‘I am yet to understand what the exact meaning of feminism is! But I have noticed that every time I have tried to extend my identity beyond that of a doormat, I have been branded a feminist.’
— These are the famous words of the earliest feminists of Europe, Rebecca West. And yet they ring true even today.
To those women of honor who chose to disagree with this, I at The Style Symphony, wish to say, peek into homes of men who claim to be liberated. The status of their women and those men’s impact on them will tell you the true story.
And to gauge the liberation of any society, take a look at its matrimonial columns. Are matrimonial columns still divided by caste? Is it still mandatory for the advertised bride to be fair, beautiful and homely? Has any space been created for independent minded, self-assured, confident women? Do divorcees wanting to remarry still have to advertise themselves as ‘innocent divorcees’ and mention in passing that they were married for only a few weeks or days? Do men have to advertise themselves in the same way?
If one dwells on the answers, it would be obvious that even if we are not exactly doormats (at least a large majority of us) any more, the impact of this new change has been more cosmetic than real. Women have always existed mirroring a ‘created’ identity that would put patriarchs at ease. Every time a woman tries to redefine that, eyebrows have been raised. A rebel is welcome as long as she does not disturb the status quo. Not only at home, but at work as well! Her impact is only welcomed if it doesn’t disturb the so-called ‘Male Ego’.
It would be naive to imagine that a power struggle as intense and as a politically important as this could be a simple affair. A redefinition of her status would mean redefinition of the status of men and that of man-woman relationships.
At home it could mean redefining sharing responsibilities. At work, it could mean much the same. If the woman’s feminist impact turns out to be more efficient— which she often is— it could mean greater status and honor for her. This could lead to a situational crisis where the male would be nursing an injured ego and the woman, true to her centuries of genetic conditioning, is apologetic about being too obviously superior.
It is a tricky situation which could escalate existing tensions and bring about a marked deterioration in man-woman relationships. How does one defuse the tension? The honorable way, so far, has been for the woman to backtrack on her success route and call the truce. This impact has been embedded in our minds as the honorable way by religion, by popular culture, by commercials. And by the media!
The sexy dame, who woos the hero in her trendy micro minis, takes no time to switch to the traditional sari and pallu once she ties the knot. There is, however, no such role switch for the man. He continues to wear what he wears, and continues to do exactly what he has done all along, in every walk of life.
There is one little difference though! He now has a companion who inspires him and provides him with emotional support. Is the situation identical for the woman? Does she get as supportive a companion? Does her companion feel as proud of her success as she does of his? Does he choose to stay in the background once in a while and allow his wife to hog the limelight? Or make a few sacrifices to allow her smooth passage to her next promotion?
We know many of us will say yes, our men do. We agree. Some of our men have changed and accepted this new impact of gender relations and power structures more gracefully than many, many others. But they are only a handful. And we know what kind of social pressure they endure in order to allow their grace to prevail. These are the men who make us feel it was worth the wait. That the change came the right way and at the right pace!
For who can deny the fact that we need them as much as they need us? The idea was never to eliminate them from our world but to redefine and bring back the two on an equal platform. While we are proud that our perseverance paid off, in some cases the battle is far from over. We have a few understanding men, but there are many, many more who still advertise for women who will not disturb the status quo.
And as long as there are such advertisers and as long as there are women who respond to such advertisements, many of us will continue to remain glorified doormats. The impact of that battle that was launched a century ago by feminists is far from over.