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What's the fuss about feminism?

Voicing women's issues can practically become a fight with almost everyone because the system has been so deeply incorporated subconsciously or consciously and become a part of everyday, normal life.

ByArambam Luther

Updated 19 Nov 2022, 5:09 am

Representational Image (Photo: Pixabay)
Representational Image (Photo: Pixabay)

 

In Manipur, the position of those fighting for women's rights appears to be mired in a thick quagmire. In addition to the usual opposition they face from the general public, they also have to deal with misrepresentation in social media, and now the looming threat of wokeism and cancel culture. The issues and challenges are manifold.  

When some of the biggest issues challenging women are closely tied to age-old traditions and practices, questioning these very structures draws severe opposition from many sections. The attacks do not necessarily have to come from cultural or religious fundamentalists. Voicing women's issues can practically become a fight with almost everyone because the system has been so deeply incorporated subconsciously or consciously and become a part of everyday, normal life. 

Even if one is provided with all the facts about how history, culture, and even genders are not absolute but rather ‘constructs’ built by society and full of discriminatory elements towards women and other genders, it causes one to experience extreme discomfort because one’s firm beliefs are threatened by these new facts. Psychologists use a term for this called ‘cognitive dissonance’ — the discomfort or mental stress one goes through when one’s beliefs are contradicted by new information.

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Anger is one of the emotions associated with ‘cognitive dissonance’. This anger is further aggravated by the false portrayal of feminists on social media as a despicable breed of furious women who hate men and are out to attack the established culture and traditions of any society with a sinister plot to dominate men. 

This false portrayal of feminists causes fear and misunderstanding and eventually results in hate. Why people hate something they do not understand becomes a rhetorical question when we learn the essential meaning of the word ‘xenophobia’ which is the “fear of the unknown.”

It is said that hate usually stems from fear. The xenophobic attitude shown towards feminists gives a clear picture of the prevailing issue even when we observe it through the lense of the modern definition of ‘xenophobia’ with all its connotations in relation to the hatred towards feminists.          

Simply holding the belief that women ought to be respected or treated equally to men can make one a feminist. But the question of who is more a feminist than the other does not hold much significance. Feminism in theory and feminism in practice does not have to be in line because the movement was born out of necessity due to the prevailing circumstances at a particular moment in time. Who is to say that a burkha-clad woman fighting against an oppressive atmosphere in her kitchen or openly in a public place is not a feminist because her struggle does not correlate to the books written by western intellectuals?   

In the local context, we have had many feminists or figures who voiced for women’s rights in Manipur’s history. There were heroic women figures who used physical might and wits against men. We had Nupi lans which were fought against an oppressive system. We have meira paibis who plays a huge role in the women's movement in Manipur. Then there are writers, poets, and artists who created strong female figures in their work, and gave women the voice they need against discrimination. They were all feminists in their own terms and contributed something in empowering women or voicing against oppression at different moments in history under varying circumstances and conditions. 

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These figures, who struggled to create a change, and the works they had done in a different milieu, cannot be weighed strictly through a concept of modern-day feminism. The foundations they had laid and the contributions they had made in shaping the evolving forms and characteristics of feminism can never be discredited. But they now face the threat of wokeism and cancel culture. For example, the act of discrediting or ridiculing the entire Meira Paibi movement by some woke individuals online when a few Imas took part in a political rally, wearing party hats. 

The Imas and their place in the history of Manipur can never be ‘canceled’ from the comfort of one’s armchairs and keyboards. But it is truly unfortunate when those voicing for gender rights, activists, and feminists bend to conformity by woke individuals due to fear of becoming victims of cancel culture. There should be no place for such cowardice. Isn't it ironic for someone who is ready to cancel a women’s movement in history because it is outdated, to call themselves a feminist? This only creates division in women which is against the fundamental values of feminism. The answer lies in having the patience and understanding the backgrounds from which a voice has been raised. Feminism is also about giving voice to the voiceless and their stories told without the threat of bullying when it does not suit one’s definition of who a feminist is. 

But seriously why and what's the fuss about feminism? Is it so out of place with the local atmosphere? Manipur remains among the Indian states with most cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse of women and children. The figures say it all. If one is worried by the available data but had already decided to hate feminists, then there are better ways to deal with the sudden internal conflict or cognitive dissonance instead of deciding to just look away or start defending the oppressive patriarchal culture. Realising that the feminist movement in Manipur needs to be protected and supported would be a first, good step.

(The views expressed are personal)

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Tags:

women rightsfeminismgender issuesfeminist

Arambam Luther

Arambam Luther

Senior Sub-Editor, Imphal Free Press

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