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The Mass Media

On Being A Half-Feminist

Feminism, a movement that found its birth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, aimed at granting women equality in the political, social, and professional realms, that over time is now being seen by many as ‘anti-men.’ Feminism has never been about anti-men, but rather pro-women. There might be people who may have said or done things that may contradict that fact, but remember, the actions of a few do not speak for the whole. Women just want to be given equal opportunities as men, not more. Women are a part of humanity and without women, mankind wouldn’t exist. They deserve equal rights and opportunities, regardless of religious or cultural customs and practices. And I’m proud to call myself a feminist.
I’ve always considered myself a feminist, from my teens in fact. Even though I am not from the United States, I grew up watching American cartoons and TV shows and reading novels such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys which, I felt, always promoted gender equality. The whole family helping clean up after dinner, husbands/fathers supporting their wives’/daughter’s dreams and ambitions, to name a few. Now you might be thinking, “Now wait just a doggone minute! Aren’t there a lot of male chauvinistic movies and shows out there?” To that, all I can say is that the shows and movies I watched from the 90s and early 2000s did not have much of that.
But the most important factor I feel shaped me as a feminist is how my father treated my mother. I come from India, a patriarchal society, where the majority of men sit around the house and have the women pander to their every need and take care of the house and kids. I know many people who live like that, members of my own extended family even, but the women don’t consider it unfair because that is how it was in the houses they were raised, with their mothers and grandmothers being examples for them. My dad, on the other hand, helped my mother with all the household chores such as cooking, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, looking after me and my sister, and other small things. They worked seamlessly together, my dad doing one thing while my mom did the other. Growing up with that, it felt natural for me to help around the house and since both my parents worked, my sister and I learned to be independent from a young age and took care of the house while they were gone. So, all this made me into a feminist, which I came to realize later, because at the time I thought that was how the world worked. But little did I realize that I wasn’t a feminist, but rather a half-feminist.
There are not many people out there who would say that they are feminists, but many do believe in equal rights for women. But equal rights for women should also extend to their rights over their own bodies and sexual life. As I grew older, one other thing that I picked up from American movies and TV shows was the double standard for women regarding sex. Society viewed a man with multiple sexual partners a cool guy. He was someone who everyone wants to be. It was ‘natural’ for a man to satisfy his urges. That is what men do. On the other hand, if a woman had multiple sexual partners, she was labelled easy or promiscuous, to put it mildly. She bought dishonor and shame to her family; she was a disgrace. When it came to decisions regarding her life or her own body, she had no say. Years later, I came to the realization that if men could do it, women could do it too. Just because a person had their reproductive organs on the inside rather than the outside should not stop them from having a say in their own sexual lives. But even after coming to that realization, when I heard about some women that have had multiple sexual partners, my mind automatically labelled them promiscuous. It was an automatic reaction because it was ingrained into me. I had to remind myself that they were not. It was their choice. I realized that if I thought of myself as a feminist, I could not choose what parts of feminism I believed in; I could not be a half-feminist. If you believe in equal rights for someone, you cannot choose what rights they should or should not have.
Even when people say that women have the right to choose what they do with their bodies, when it comes to the women in their lives, i.e. daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends, the rules are suddenly different. People dissociate the women in their lives from the other women around them. And so, women who grow up in such households do so with the notion that having multiple sexual partners is wrong and live their lives based on what others tell them. Now, I’m not saying that women should sleep with every guy they see. There are women who don’t want to do that and that is their choice, choice being the operative word. Women should have the choice to decide how they want to live their lives. The worst part is when women, because of the environment they grew up in, label other women promiscuous and treat them differently. This solidifies the notion that when it comes to sexual choices women are expected to live according to what men decide. I find it very hypocritical that, especially in India, men try to sleep with every woman they can but when it comes to marriage, they want virgins. It really gets my blood boiling. But I digress. The point is when you stand for equal rights, in this case rights for women, choosing only the rights you want and ignoring the rest is not your call. It hurts the cause and hinders people who need those rights from getting their points across. You are dismantling the cause from within. You can’t be a half-feminist.
The other way in which I was a half-feminist was how I viewed women who voiced their opinions and made a stand for what they believed in. I used to know a couple of girls back in high school who were very assertive in their beliefs, so much strongly so that I considered them boyish. There, I just proved my own point. Why did I consider them to have ‘manly’ traits just because they voiced their opinions? Why could they not just be girls who speak their mind? Only a few years ago did I come to realize that just because women stand up for something and are not afraid to voice their opinions does not mean that I should treat them any differently as I would if it were men. If a man voices his opinion, suddenly he is seen as someone who is assertive, a macho man, someone who stands for what he believes in, and all that bovine excrement. Why are men considered to be special when they do something as normal as standing up for what one believes in? There are a whole lot of “traits” that women and men should and should not have. Women have to submissive, maternal, polite, etc. but can’t be assertive, outspoken, pragmatic, etc. Men, on the other hand, can’t be sensitive and can’t cry but have to be macho, dominant, and break down walls with our manliness. Who said so? I cry while watching movies and TV shows, while reading books even and I am not ashamed to admit it. If it makes me less of a man, I don’t care. But again, I digress.
The point is when a woman who is a celebrity or a famous historical figure does/did things that are/were considered to be assertive and ‘out of character’ for a woman, she is lauded but when it is someone we know, it’s suddenly not ‘lady-like’ and we treat them as they stepped out of bounds. If she agreed with a man, no one would even bat an eye, but if she opposes a man, people take up bats against her. Why is there a double standard for women, that when they do something, the same thing that men do, they are considered improper? If you consider yourself a feminist or an equal rights–believer, you shouldn’t judge them for voicing their opinions. You shouldn’t be a half-feminist.
Even now, I still have to remind myself time to time that women sleeping around isn’t a bad thing socially (Healthwise, there are a load of problems when both sexes do it, but that’s a topic left to professionals to explain.). Even when they voice their opinions, it doesn’t make them different or nonconforming; they are just who they are. People need to start realizing that as time goes on, antiquated ideas and notions should be done away with and be open to new ideas. Most often, the reason humanity gets held back from progress is because humanity pulls itself back. Just like how notions of how the Earth was the center of the universe, flat Earth theory, slavery, men being the only breadwinners, women not belonging in the workplace, and countless others have been thrown out, as they rightly should be, the idea of holding men and women to different standards should be thrown. I think James Brown’s song sums it up best: “This is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.”