There is someone I personally know who would surely impress you when you look at them from afar: a truly self-made, highly accomplished cis-het, upper caste, middle class woman in her early 30s. Let’s call her MN. Growing up in not-a-very compassionate household from her childhood, MN learnt almost everything she knows today on her own, either by reading or through practice. Initially when the two of us met, she was someone I’d developed much respect for.
After years of being out of touch, when we reconnected again, MN was no longer the person I knew. Her dressing style had completely changed, but she had always been adaptable for her environment. No comments on anyone’s appearance, no sexist views, just saying that she had changed. The real shock was when, after yet another decade, discussions about marriage came up (like they do in the life of any 30-s single); I got to see an entirely different side of this professionally accomplished woman. She said things like,
“There is so much hair fall that I’ll soon be bald, and that means, not many men will be willing to marry me.”
“Having only one child is unacceptable. I should have at least two children. I need to somehow get married soon, or I’d not be able to conceive.”
“I myself am not all that slim. I am fat. And not fair-skinned either. That again means that most men wouldn’t accept me, anyway, so he’s one of the few options I have left.”
I always thought of MN as a feminist even if she never spoke about feminism and patriarchy because she had broken cultural stereotypes in STEM, in academics and career through years of hard work and commitment. What made her say things like this today? Had MN also fallen prey to the patriarchal standards set by the society? See, this is what happens when you focus on women’s empowerment in the form of education and employment alone, and completely leave out social inequality.
Allow me to explain.
Keshab Chandra Mandal says that there are five types of women’s empowerment:
1) Social Empowerment, 2) Educational Empowerment, 3) Economic Empowerment, 4) Political Empowerment, and 5) Psychological Empowerment.
There is no doubt about the power that education and employment can give an individual. The more educated they are, the more aware and confident they become. It is for this reason that social reformers and feminists like Savitribhai Phule and Dr Ambedkar advocated for women’s right to education. Thanks to those who fought for us decades and centuries before, a considerable part of the womenfolk now enjoy their right to education in various fields that were traditionally considered appropriate only for men.
Next, financial freedom is just as important as educational empowerment is for any individual; it is even more important for the oppressed for obvious reasons. It is with economic empowerment that women can and do become independent, ridding themselves financially of the clutches of patriarchy.
But would these two forms of empowerment—education and employment—alone suffice for a woman to enjoy all her rights and dignity as a human being in a society? No, not until men continue to govern from places of power through politics and leadership in public and private spaces. That is why we need women to have political power and to take up leadership roles as well. In the present day, we see that feminism has allowed empowered women to break oppression and accomplish in the fields of academics, career, research, and politics.
So why does the fight against patriarchy still continue?
Because there’s a long way to go for gender equality when it comes to social norms, unfortunately. As we can see in the case of MN, or even otherwise, empowered women are still oppressed, and what’s worse, they don’t even seem to realise that! It is for this reason that thousands of men support women’s empowerment in education (degrees and doctorates) and employment today. Even if they might not be willing to give leadership roles to women that easily, at least women in liberal and privileged circles are encouraged to study and earn their own living.
But, there’s everything for men to gain when women’s empowerment is restricted only to certain areas by men. This way, a woman can be the modern-day wife, not the yesteryear housewife, but a different kind of a wife – someone who earns more or less the same as her husband would, and would still be under her husband’s control and fear the society till her last breath. This way, men can still control what a woman can and can’t wear, where a woman can and can’t go, and basically, how she should live.
What is the point of education, research from premium institutes, having a career in areas of science and technology, or sports, or running one’s own business, or even being a politician or part of decision-making committees if a woman can’t think and act on her own outside her office or laboratory?
This is not empowerment!
This is akin to producing gadgets with more advanced features because the old models are no longer useful or efficient enough. Women are still seen as inferior, as objects with no life. All of us know at least one MN within our own circle. Women who agree to this new system of ‘empowerment’ are just conditioned to upgrade themselves as the misogynists want them to, so that men would benefit the most ultimately, while women can be manipulated into thinking that they are achievers and “proper family women”. This again is conditioning, a newer version of misogyny.
If this is the case for ‘educated’ cis-het, privileged women, imagine how hard it would be for the underprivileged?
To put an end to this, to achieve gender equality, we need to work on social empowerment and psychological empowerment too, so that women need not worry or even think about gender stereotypes and gender roles in their own home and outside on the street. All that is healthy and considered normal for a man should be considered normal for women and people of all genders too.
Also read: Is 2020 Redefining Women Empowerment?
Please keep in mind that when you let a man control you, you also make life difficult for other women in your own family and within your circle. On the other hand, when you empower yourself fully, you set an example for other women and pose a threat to misogyny. Let us all empower ourselves individually and collectively to fight against patriarchy on all levels. Cheers to gender equality!