When we talk of [women’s] liberation, what are we talking about? What is liberation? Some people seem genuinely confused. Is liberation universal? Or, more precisely, is my idea of liberation the same as yours? Should it be? Is it natural for ways of liberation to differ? Is it only patriarchy we need to be liberated from (speaking from a gender perspective)?
In this post, I will try to clear up some of the confusion Indians (esp.) seem to have (no, I’m not being racist – it is a matter of awareness in the society as a whole. Most are not sure if marital rape should be a crime? No kidding. I will try to answer some common FAQs about that some other time).
First of all, what is [women’s] liberation? The most common accepted definition seems to be “equality in social, economic, and political spheres”. Some would specify the necessity of having the ability to make “free” choices. Some may talk about smashing gender roles. For some, it may be not having the social pressure to put makeup and “be pretty” before everything else. It varies, as I’ve said.
Freedom from gender-roles is freedom for men too, but this post is women-specific. (For eg, putting makeup may be liberation for some men – although, pressure to put makeup might not be. Just like pressure to have muscles).
Is liberation universal? Or, more precisely, is my idea of liberation the same as yours? The answer is – no, apart from “equality in social, political and economic spheres”, it’s not. The finer details vary according to a woman’s social position, i.e. a woman’s location in the larger map of society.
Confused? Let me give you an example – for a “higher-caste” woman, liberation may well be not wearing a bra (given the fact that upper-caste women are exhorted to maintain their “purity”, be docile, and not let their breasts hang out like “rowdy” women – women who “ask for it”) – a symbol of rebellion against patriarchal restriction(s) and oppression. By not wearing a bra, by being liberated, she may seek to define herself on her own terms – rather than being defined by patriarchal norms of how a “good [upper-caste] woman” should be.
On the other hand, for a Dalit woman traditionally not given the right to cover her body in many parts of India (it is reprehensible that such inhumane customs are STILL followed due to social pressures in a country which, ironically has “banned” untouchability and the like), WEARING a bra might be a symbol of liberation. By wearing a bra, she will be doing the same thing as the upper-caste woman in the previous example – that is, defining herself on her own terms rather than being defined by patriarchal norms of how a “lower-caste” woman should be.
It must be noted that in both these examples, caste – along with patriarchy, comes into play – which is why the “liberation” is so different. Also, caste is not the ONLY thing except patriarchy which comes into play in influencing a woman’s liberation.
Should it be? Is it natural for ways of liberation to differ? Yes, it is natural for ways of liberation to differ according to a woman’s social position. Above paragraphs have cleared this up, I believe.
Is it only patriarchy we need to be liberated from (speaking from a gender perspective)? Ah, now it is kind of complicated (at least for me). Yes, OF COURSE we need to be free from patriarchal BS of what it means to be a “good woman” but we also need to be free of pressures to conform to a particular form of liberation, which while making complete sense to another woman – may not be what you want, even though you both may belong to the same socio-economic class. Not wearing bras may be liberation for a “upper-caste” woman but it may not be liberation for you, even if you’re “upper-caste”. For you liberation may be related to some other aspect and that’s normal. If you like doing things assigned to your gender, that’s OK too and that’s where it gets tricky (again, for me). I believe that if you like doing something which doesn’t hurt yourself or others, nobody has any right to force you or shame you into doing something else. Of course, we shouldn’t discount the part socialisation has to play. We don’t make choices in a vacuum. So, in a way you have to be liberated from the “expectations” some feminists may have of how to smash the patriarchy.
This quote describes what I want to convey –
“Let me reiterate that to you: If facials or any other sex act makes you feel bad, gross uncomfortable or degraded, then you should not do it ever. That is wrong. But men aren’t the only ones who like things they see in porn. In my case, there’s nothing degrading about receiving a desired sex act I’ve asked for as a consenting adult. Sex acts are degrading when they make you feel degraded — and nobody gets to decide that but you, not even feminism.”
— Emily McCombs
The point I want to convey is – your liberation shouldn’t be dictated by anyone or anything. Liberation can differ and that is OK.
However, there is another thing I wanted to write about here. I have seen many feminists on the www shaming other feminists for their life choices – sometimes it is because they are “too radical” and sometimes it is because they are “not radical enough”. In fact, this post itself was inspired by a comment by a feminist about how she is “not the bra-burning type” and told “upper-caste” women who are so eager to not wear bras to think about how they got the right to wear it when many lower-caste women don’t even have the right to cover their body.
While it is certainly true that “upper-caste” women are far more privileged than “lower-caste” women, it does not mean that UC women should forget about challenging how patriarchy affects them in their own ways (be it wearing a bra or not or something else entirely) and it does not change the fact that dalit women, facing the disadvantage of both caste and gender (often referred to as “double dalits”) will fight patriarchy and casteism in their own ways, separate from how UC women fight.