It was around 24 centuries ago that Plato argued, according to Elaine Hoffman Baruch, “for the total political and sexual equality of women, advocating that they be members of his highest class, those who rule and fight.” Twenty four centuries later, when the concept reached Pakistan, much like Chinese whisper, Feminism had lost most of its meaning.
What provoked me to write on this topic were the slogans I have been seeing around social and print media stating, “Apna khana khud garam kar lo!” (warm your food yourself) aimed by women at men of their households (husbands, fathers, brothers, grandfathers and father-in-laws). These slogans, if I am to believe online news reports and social media banter, were raised in a women’s march which aimed at equal rights for women. What I want to understand is that how does one come upon this equation:
(Khana Khud Garam Karlo = Equal Rights for Women)
The movements for the Feminist ideology, which incidentally were not campaigns to belittle all men, were initiated decades ago where the main framework was to ensure equality for women in social, professional and economic spheres. As a concept, Feminism was never just for women, it was for all genders, just like other concepts. It was the notion to accept that women, in all spheres of life, should be allowed the pursuit of happiness and free will. Feminism was never about exclusivity; the exclusion of certain chores, the exclusion of clothes from one’s daily attire, the exclusion of politeness, the exclusion of common decency, the exclusion of morality. In fact, Feminism has always been about inclusivity, of women in particular, in all walks of life.
It pains me to see how some women today believe that since they are Feminists (read Faux Feminists), they should be allowed to, for instance, walk the streets sans clothes because its “their will and their bodies.” They completely fail to acknowledge that they are in fact allowed to do exactly that but no self-respecting woman, hell no self-respecting man ever would. So what the Faux Feminists really want is no judgment from the society, not equal rights. A classic example would be the portrayal of female behavior in the HBO show “Girls” by Lena Dunham, which to me is a Faux Feminist Agenda.
I say, what’s the harm in you heating food for your husband and him fixing your car troubles or that bulb that keeps flickering, or that wire in the kitchen that is shot, or the hair dryer that won’t work? How do these small things take a hit on your ego? And if they do – where is the power play you are so proud off?
In your everyday walk of life, you would see women requesting a separate queue at the stall but equal rights; women would demand shorter working hours than men but equal pay; the list goes on and the hypocrisy is unreal.
I say, why can Feminism not be about making sure that women are not harassed at the work place, making sure that a girl gets her chance at educating herself instead of the social pressure of child marriages, ensuring that just like men, women too, get a bang for their buck?
When I was growing up, both my parents were working. Every morning while getting us ready for school, I can still vividly picture how they split up all the chores. My father pressed our uniforms and my mother polished our shoes; my mother made the breakfast while my father prepared our school lunch; my mother bathed us and my father got us ready; my mother packed our bags while my father led us out to the bus. This was not defined; there was a flow to the situation and the roles my mother and father played during the school mornings of our beautiful childhood, reversed several times. The days culminated in our mother cooking diner, despite having worked just as long as my father in the office; my father balanced it all by a greater financial contribution to the household and everlasting support for my mother in her professional commitments. There was always a balance, social, professional and economical. This is the brand of Feminism that I grew up with.
I learned how to stitch and sew and made my high school uniform myself from scratch. I learnt how to cook from the renowned chef of a famous boutique restaurant in my city because I wanted too. During my high school vacations one June, I requested my parents to let go of the hired house help so that I could learn how to manage to keep a house clean, how to do the dishes and how to manage the laundry not because of social pressure but only because I thought these skills completed me. My parents taught me how to drive and they taught me how to pursue my dreams. It’s because my parents egged me on at every level that I achieved the professional success I have now.
So today, if my father asks me for a cup of tea, my ego does not take a hit, just like it didn’t take a hit when I slept in the back seat as he chauffeured me home from a late night study session. When my father asks my mother for hot food, her ego doesn’t take hit just like it didn’t take hit when my father stayed in Pakistan to look after us and my mother went to Germany for a post-doc fellowship. This is the brand of Feminism that I know so forgive me if I cannot see eye to eye with the concepts prancing about under the guise of female empowerment and equality these days.
It is even more important now, I believe, to share what I learnt from my own life’s experiences because distorted concepts of strong movements such as Feminism, will shrink to only empower “Daddy’s Princesses” who work at “Castle”. Unfortunately, so many entitled young girls with impressionable minds think that Feminism means marrying into a rich family, sitting around doing nothing all day and have a snarky retort ready for whenever someone asks them to do something worthwhile of their time. This brand of Feminism should actually be called “Female Chauvinism”.
And don’t get me wrong, not every woman in our country is fortunate enough to acquire an education, not every woman is born in a family that allows her to pursue a career and certainly not every woman fulfills her wish to become financially independent. There are many that are banished within the four walls of the home they were born in and later the house they are married in, branded for life with a select number of chores and a permanent tape on the mouth. Let Feminism be a voice for them. There are many still that suffer injustice professionally and economically, sometimes at the hands of men and also sometimes at the hands of women. I say, let Feminism be a voice for them.
In a country where a female was elected as the Prime Minister leading a Muslim state, a country where women enjoy positions within the parliament, where women in the bureaucracy are paid as much as their male counterparts, a country where women are heading/ participating in every walk of life, where women are fighter pilots, mount climbers, bicyclers, racers, entrepreneurs, leaders; in such a country, I say don’t allow Feminism to be defined by “Apna khana khud garam kar lo?”