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Women empowerment has become a much-discussed issue in our society with the recent upsurge of the #MeToo movement and the growing number of political debates regarding the position of females in our country. With women rights becoming such a hot topic for discussion, the terms feminism and feminists are heard very commonly nowadays.

However, the true meaning of feminism has become lost in this endlessly wide and deep sea of deliberation by a wide range of people.

Tracing its origin back to the early nineteenth century, feminism is a movement as well as a set of ideologies initially founded to secure women equal legal, political, professional, economic, social, personal and educational rights as men. Historically, women were denied many fundamental rights that every citizen is promised in a democracy.

They were considered the weaker gender whose role extended only up to the boundaries of their home and never beyond that. Women were seen as docile and submissive creatures who constantly needed the support and protection of a man- be it a father, brother or husband.

Feminism sought to remove such restrictions on women and bring them at par with men.

Supporters of the movement, called feminists, divide feminism into four waves which can be considered as distinct phases of the movement with definite objectives.

The first and second waves, which focused on legal rights such as the right to vote and to own property, as well as domestic and employability issues requiring attention to establish women’s role as independent members of the society- capable of making decisions and leading life on their own terms- were received with a lot of enthusiasm for their righteousness.

However, the third and fourth waves which unfolded in the twenty first century, while did gain popularity, also attracted a lot of contention. The objective of the third wave, which was to embrace individuality and diversity, and that of the fourth wave, which was to combat sexual harassment, assault and misogyny raised a very important question- are the problems of unacceptance of distinctiveness, and sexual harassment and assault only faced by females?

We live in a dynamic society which is constantly striving towards a more liberal thinking process. The first and second waves in India have brought about impressive changes in terms of educational and professional opportunities for women, as people are becoming more and more aware about the need to educate and treat their daughters the same way as their sons.

Of course, a lot is yet to be achieved to change the mentality of every household, but the progress so far has indeed been commendable. While India is successfully treading towards achievement of the objectives defined by the second wave, the objectives of the third and fourth waves have been misinterpreted as well as misused by many, resulting in turmoil within the society, especially between the male and female genders.

Individuality is a trait that is not gender specific- both men and women deserve it. Yet, while women’s struggle to express their originality has been received with appreciation, men’s endeavours to attain the same has been pushed to the background. Women demand their right to have the choice to work, but the opposite case of this is something that is rarely heard about.

While women are applauded if they demand to work, men are forced into the professional field without even any consideration about their possibility as a homemaker. They are looked down upon if they display any interest whatsoever in activities required for the management of a household. Even if they are encouraged to learn household chores like cooking or sewing, it is merely to fulfil the bare minimum requirements needed to survive when living alone.

Leading a successful family life requires a balance between management of the household and earning a living, and people need to stop considering these two essential responsibilities to be gender specific. A person should be looked at as a human being, before anything else, when they make their choice to be a homemaker or working professional or both.

With feminism becoming a widespread concept, many pseudo-feminists and feminazis have also come up. These are people who misuse the laws created to protect females, and possess misandrist views- they are fundamentally prejudiced again men and see them only as oppressors. Radical feminism is gradually pushing men into the same backward position that women occupied a few centuries ago, and it is the responsibility of the people to wake up to this growing crisis before history repeats itself.

Clothing has become a major issue of debate against the backdrop of feminism. While both men and women should of course be given the complete right to dress the way they want to, and should not be judged for their choices, the fact remains that it is very important to maintain a certain decorum in dressing depending on the situation. Women should definitely not be objectified or labelled on the basis of how they dress, but an important point that needs to be noted by many is that people should not dress in a way which is just for the sake of making a statement.

The distinction between dressing for your own comfort and dressing to make a statement, though very obvious, has been completely blurred in recent times.

Another issue that is raised is that women should not be judged harshly if they consume alcohol or smoke cigarettes. While people are indeed more concerned if these habits are taken up by women, this is in fact a privilege that some women want to foolishly give up. Consumption of alcohol or smoking are extremely harmful habits, and instead of women wanting the restrictions on them that prevent them from indulging in these habits to be lifted, what is required is that people focus the same amount of attention on men because no individual should purposely try to destroy their lives by getting caught up in such habits.

Encouraging bad habits for the sake of equality is extremely wrong. The only bottom line that should remain is that individuals be discouraged from yielding to such habits, regardless of whether it is a man or a woman.

The last issue, and quite a major one, that remains to be tackled is that of harassment and assault. While brutalities against women are indeed gut wrenching and immoral to the last degree, it should not brand every man as an oppressor. The society’s paranoia regarding the safety of women is quite justified, but people should always try to hold on to the thought that an accused is innocent until proven guilty, unless the brutality inflicted is so inhuman and the proofs are so obvious that a person can absolutely not consider the accused to be innocent.

A single false harassment complaint against a man can ruin his personal and professional life, even if he is innocent. This must be kept in mind before he is deemed as a rapist or eve teaser in the eyes of the society. Another fact that people must learn to accept is that men get harassed and assaulted as well. The law and society are so focused on ensuring safety of women, that the safety of men against such crimes has been completely ignored, and they are laughed at if they attempt to bring this injustice into light.

The final conclusion that can be drawn from the elaborate facts and arguments stated so far is that feminism only continues up to its second wave. The goals of the third and fourth waves are such that they need to be achieved for both men and women. Especially now with the removal of section 377 from our constitution, we should start seeing everyone as a separate individual, regardless of their gender identity.

What the society seeks now is humanism- a movement that throws the spotlight on the individuality of every human being rather than on a person’s gender identity. Our country must continue working towards achieving complete parity of women with men, but in the process of doing so, no other gender should be neglected.

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Sambhavi Mishra

Sambhavi Mishra

If my writings can bring a smile on your face, then I know I did something productive that day!
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