Smashing the Glass Ceiling in a City Made of Concrete
1. the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
I am a feminist.
Does this statement make you angry?
I have been a feminist ever since I learned what it was, at the age of 16. I mean, it’s only logical to endorse a movement that promotes equitable treatment for all men and women, right? At the time, feminism was slowly becoming a household term, especially in the Maldives. With social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube becoming entrenched in the cultural fabric, more and more people began to voice out their support for this movement. I was one of them.
In recent days, however, support for feminism has unfortunately begun to wane. The word has now become a dirty one, with many choosing to distance themselves from it. They still lobby for equality but would rather do it without the label. I don’t blame them though. Feminism today is not what it used to be.
It used to be about ensuring that people from all walks of life are viewed without bias, without discrimination. Now, it has become something else entirely. It has become a term used only when it is convenient, for individual benefit and personal gain. For this reason, many are now reluctant to call themselves feminists. They believe it’s just a group of angry women who ‘hate men’, who take offense to any negative thing said about them, who get worked up over nothing. Many believe the word itself is contradictory to what it stands for, that it isn’t working to reduce gender disparity at all.
So, for a while, I stopped telling people that I am a feminist. I stopped actively talking about important issues, because I felt as if I would be judged. I felt as if I would be labeled a misandrist, someone who hated men. My head was filled with so many reasons as to why I, too, should disassociate myself from this word.
But that’s where I went wrong. I became so tangled up with this word and its connotations, this twisted identity, that I got distracted. I became so fixated on this minute detail that I forgot about the actual purpose of the movement. The very powerful idea behind it. Feminism advocates for women to be treated equally to men, not the same as men. Equal rights and equal opportunities. We cannot treat men and women the same because men and women are not the same, mentally or physically. It is a fact. And while we cannot ignore our inherent biological differences, it is of utmost importance that we still treat people without any prejudice, regardless of their gender.
I am a feminist. My brand of feminism is inclusive of all.
Now you may think, ‘fem’ in itself is derived from feminine, so isn’t that a bit sexist? Well, to understand this better, we have to back-track a few decades to the beginning of this movement. The term ‘feminism’ was coined in 1837 by Charles Fourier, a French philosopher who vehemently advocated for the emancipation of women. He believed that women were treated much like slaves, historically disenfranchised and silenced, simply because they were women. The point of the word ‘feminism’ is to acknowledge that women, and traits related to women, have often been given a lesser place in society. It focuses on the feminine, because that is what needs to be raised to same level as the masculine.
Let’s take some modern-day examples. There’s an invisible set of rules written for how women should carry themselves, as they are constantly judged for the way they behave. If a young girl is too loud or boisterous, people tell her, “thee anhenkudhin ulhey gotheh noon”! And, while men can easily have a tea break at the local ‘sai hotaa’, the second a woman enters one, everyone stares in judgment. Why? Well, one Twitter user said that it was because these places are ‘too dirty’ for women. Here I thought good hygiene was important to everyone, regardless of gender!
But the stigma around feminine traits not only harms women. It harms men too. A similar set of invisible rules are written for men as well. Little boys are told to not express their emotions, because that’s what girls do. “Ey firihen kudhinneh nuroane ehnu?”, some parents would say. Boys are not allowed to like certain colors, because that’s what girls like. As if being ‘girly’ is the worst thing they could possibly be. They are brought up in a patriarchal system, where there are belittled and called ‘less of a man’ for being associated with anything that is feminine. This sociopolitical system perpetuates harmful and limiting gender roles, and it is, to put it simply, toxic.
So, how do we break this cycle that is so deeply rooted in our society? How do we achieve equality in a country where the patriarchy is still alive and thriving? By focusing too much on the word ‘feminism’ itself, we are drawing attention away from trying to answer these pressing questions. We are diverting the conversation onto less important issues, thereby giving power to the actual misogynists, misandrists and sexists out there.
I am a feminist. And I’ll admit, I have been sexist in the past.
I have judged girls for the clothes they wore, thinking that they were trying to impress someone and/or thinking that they would attract negative attention. I have done other sexist things too, but this is the way society has conditioned me to think. In order to better ourselves, we must accept this and learn from our mistakes. We must call out on our friends and family who still parrot this old-fashioned line of thinking. Then, hopefully, we can raise a generation that is free from the shackles of misogyny. Unless and until we reform our society, through inclusive education and awareness, there’s no way we can smash the glass ceiling in this concrete jungle we live in.
Personally, I have changed a lot since I was 16. Like many others, I used to be under the impression that feminism is a movement focused only on the liberation of women, because after all, we were deemed the oppressed of the genders. But I have come to realize that feminism is honestly so much more than that. It is the social, economic and political equality of everyone, for everyone, irrespective of sex.
I am a feminist. And now, I wear this title proudly.