Sunday, 25 September 2011

Don’t be afraid to say the F-word

When French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde was chosen to be the managing director of the IMF no news wire missed out on the words “first woman to head the IMF.” In the many interviews she endured following her recruitment she had to answer questions revolving around her marital life rather than her position and what she intended to do with its power. She was described in an article as a “divorcee with two sons,” a description I have yet to read about a man in any position. Answering yet another question about her gender as an IMF director she said, “I honestly think that there should never be too much testosterone in one room.” How else is a woman who comes from the land of the Republican Motherhood supposed to respond?

It is instances like these that remind us of what feminism allowed us to forget. Still, as women are reaching once unimaginable heights they are haunted by thoughts that question their abilities. At one point in time, women's rights were important, fighting for them was important, gaining them was a must, that point in time has passed. The urgency has slowed down, the priorities have been blurred and the word feminism has developed many faces and lost its way in the crowded world of activism.

The word feminism has become synonymous with the idea of man-hating when in fact it has more to do with women than men. The idea was to become equal to what man has achieved and never to downgrade man's role. This misconception has led to the demise of the word, no longer does any woman want to be labelled a feminist for fear of being accused of hating men.

When asked if she is a feminist the American pop singer Beyoncé Knowles said she didn't feel the need to define what she is. This is coming from a singer who brought us a long list of chart-topping girl power anthems such as Independent Women, Survivor, If I Were a Boy, Single Ladies and Run the World. She is also a volunteer and supporter of the CARE organisation that works to empower women around the world, which makes it all the more baffling that she would fear to be called a feminist.

If there should be a reason for this label to disappear from our vocabulary it must not be because of a negative connotation but because there should not be only a segment of the female race that believes in their rights.

Every woman, hell, every man should be a feminist, that is the only way to render this word obsolete.

Throughout history women have fought for one right after another, right to education and the right to be viewed equally by the scrutinising eyes of the law. They fought so the world would understand that theirs is a global issue, one affecting half the planet's population.

Women thinkers, philosophers and activists like Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Sylvia Plath have written extensively on the subject of women's rights believing that only a woman can truly portray the struggle of her race. Books like Woolf's A Room of One's Own and de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, which as far as I'm considered, should be read by men before women, caused an explosion of female enlightenment and gave voice to issues rendered dumb by years of injustice.

Yet as we see less and less women embracing the cause, does that mean we have attained equality and that we no longer need the 'dreaded' feminist?

Equality might have been attained in some parts of the world, yet there are many segments of the world still subjugating women and young girls to all kinds of cruelty and injustice for no other reason than their gender. The irony cannot be escaped when a glass ceiling shatters in one part of the world and a girl is being denied education and forced into marriage in another. This imbalance makes it all the more necessary to speak up for those of us who continue to be silenced by ignorance and fear.

Feminism is not dead. Feminism has altered itself, morphing into a more entertaining entity, in order to survive in a world where it has become easier to digest an issue if it came with its own music video.

For women's rights to exist today the idea of feminism has to be subtly reintroduced back into the world. Therefore, for women's rights to be addressed we must sing about female solidarity instead of rallying for it, and if this generation would rather rename it 'Bootylicious' instead, then so be it.

But no matter what we do, we must not belittle the struggle of superwomen, who championed our rights at times when the idea of such equality was unfathomable. Names like Gloria Steinem and Huda Shaarawi must be taught not forgotten, for without their daily battles the world would not have had a Beyoncé today.

This article was published in The Gulf Today Newspaper on 25th Sep., 2011.




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