Posted in Feminism, Uncategorized

Why I Am Not A Feminist – A Book Review

This is a review of the book ‘Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto‘ by Jessa Crispin.

Like I wrote in my previous post, this book got me frantic at first and thinking later on. It was an onslaught on almost everything that I believed in and it hit me too hard. So it took me some time to get to the end of the book and my feelings and opinions about it have changed drastically in the meantime.

The book criticizes contemporary feminism, its ideals and is a call to awaken the spirit of sisterhood which was exchanged for individualism in the recent years, according to the author.

Crispin, very rightly points at how capitalism came to benefit from the feminist movement towards individualism and choice. Sex and the City is a classic example .SATC touches upon many issues of women in relationships and makes you rejoice in your womanhood, but it would be idiotic to not see the fashion brands that pepper the script and white elite-ness that it reeks of.  Not to mention the stereotyping of it all.

The overarching argument of the book is that when by exchanging sisterhood for individualism, some women got to step into men’s shoes and had become complicit with men in their culture of subjugation. This, I believe is a critique of capitalism rather than of women or of the feminist movement. Also, entrenched in this argument is a belief in the ‘goodness’ of women – the belief that, given the chance, women would do a much better job running the world. For example, the author decries the ambition that drives women who work in the corporate world.

This is similar to the argument that used to be made against feminists who advocated a professional life for women- they were told that as many women from the upper class left their homes to begin working, their positions would be supplanted by domestic helps who were obviously again women. The problem with this argument is obvious. For one, domestic helps are paid for the work they do and so it is not the thankless job that most women have to perform at home. Secondly, the fact that domestic helps and other low tier jobs do not have job security and benefits cannot be blamed upon other working women. That is a fault with the system of which both men and women are part of. Thirdly, are men made to feel guilty about hiring other men to do jobs like plumbing and welding or whatever? This argument is based on the assumption that domestic jobs like cooking and cleaning is something that women have to do and not expect anything in return just like the former argument believes in an inherent goodness of women which really doesn’t exist.

“Breaking away from the value system and goals of the dominant culture is always going to be a dramatic, and inconvenient, act. Surface-level feminism — feminism that requires only a swapping out of labels and no real reform—requires nothing so strenuous from you. To understand how surface-level contemporary feminism really is, we need only note that the most common markers of feminism’s success are the same markers of success in patriarchal capitalism. Namely, money and power. Our metric is how many women are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, how many bylines at The New York Times are women’s, what percentage of medical school graduates are women.” Excerpt from Chapter One.

 At this point in the book, the author is all for revolutionary changes in the system, so that women will not be part of the oppressive culture of subjugation created by men. While one is left to puzzle out how to actually revolutionize the system while not even being a part of it as the author advocates, the later chapters reverses the argument entirely. A quote from the last paragraph of Chapter Eight–

Women, if you want a better existence for your people, you must participate in the imperfect world that exists now.”

There are several individual points in the book that I agree with and have written about. For example, the author speaks against the increasing number of vigilantes that feminism seems to give birth to – talking about dealing with sexual harassment cases and social media vigilantism-

What they are doing is looking for one man to carry the weight of our entire history, to make up for all of the men who hurt us and escaped punishment. This is revenge.”

 Crispin also proposes the idea of building a community support system so that women will not be left with a just choice between being dependent on a patriarchal family system with no freedom or being independent and free, but crazy due to all the work and no emotional or mental support.

However, on the whole, this book was a disappointment as it raises many questions on the contemporary feminist strategy, but leaves all of them unanswered.

 

Posted in Feminism, Uncategorized

Child’s Play

In the ‘third’ world, one of the most common reasons for death of teenage girls is pregnancy and childbirth. Last week, the supreme court of India figured in international headlines for ruling that having sex, even consensual, with a girl below the age of 18, regardless of whether she is married or not ( which as you know is illegal, but is still very prevalent) will be considered rape. The ruling also specifies that this applies to all faiths.  Child marriages are very prevalent in India. It is more openly done in rural areas , where more than half the women are married before they are 18.

Reading up about age of marriage in different countries and different religions, I discovered that many countries allow teenagers to get married, with their parent’s consent.  In many Islamic countries, it is a norm to marry off girls as soon as they hit puberty. Well, I do not want to think about my mental maturity at 14 and did you say marriage?  But one should not assume that this is the case with everyone.  Officially, in India, every risky or potentially harmful activity like driving, voting or marriage requires that you are above 18 years of age.

For the urban population which is most likely to read this post, child marriages are the most common occurrences in rural areas, just like matrimonial sites in the urban areas, unbelievable yet quite common.  45 percent of the girls in the 14 years-17 years age bracket are married off in the rural areas of India. In states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, 80 percent of the girls are married off before the legal age of marriage.

Mental maturity or mental problems in general are usually not considered important or worthy of discussion in most Indian homes. Consulting a counselor makes me sure that you have gone mad. World mental health day came and went this week, and India remained indifferent. Studies suggest that child brides routinely suffer from Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) owing to alien, scary things that happen to them after marriage.  Several studies show that child brides are more prone to HIV-AIDS; their infant and maternal mortality rate is high, which is obvious as the average age of pregnancy is 15 years. An early marriage also limits their access to education, curtails their freedom and also makes them more susceptible to domestic violence.

There are others who say that marriage is done to curb a girl’s sexual needs, so that she doesn’t lose control and forget the invisible but visible wall between her and the guy next door. If marriage is a license to have sex, then are we taught about sex? I think parents leave sex education of their kids to the community in the traditional tribal style of community upbringing.  In the urban school that I studied, teachers repeatedly skipped the chapters dealing with reproductive organs and sex. So there is no legitimate way to learn about sex in India, other than crouching under school benches with books like Godfather (This was before Chetan Bhagat). In 2016, India’s then health minister Harsh Vardhan opined in a blog that sex education should be banned in India. Then there are other ministers who say that sex education would uproot the ‘values’ from the Vedic culture. I am sure that explains the rape culture as well.

This enforced ignorance with regard to sex and their rights cripple the lives of these girls who will never know that they are being wronged. Also, before they are mentally or emotionally prepared for marriage or childbearing, they are married off citing reasons of security. The question is what or who are we protecting them from? To me, it does seem like the girls are safer and happier in their own homes.

Sure, there are economic reasons for child marriage, but the cultural ones cannot be ignored. The culture of banning sex education and marrying girls off before they can begin to think on their own is definitely has a patriarchal agenda behind it. It makes these child brides helpless, inaccessible and essentially trapped in their miserable lives. If it could be blamed solely on economic reasons, then equipping these girls to have a steady job of some sort would bring in more money rather than losing a fortune as dowry. This just goes on to show the hypocritical nature of most things we refuse to change in the name of culture.

So, the supreme court ruling is definitely a step in the right direction- but the question remains that will a child bride go to the police to complain against her husband, or rather, can she?