On ‘mansplaining’ and ‘girl power’

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    What is so wrong with women demanding their rights independent of men?

     

    Agnostics love preaching to the choir. Women’s demands have often been reduced to their struggle for ‘girl-power’ or their pathological need to be the centre of attention. To counter these negative attitudes and frequent criticisms, feminists on the Internet have built an elaborate language. To their credit, it is gaining more strength, amassing more followers and informing more people. Recent jargon coined by the sheer genius of Internet necessity has gone viral.

    Feminism has made remarkable strides in face of this vindictive, unoriginal, caricaturised, petty and wounded defensive victomology of men. While there are men who are feminists and acknowledge the need for an organised representation of women, others tend to lament a lack of recognition of their rights smack in the middle of capitalist patriarchy. This has become a master-status in some cartoonish promoters of male-rights that is sparked only in reaction to Internet-feminism. It is a frequently used weapon of these vigilantes to question feminists over what they think feminism is, and then ‘mansplain’, to use the clinical term, what it really means or should mean.

    At the risk of sounding like an unreasonable follower of First-World feminism, I would quote an impersonal instance of the usage of the word ‘mansplain’. A belief in the dictum ‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own’ proposed by American civil rights activist and poetess, Aurdre Lorde, is a given and I do not condone dismissal of the complex and unresolved issues that women in Pakistan face. Still, one cannot overlook the fact that Internet-discourse blurs the imaginary lines that separate ‘our’ feminism from ‘their’ feminism. While one is submerged in a sea of voices on social media, one forgets that the problems in one’s backyard might be totally different from those portrayed on the magic screen. This mention is not completely futile as it ties global considerations of feminism together in this concept reflected in the neologism, ‘mansplaining’. So, I recently came across an outraged reaction on part of feminists when their favourite Hollywood feminist-icon, Benedict Cumberbatch, was seen in an episode of TV-series, Sherlock (Abominable Bride), which ridiculed Victorian feminists by dressing them in tall purple hoods that looked like Klu Klux Klan-glory suits. These glory suits were comically reminiscent of the ones de rigueur in members of the Spanish Inquisition tribunal. Sherlock also goes on to ‘mansplain’ feminism and Victorian suffragette with a rather flawed sense of history — he claims that the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was founded in 1897. To top that, those feminists are portrayed as a man-slaughtering and irrational cult of demon-brides. Some said this was nothing to get offended about. These were, paradoxically, the same people who cried themselves to sleep when their favourite football club, from some obscure country, was dissed on television for losing. Of course, the assumption is that it is completely rational for a man to be offended about man-things.

    At the risk of sounding like an unreasonable follower of First-World feminism, I would quote an impersonal instance of the usage of the word ‘mansplain’. A belief in the dictum ‘I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own’ proposed by American civil rights activist and poetess, Aurdre Lorde, is a given and I do not condone dismissal of the complex and unresolved issues that women in Pakistan face

    The ‘enlightening’ and ‘instructive’ practice of mansplaining is like an epidemic with stark signs and symptoms. It has been there for quite some time but only recently were mansplainers critiqued and called out to for their partisan definitions of feminism. In a nutshell, the symptoms of mansplaining are:

    1. A man’s putting himself on the pedestal of being more-informed.
    2. Bearing this soul-crushing burden of more knowledge, spotting the error in your ways becomes their social duty.
    3. Starting with the assumption of superiority, going on to negate whatever you think feminism is and to propose an alternate definition.

    For example, coming up with the ‘tit-for-tat’ breed of feminism.

    To them, this type of feminism is a higher and more well-founded sort of feminist movement proposed by men. They think that when women bring up their issues, they should as a habit, address men’s issues and uphold slogans such as ‘equal rights for men and women’ and ‘alleviate poverty regardless of gender’, which sound like reasonable, righteous demands but invalidate the need for a separate political movement for women.

    What men are essentially suggesting is that in order to demand anything for themselves, women should give credence to certain stipulations first. They must remain dependent, meek, subservient and sycophantic for their interests to be heard. This seems a lot like a public representation of the male-female dynamic in the family unit. A woman must be docile and compromising in order to even demand liberation or the basic means for a good life. She must shed her own demands in order for them to be valid and bear the brunt of theirs instead.

    Vocally and vehemently promoting equal rights for men and women comes at the cost of blatantly committing a logical fallacy. It is simply the same logic that would apply to the sort of Marxism that would articulate demands for rights of the ‘bourgeoisie’ and the ‘proletariat’ across the board. What it is, is demanding rights for the over-privileged as well as the under-privileged. You cannot have the rich getting richer and the poorest of the poor being able only to afford a loaf of bread to alleviate poverty — it will defeat the goal of economic equality that you have set out to achieve. In order for there to be equality, you might have to strip the rich off of their privileges and distribute them among all classes without discrimination. The rich cannot both keep monopolising the economic system and ask for the poor to fight for their economic rights as well. This notion of equal representation and interest articulation, however judicious, goes against the basic considerations of a political movement, which is the existence of opposing binaries.

    What is so wrong with women demanding their rights independent of men? What is wrong with such exclusivity? I suppose, it almost invokes the sort of insecurity on part of men that masters would feel if they had their slaves roaming around free and asking for better life conditions from those willing to lend an ear. The master would expect that the freedom is asked off him politely while making sure his needs are also fulfilled. The master would not free his slave of shackles unless he is pleased with the slave’s acceptance that all freedom lies with him and that he has full authority over any semblance of independence. The woman, like the slave, lacks agency and is to remain an appendage, a cog, a part in the whole of a wholly patriarchal system. She must look to him to liberate her. This sounds almost hyperbolic but makes a lot of sense in the larger scheme of things.

    Another common way feminism is misconstrued as being blinkered is that feminists tend to forgo the most glaring and obvious issues in favour of ones that could be shoved to the background. Let’s talk about the poor and wretched instead of poor and wretched women. Coalesce the two, why mobilise two separate political movements? This logic, albeit noble and seemingly irrefutable, discounts that even if we talk about the poor, we aren’t really addressing what the damaging notions of ‘entitlement’ and ‘honour’ do to a man regardless of his economic class. He could be physically or sexually violent, disrespectful or unjust towards women.

    Feminism is misinterpreted as a man-hating narrative that operates on the principles of tribal justice — that it unjustly snatches away power from one to empower and emancipate the ‘other’, victimising the erstwhile powerful. It does not. On the contrary, it tries to help women as well as men to break free from gender-maps — the artificial constructs that dictate the way the member of a particular gender is supposed to dress, act or behave

    Feminism suggests educating the man who has the potential to commit such inhumane acts against women. It also suggests empowering a woman so she can avoid facing such hostility. It could well be bigoted, Pharaoh-ish and relentless and suggest to let such a man die because he might do all this out of frustration. Some may argue that it is because of his poverty that he is capable of being brutal to women. If that was the case, such instances would be completely absent in economically privileged classes but they are not. It is because he thinks he possesses ‘his’ woman and as a consequence of this unrelenting entitlement, thinks he has the right to do whatever he wishes with his object.

    A lot of people are of the view that a world ridden with more significant issues of gargantuan proportions can wait on a little bit of gender-disparity and solve the more pressing issues first. But that idea dismisses that the existence of terrorism, ethnic violence, discrimination, economic disparity, cultural hegemony of the west, humanitarian crises, political instability, struggle for power, and proxy wars does not render feminism irrelevant or superfluous. It becomes all the more important in an age where humanitarian intervention, economic reforms and peace-keeping are so widely needed as it ties itself to various systems of exploitation that cripple the world, for its explanatory power.

    Feminism is misinterpreted as a man-hating narrative that operates on the principles of tribal justice — that it unjustly snatches away power from one to empower and emancipate the ‘other’, victimising the erstwhile powerful. It does not. On the contrary, it tries to help women as well as men to break free from gender-maps — the artificial constructs that dictate the way the member of a particular gender is supposed to dress, act or behave. It helps disintegrate the roles set in stone by society for men and women that have nothing natural about them — they weren’t preordained and are merely constraints.

    American anthropologist Ralph Linton’s idea of consciousness suggests that a fish is not aware of the water it swims in until there is a crisis and it feels a jolt, a whirlpool or the drop of an anchor. Proponents of tit-for-tat feminism should, therefore, thank women for getting them to think about their own issues instead of disparaging the efforts of feminism. Feminism brought to surface things that we had taken for granted for ages; it became the voice of reason amidst deeply entrenched stereotypes that almost seemed natural. I hardly think feminism judges or discourages anyone for questioning the ethos of society. It should be credited for instilling a conscience in men and women alike to question our illogical social norms, for it possesses a soul-baring power to contemplate and to bring about comprehensive change.