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Feminism and Fighting Stereotypes

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By Fairy Dharawat

Last year there was a row over a picture depicting a women with a sign, “this is what feminism looks like” which received lot of attention. The picture was later shared widely from one of Facebook groups whose followers posted unsavoury comments (http://themaggieyoung.blogspot.in/2013/08/no-hope-for-human-race-slays-three.html ).

After rows and taking sides, the term feminism was discussed widely. What it means to be a feminist in today’s age? What is the meaning of feminist? Are you a feminist? Is feminism only relevant to women? The toughest questions start with ‘what’ as it generates varied interpretations.

Feminism in 21st Century

The term which has been introduced in the 60s basically meant for the government body to look at women as equal to men in terms of constitutional rights – the right to vote, right to education and right to voice expression. As simple as that, still many would not want to be known as feminists; somehow the term is suggestive of aggressiveness. Possibly many don’t know the meaning of the term which has gone through major changes in last few decades. And it should. As the acceptance of women and gender roles have evolved, so has evolved the term itself. Anything that stays stagnant loses its value. So what is feminism today?

Women in movies

The threshold for the moment of feminism was and is about equality. Today we have to some extent achieved it, even if it is only found in developed countries and to some extent in developing countries. Recent report (http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/03/11/3389421/women-in-movies-2013/ ) on ‘The Study of Women in Television and Film’ stated that overall women had been left out from major successful movies with small or no roles. There are still many television shows, movies, and advertising that pushes stereotypes on women and show them play major convenient roles of second fiddle. So where does feminism stand today? When Hollywood, the medium that reflects society, with its hopes, dreams and aspirations; projects women as stereotypes, questions should be asked.

Fighting Stereotypes

Feminism was and is about equality, it is also about fighting for the underdog, the minority. It all boils down to fighting the discrimination and surviving and thriving. The times we are living in today are the best we have ever had in terms of opportunities. We have to do the best we can in a very competitive world. We have to be taken seriously and that means doing our best and perhaps a little extra. We need to command respect not only from men, but other women too. We can’t just expect something for nothing; we have to earn the right to get that top job or that high place in society.

Defining gender roles in childhood

Mutual respect and affinity can be and should be taught early in childhood. In India, even today there are texts in school which initiates gender politics while defining roles of what men and women should do. Talking of defining roles, did you know that the color pink, so profoundly associated with females, was at one point associated with men? (http://qz.com/114774/pink-used-to-be-a-masculine-color/) Instilling values needs to start from a young age, with mutual respect and giving freedom to choose. Assuming that a girl prefers pink and a boy prefers blue is falling in the trap of stereotyping and teaching gender roles at an early age. This is further sadly reinforced by the global media through the kind of toys created for children, like Barbies for girls and GI Joes for boys, this further reaffirms the gender stereotypes. Where does feminism stand today when we are pushing stereotypes by coloring our children’s bedroom in pink and blue? Why not go for green or yellow, they are neutral colors which are also bright.

Let children both girls and boys play sports and read, let them play in mud and not make them conscious about what good boys and good girls are like. Teach them to value household chores, both girls and boys, to value integrity. We can inculcate these small habits from young to let our children grow up to be empathetic citizens.

Accepting our Differences

Men and women are different and seeking equality is difficult as the way both genders process their outlook on life is quite different. One needs to accept this difference and understand that equality for the sake of equality is not thinking straight, rather simplifying our existence in form of black and white. There are lots of grey areas that require compromise. Fighting stereotypes and understanding the evolving roles of gender with a sense of acceptance can be a start.

Fairy Dharawat is Senior Reporter at VJ Media Works Pvt Ltd in Mumbai, India

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