A Woman's Aspirations Do Not Lie In Becoming A Man
Why movies like "Queen" get women's empowerment all wrong
The other day I was told that the much ooh-ed and aah-ed Bollywood film 'Queen' was the first film in Bollywood that 'got feminism right'. Queen I thought, was much like any Hollywood chick-flick- to use that generic term that harpers of feminism abhor. The female protagonist successfully focuses the entirety of the two hours on her male counterpart by agonizing over her unrequited love for him. She even dedicates her dramatic climax with an epiphany that comes with travelling to the West and indulging in her newfound freedom with a makeover and a radical transition of character which obviously leads to her realising the grapes were sour after all and finding liberation in freeing herself from the clutches of the man. To every girl sitting in that theatre who felt that rush of adrenalin when she walks away from the man, I get what you mean. The woman seems like the champion of womanhood. But that feeling lasted only a moment and then words like 'empowerment' and 'liberation' felt like an irritating itch that I couldn't stop clawing at.
It irritated me that my independence depended on my relationship or lack thereof with a man. My liberation comes with being able to make it to the top of Eiffel Tower without a man. My confidence comes with being able to dance in an alcoholic trance in the anonymity of a crowded pub. My sense of self-worth comes with being able to earn a few euros selling some strange notion of nationalistic fervor. My freedom comes with being everything I was not and finding a new identity not bound by the shackles of the naiveté of the stereotypical small-town Indian girl. Not being naïve, I understand. The rest I want to make a strong case against. Why is it that women have to fight their fight to find their place within the system when the system itself has been created to keep them in the periphery? To find the answer to this question, let's look at the genesis of this system that thrives on inequality of economy and find how inequality of gender stems from that.
A Marxist feminist would say that the upper class woman is decidedly better off than a working class woman, but all women irrespective of classes would still be part of the proletariat because it is a class oppression not of just economy but of dissent in the created and established sense of normativity. In simple words, there are those who conform and those who don't to what is accepted to be normal. Those who don't become the large masses in the periphery, all falling into a bin with the banner of the 'other': deviants. How do we know who the deviants are? This knowledge has been disseminated effectively through our language system. Human beings are associative animals. We associate certain words, not with a strong understanding of its meaning but of the connotations that we learn to associate it with. We don't understand why certain things are good and others are bad, but we do know that they are good and bad. What words are these you may ask? If I were forced to be political, take the word democracy. One does not have to quote Abraham Lincoln to know what a democracy is. What everyone knows as common sense is the fact that democracy is good and what it means is just a bunch of words that all mean good. What are the other words that we associate with democracy that also bring up positive connotations? Liberty, freedom, equality, justice for all. These words are all interconnected and all fall within the overriding importance attached to the positivity of the word democracy. My intention here is not to analyse whether democracy is a good or bad form of government but to say that it has been established as the ideal form of government. Now these good terms are what is considered normal, common, mainstream. So if democracy is the good word, what is the bad word? Communism. The associative words? Marxism, Maoism, anarchy, naxalism, terrorism, dictatorship, fascism. Again all under the umbrella of the one common bad word: communism.
So the notions perpetuated through language give us an idea of the acceptable and the unacceptable in society. The case I am making here is not simply to explain how it is disseminated through language, but to point out to the fact that it has been created; created for a specific purpose. So, if the female protagonist in Queen found her happy ending dependent on everything mentioned above and we with a tidal wave of feministic spirit approve and connect to her 'freedom' and 'independence'. This unquestioned approval must find its debate in answering how and why these feelings were generated.
Once again, I turn to the Marxist feminist analysis of the genesis of gender equality that finds its base in the formation of class inequality. Through Marx's dialectical materialism we understand that society progresses in different stages. In the first there was absolute equality or 'primitive communism' where all mankind lived in an economically equitable society and women were just as important as men. With evolution and innovation however, an economic surplus was created and to claim his right to this surplus even when incapable of contributing to the economy himself, man found the solution with the concept of inheritance. When it was realized that the child a woman is bearing could belong to one man only, men also realized that they must stake claim to the woman to protect the rightful heir. With this came the concept of marriage and monogamy, so that man could claim ownership of not just the child but the wife to take care of this child. Thus, the role of the woman now changed and her body was kept from manual labour that earned her a place in the economy and forced her to embrace the only other means of survival. Earn her living through the charity of a productive member of the economy and this gave birth to the perpetual state of dependency of woman to man.
What this explanation- scientifically based or not- establishes is that because of class inequality accentuated with the system of capitalism, a place in society is guaranteed with a ticket of economic contribution. This is why the economically handicapped woman has been the bone of contention in movements like Women in Development and Gender and Development. Different feminist waves centered women's rights issues around equal pay, educating women and guaranteeing employment. What these feminist waves succeeded in doing is embrace the idea that for women to feel empowered they must become equal contributors to the economy. What happened with the already prevalent gender inequality in the era of capitalism was that the opportunists found that they could turn feminism into a business venture. Through popular culture and the burgeoning advertising industry they propagated the ideas of a liberated woman. The free woman works with men in an office, the free woman smokes and drinks and is free to explore her sexuality just like men, the free woman makes her own choices. But what are these choices? If a woman decides to engage herself in household work, she is not considered free even if it was her choice and she is happy.
While struggling to turn a woman's life into an economically viable one because the system has no place for you otherwise, the feminists or just the women don't realize that they shouldn't have to fight for a place within the system but fight the system that creates and perpetuates such ideas. Because of development policies that are harangued with economic checks on growth like GDP,GNP and GNI countries are forced to keep money flowing in the market. The feminist market has created a niche for just that. It either enforces the ideas of a liberated woman contributing to the decadence of consumerism and corporatization or reinforces the preconceived notion that stay-at-home women are inferior to men (and working women). What this effectively does is maintain the role of woman as a means to an end, whether to give birth to an heir or champion the mirage of equality of capitalism/democracy. One economic agenda subsumes into another political agenda as each is the offshoot of the other, as with anything that is considered normal. Sometime back norms were culture specific, but with economic globalization policies seeping through countries with rapidity imposing capitalism and democracy as cleansing solutions there is just one language to culture. And that which flows from the core is simply slapped onto and adapted by the periphery.
That irritable itch that came with Queen was not the result of a bad film that was consciously seeking to manipulate women. It was an itch that came with the ready acceptance of what a woman's independence and liberation was based on. A woman must be given opportunities but that unique to each woman and unique from men. Feminism itself becomes androcentric when it struggles to fight for a place within the system, because capitalism is the ideology of the core and women still remain the periphery.
The proletariat's aspirations do not lie in becoming the capitalist. The woman's aspirations do not lie in becoming a man.