, it is unsettlingly conspicuous. Feminism is an evolving movement, which has never been more unpredictable or more ambivalent.
I had my first gender epiphany when newspapers all over India flashed articles about a woman brutally raped on her way home after a night out clubbing with friends. What I found most disturbing was the common insinuation that many well-educated women dress provocatively, and that this somehow warranted repercussions. An act of vicious violence and invasion was repeatedly reframed as an understandable reaction to sexual solicitation.
Some women agree with this interpretation. In my opinion, that is a cockeyed gender dynamic that stems from a long history of deep suppression. Women who have transcended this dynamic are tangibly appalled by a submissive attitude towards sexual violence. These different approaches are often referred to as the ‘feminine divide’.
Women in many cultures around the world are conditioned to submission and complicity throughout their lives. These are historical traits, rather than natural ones, and carry with them the abdication of personal sovereignty and equality. Years of subjugation leave indelible traces of the ‘fear of the oppressor.’ It is a fear so deeply ingrained down the centuries, that the ‘femininity’ it engenders can appear indisputably biological, inevitable and universal.
Male-dominated Indian society is strewn with incidents of despotism and sexual abuse towards women, to varying degrees. It is often accepted as the way of life. Other parts of the world have had feminism longer, but still, it was surprisingly recently that women got the vote: 1920 in America, and 1968 in France. Over the last few decades, women in western countries have increasingly won their right to free will and dignity.
Yet as an extreme sport enthusiast in America, I have constantly witnessed the sexualization of female athletes in a supposedly liberal society. Youtube videos of female athletes with thumbnails showing their breasts, and mindless depictions of athletes’ bodies, serve to disseminate the idea that female beauty is favored over strength and skill. Feminist movements have strived to create equal opportunities for women in sports, and it’s a shame to see the way that is diluted by this kind of representation.
Such women bare it all, in stark contrast to their counterparts in other parts of the world, who often over-conceal their bodies: to protect themselves from society’s judgement and/ or sexual assault. Yet both hiding and over-exposing one’s body in a sexualized way are examples of objectification: different sides of the same coin.
Dismissal of a woman’s individuality is a mark of their historical objectification and subjugation. In this view, ‘woman’ personifies ‘raw sex’, and exists either as an object of lust and desire, or for the purpose of perpetuating the species. Her individual identity is subdued under the cover of ‘femininity,’ and she is a woman before she is a unique person, whereas a man is as much an individual as he is a progenitor.
Some female athletes might sexualize themselves in order to garner social media attention and publicity, but for many, it stems from a genuine belief that their appearance is their best asset, and in this way, they are complicit in fostering the continued objectification of women, even whilst believing themselves to be symbols of female liberation and power. Those who refuse to acquiesce to this status quo risk plummeting into obscurity.
And so even in countries where feminism has become part of the mainstream narrative over time, many women continue to appease men’s desires, and conform to historical norms. Despite the appearance of freedom, they are still incarcerated in the shackles of ‘The Second Sex.’
Yet social change doesn’t happen overnight. Transition from one paradigm to another takes time. Feminism needs to keep adapting into geographically appropriate movements, and continue to scrutinize its own aims. It is no longer just about striving for equal rights and opportunities on paper: it is also a battle to separate self-blame from sexual violence and oppression, and to separate gender from the individual. Ultimately, we are individuals before we are women.
Photo Source: ESPN The Magazine
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