Once again, it is March. Women’s Day is round the corner. Discussions, debates, slogans, promises…in short, the usual. March 8th has been fixed as the date to celebrate Women’s Day by the United Nations. Every year the day has been observed on a selected theme. ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a Covid – 19 World’ was the theme of 2021. This year the theme is ‘Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’.
It is true that women got better opportunities in the field of education, career, and politics and in many parts of the world the awareness on women’s rights has been created due to these kinds of celebrations and movements. Valuing the efforts of feminist movements, we can say that they were able to create an awareness among people that the present condition of women is very pathetic. At the outset, it helped to some extent in bettering the social, political and economic conditions of women.
But if we analyze the reality closely, these celebrations remain mere sounds and fury signifying nothing, as the saying goes, in the lives of a majority of women across the world. Most of them don’t even know that a day has been celebrated in their name every year. And in the societies where the conditions have gotten better, women have been suffering, struggling and bearing the double burden to prove themselves equal to men in order to get equal opportunities and acceptance. They often have to speak louder than men so that they are heard. A lady manager at the banking sector who speaks very loudly said once that she got used to the loud voice as she speaks in high volume at her office in order for the male colleagues to accept her. When a senior male officer commutes to his office sitting at the backseat and relaxing while having a driver, it is considered as status and dignity. But if a woman of the same rank does the same thing people ask “So, you don’t know driving? Then, what equality and empowerment are you talking about?”. In the name of empowerment and equality, she is being pushed without her knowledge to extra responsibilities and roles. A slight mistake from a woman’s side in the professional field gets generalized and people start commenting that it is because she is a woman. In reality, road accidents are less common with women drivers. As per the Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018 by WHO “from a young age, males are more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes than females.” Still, if any accident occurs and unfortunately if the driver is a woman, people
start commenting on women’s inefficiency in general. They give abusive remarks on the ‘frailty’ of womanhood. The end result is a woman has to prove herself better than the best man in that field in order to get accepted in any public space – be it career, politics or leadership in social and religious organizations.
In the so-called liberated societies which claim to have achieved equal status for their women, if examined thoroughly, we understand that women haven’t achieved much, considering their stress and struggle as well as the sacrifices they have to make in order to be accepted ‘equal’ in society. The celebrated strong, independent and successful woman concept with acquired qualities of masculinity subduing womanhood does more harm than good for a woman and her family. There’s a lot of difference in saying, “I need the same opportunities and acknowledgement as men” and “I want to be like men.” If you want to be like someone it means you see something better in that person and you accept that you have some drawbacks. So, instead of creating confidence and self-respect, these slogans again indirectly tell women that you are inferior and you need to change. The change is inevitably towards being like men and it is dubbed gender fluidity, gender neutrality, the ending of gender and so on. Most of the cases of gender dysphoria are also due to this thinking that is created in society. As Debra Soh asks in her book ‘The End of Gender’, “Why should a woman’s value be defined by her success in a male dominated field?”
The ancient societies subdued women on the basis of superstitious beliefs, customs and traditions, like the concept of original sin and the belief that women are not created the same way as men. On this basis, women have been made to live like slaves for centuries, suffer all atrocities and live just to give enjoyment to the men folk. They were treated as mere commodities. But modern societies do the same or more harm to women through their ‘Equality’ slogans. By freeing themselves from the age-old customs and traditions, women’s lives have shifted from the barbaric types of slavery to the modern version of it in spite of possessing smarter and more polished skills. Her body is still treated as a commodity and the value of it is based on the scale set by the corporate world. They decide how a woman should walk, how much she can eat, what should be her complexion/ height/weight etc. Free and critical thinking is not promoted or in many places still not allowed. The problem lies in the way ‘equality’ has been interpreted. To most of the progressive women ‘equal’ means identical. Thinking/dressing/ walking/hairstyle/jobs/eating … all should be the same as men. The feminist writer Simone De Beauvoir wrote in her book ‘The Second Sex’ that “women were not born but made” in 1949. The same idea was shared by Butler in 1990 in her book ‘Gender Trouble’. It resulted in making a girl or a woman always in competition with men and struggling to prove that she is at par with the men folk around. The physiological and psychological unique qualities of women are considered signs of weakness and not fit for a strong woman.
The Second Sex’ that “women were not born but made” in 1949. The same idea was shared by Butler in 1990 in her book ‘Gender Trouble’. It resulted in making a girl or a woman always in competition with men and struggling to prove that she is at par with the men folk around. The physiological and psychological unique qualities of women are considered signs of weakness and not fit for a strong woman. Crying, showing extra concern/care/love for the dear and near ones are seen as expressions of low emotions. The irony is all these slogans did not make women free from their domestic chores, child rearing and educating as well as taking care of the elderly but added the extra burden of proving to be equal to men by earning equally for the family.
In the rat race with men, a woman has to sacrifice or limit all the joys of womanhood. Giving birth, breast feeding and looking after newborns are the greatest pleasures for any woman which she has to sacrifice to compete and prove equal. Many young girls delay marriage too much just because they are afraid it will affect their career and they will have to lag behind the men at their workplace or industry. The reason is the equality slogans. Many believe that there is nothing like gender roles. Everything that a man can do can be done by women. But the reality is different. There are roles which both men and women can do. There are things which only a woman can do or vice versa. The society has been imposing on women alone household chores, raising children etc. But these are shared responsibilities which both can or should do especially when both are working and earning. As a reaction to this imposition, feminist organizations have taken the extreme stand of even denying the natural feminine roles and giving importance to them. This resulted in governments not giving much importance to facilitating these roles. Even now, women are not hired if pregnant or married to avoid the loss in giving maternity leave etc. If at all hired, they are not given any consideration in this regard. Girls are made to suffer a lot in the higher education field due to non-acknowledgement of special feminine needs in the infrastructure within the campus. The real situation is like this as shared by a successful professor to her students: “If you want to succeed in your career, you have to sacrifice your personal life. If you want to succeed in your personal life, you have to sacrifice your career. If you want to succeed at both, you have to sacrifice yourself.” So, only by stopping to pretend that both the sexes are identical, we can make the world more accommodating for women. Denial of sex differences is not necessary for gender ‘equality’ in the right sense of the term.
Replacing age-old traditions and ideas with the so-called postmodern or liberal ideologies have done more harm than good to womanhood. A woman can get real happiness and enjoyment in life and can be productive and useful for society only if she is acknowledged as a woman and her femininity is approved as not inferior to masculinity. Accordingly, there should be regulations and arrangements in every sphere of life – schools, colleges, market places, offices, public transports, parliaments, panchayats – where women can find their place comfortably without losing their identity or role as woman or stressing too much on her feminine nature and needs. Women and girls should start challenging why being feminine is worthy of ridicule; why get rid of stereotypically female traits and why women must be the same as men in order to be treated with justice?
Yes, it’s time we realized the danger in these equality slogans. We should ask for more. We deserve it. And as the Prophet Mohammed PBUH taught, humanity is indebted more to women as mothers. Nothing can replace a mother. Let’s celebrate womanhood, feminine nature and ask for more so that a woman is able to enjoy her role in society as well as within family; lead a life of contentment and become a contributing member.