The term “feminist” often evokes a quagmire. Depending on who you ask, this controversial term takes on different interpretations.
The archetype feminist is a ball crushing careerist, a strong woman who defies the shackles of traditional womanhood. She breaks the age old mould of dutiful wife and mother and forges ahead, shunning bras and hair removal. She ignores conventional stereotypes and hires domestic help. She is a man with a vagina.
Proponents of this idea of feminism will no doubt pour scorn on women who have chosen to take on more conformist roles. A whole repertoire of dismissive terms has been formulated to mock females who have supposedly betrayed the notion of feminism. Entire professions have been trivialised in the name of feminism!
However, in our fixation to take women forward, have we forgotten the essential ingredient in feminism? That concept called choice.
In days of yore, women were relegated to domesticity. They did not have the freedom to choose what they wanted to do with their lives. Their roles were imposed by society and constricted by the social mores of that time. Women were thus subjugated and consigned to the same fate regardless of their individuality, personalities or abilities. In the early days of emancipation, the focus was therefore to push women into new roles they never had the opportunity to explore (such as careers on par with men, the option to have a life apart from husband and children, the right to flaunt their sexuality and above all, their entitlement to take pride in being female)!
As the idea of equality between the sexes took root, women no longer had to perform a role that society dictated for them. They were now free to decide the life they wanted (more or less). In that euphoria of a first taste of freedom, women marched the streets, cutting up their bras as a symbolic gesture of breaking free from convention. Those days have passed and by and large, modern societies accept that women are equal to men.
Be that as it may, the feminism movement is far from dead and is always evolving to take on new challenges that affect women. However, in its quest to promote the cause of women, it has somehow deviated from its original mission – to give women a choice! A trend of reverse feminism seems to have developed such that women are now judged if they choose to wear plunging necklines or stay at home to bake cookies. It is as if the definition of feminism has become so narrow that it cannot accommodate the differing choices of women! Was that ever meant to be true feminism?
Let’s go back to basics and explore what the feminist movement was truly fighting for. It was not fighting for women to overthrow men; it was actually a fight for the freedom to choose. So if a woman chooses to be home maker and mother, she should not be dismissed as a cop out. Similarly, if a woman makes an informed decision to be a stripper or a prostitute, she should not be labelled as a slut promoting the objectification of women. Instead, she should be applauded for bravely exercising her freedom of choice.
When Wendi Deng first married Rupert Murdoch, many flippantly called her a “trophy wife”, a “gold digger” and a “soft touch”. She was either a wily social climber or a bimbo who married for money, depending on who you asked.
All that changed in her valiant defence of her husband when she gave an unsuspecting Jonnie Marbles a taste of her right palm when he threw shaving foam on the elder Murdoch. Jon Snow, Channel 4 anchor described her as a “heroic protector of a fading genius”. Overnight, Wendi Deng’s reputation was transformed. From marriage wrecking whore and ambitious social climber, she became “tiger woman”, a feminist icon and a force to be reckoned with. For the first time in her marriage, she was viewed seriously by the public.
Perhaps Wendi Deng is the living definition of a modern day feminist (morality aside). A woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. A woman who combines the charms of the “fairer sex” with a steely determination. A woman in control.
Feminism is of course not about bravely standing by your man, nor is it about being able to land a decisive punch on your husband’s assailant. But it is quintessentially about the credo that women should be as free as men. Free to marry whoever they like for whatever reason they like. Free to ruthlessly climb the social or career ladder. Free to choose whether to be a submissive Stepford wife or a goal getting executive. Free to display her body if she so decides without the need to justify and free to wear a burkha if she so chooses.
Bringing back choice into the concept of feminism is going back to the very foundation of the movement itself. In our zest to promote the cause of women’s liberation, we must not exchange one set of stereotypes for another. What women fought so hard for was not for another typecast but for the ability to choose the type of woman they want to be.
Caitlin Moran, a journalist and author once offered an instant guide to interpreting whether one was a feminist.
“Look inside your pants” she counselled. “Do you have a vagina?” “And do you want to be in charge of it? “ If the answer is yes, she suggested, then you are a feminist.
Ghui is a lawyer but should really be Prime Minister.