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Case Study: To understand the meaning of Feminism in

Symbiosis Viman Nagar Campus


By
Anuraag Srivastava (16060441002),
Bidisha Ghosh (16060441006),
Evelyn Pamela Tete (16060441012)
Abstract:
The aim of the case study is to understand the meaning of feminism in privileged setting. The
assumption in this case study is that Symbiosis is a privileged setting where people are
exposed to modern liberal ideas and are in financially stable position to lead a comfortable
life. The attempt of this case study is to trace the roots of patriarchy in such a setting and
understand the factors behind it. The case study also attempts to understand the role of gender
constructs in enabling the perpetuating patriarchy and how this issue can be overcome.
Keywords: Feminism, Patriarchy, Gender Roles, Rights.
Introduction
Charles Fourier first coined the word Feminism in 1837. Feminism can be defined as a
range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to
establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women. However
feminism has been defined in a number of ways by many scholars. As researchers, our idea
was to first put forth what we think Feminism is. We came up with the following definitions:
Feminism can be defined as a theory which believes in equality of man and woman and
proposes to dismantle the gender stereotypes which encourages patriarchy (Anuraag)
Feminism is equality of the sexes and is aimed at uplifting both men and women. (Bidisha)
Feminism is a theory that believes in equality of men and women (Evelyn)
To understand the meaning of Feminism, it is important to not only understand what
feminism is but also look into various factors like perception of feminism, identification with
the word, upbringing of the participant, culture, gender roles, education and the region the
participant belongs to.
Methodology
The methodology used for this case study was taking open ended interviews. The questions
were designed specifically for two sets of participants- students and faculty. The questions
largely followed the following pattern:
1. What according to you is Feminism?
2. Do you consider yourself a Feminist?
3. Have you faced any discrimination owing to your gender in the region you belong to/in
your workplace/in Pune city?
4. Do you think the images that primary education brings us with helps to strengthen the
gender constructs that society has created and helps perpetuate patriarchy?
5. Do you think certain traditions that are discriminatory towards woman, for example,
woman not allowed to enter temple premises in certain places, be allowed to continue or do
you believe that reformation and education is needed even when it comes to culture?
6. Do you support the concept of paternity leave?
7. Do you think men feels pressurised to act certain way because of how feminine qualities
are looked down upon both in men and women? For eg, Men are told not to be expressive.
Do you think this only worsens the effects of patriarchy?
8. Would you judge someone who chooses to be a house husband?
9. Are you open to dialogue about feminism and gender roles in your class?
These above questions led to other question as per the participants answers, the findings of
which will be presented in the next section.
Findings
1. Definition
Various definition came up in the interviews which largely fell in the following categories:
1. Unequal means of achieving equality.
2. Equal rights and equal status for both the genders.
3. A stereotyped word which does not pay consideration to the differences that exist between
a man and woman.
4. In Indian context, gender equality but the equality is largely over exaggerated in the
context of any nation outside India.
5. Extremist outlook where one gender, in this case, female look to overpower male.
6. A concept that needs to be internalised, focussing on woman empowerment.
7. Empowerment to make decisions for oneself, to lead ones life the way they want to.
8. Feminism is freedom.
9. Equal rights for all marginalized community.
10. Representation of both the sexes ensured because of Feminism.
These definition covered two extremes, with some people considering it to be an extremist
outlook, even likening feminism to what can be termed as matriarchy while others
considering it to be ill informed movement trying to justify equality between men and women
even though they believe that it is not the reality. Some believed that regional context is
needed to truly understand the meaning of feminism while others stuck to definition that
advocates for equality. Another interesting facet that came up was that feminism is not just
limited to women but it is a movement to emancipate and give voice to all the marginalized
communities who have been victims of patriarchy including the LGBT community.
2. Perception/Identification
Interestingly less than 50% (47.05% to be precise) people identify as feminist. There were
four observations made with regards to how people see themselves identifying with
Feminism.
First, there were people who believe Feminism is a movement aimed to project women
superiority to men. These people did not identify as feminist. This group constituted majority
of the people who do not identify as one. Second there was a group who believed feminism
aims to be movement of equality yet they do not see themselves as feminist. This group
showed reluctance to be labelled as one owing to how feminism has received negative
connotation. Third, there was a group of people who were unsure about being labelled as
feminist as they were unsure about the definition and hence chose to identify as feminist only
going by their own definition. It consisted of 14.5% of total interviewed. And fourth, the final
group showed strong approval of feminism. This group was 31% of the total interviewed.
What was interesting to observe was that there was a large section of people who believed in
equality of both the genders but showed disapproval for the term feminism. The reasons
given were that feminists have harmed the cause of women more than they have helped.
Some pointed about the vested interest and propaganda that goes about with feminism. There
were people who believed that women has achieved equality with men in many areas already
and legally in many countries. However they continue to fight over trivial matters.
Incidentally, majority of the respondents who disapproved of feminism were also women.
Some asserted that in the current times it is the men who face much more discrimination than
woman and could easily relate to their struggles because of the feminist agenda than
woman. Some showed strong disapproval for the western conception of feminism and
believed that there needs to be an Indian conception of what feminism is to identify as one.
There was a group of people who believed in woman empowerment but claimed that
feminism also tries to disempower men at the same time at the cost of women.
These perceptions as per our definition of feminism showed deep rooted patriarchy. There
was a lack of clarity with regards to definition of feminism observed. It was interesting to
note that there was a certain group of people who believed that feminism is equality and then
went on to state that even though they support equality, they are hesitant about being labelled
as feminist which pointed to the negative identity that feminism as a term has formed in the
minds of many.
3. Upbringing/Region of Residence
Upbringing plays an important factor in shaping our views about society. We believe that
upbringing to a large extent shapes our perceptions of life and gender roles as well largely
decides the origins of patriarchy in our perception. One of the assumption that was part of
this exercise was that growing up in an environment where both the parents seem at equal
footing would instil a sense of perceiving both the genders at parity in every aspect. For most
cases, this is true. But again, due to distorted view of feminism, going by our definition of it,
there were respondents who even though believed in equality yet did not believe in the word
feminism. Most of the respondents noted that the region one is born in plays a vital role.
When asked about the condition of women in Saudi Arabia, 100% of the respondents agreed
that Feminism is needed in a country like Saudi Arabia where there is lack of woman rights.
But some added that India does not need Feminism as compared to Saudi Arabia. There were
also a view that there is very little research done on feminism in Indian context and the
western idea of feminism cannot fit the Indian society. There needs to be an alternative theory
that takes into account the specific conditions related to India to understand feminism.
4. Education, Culture and Gender Roles
The idea behind education as a factor came up in discussion after our observation that in
primary education there are certain images that are associated with gender which could have
subtle negative impact in future. So when a gender is assigned to a doctor, the image is
usually of a man while when the nurse is usually shown as a woman in our primary
textbooks. When a kid grows up with such images, he or she finds it unusual when he or she
sees a male nurse and tends to ridicule it. These kind of gender constructs also play in
important role in fuelling patriarchy but also at the same time is an important factor for
negative perception of many marginalized communities.
There were various opinions received about the education. It was noted that ideas about
equality are not just shaped by the formal education received in schools and colleges but also
largely moulded by the informal education received at home or through peers. One important
point that came up was that right education at an early stage about gender constructs and
exposing children to right images could help in weeding out patriarchy to a large extent.
Another important consideration is the perception of teachers and parents who are educating
the children and in turn shaping their ideas of society. For instance, when in a co-education
school, a young boy as a punishment is forced to sit with a girl, it reinforces a negative
perception of how the genders are perceived. Hence this kind of sensitization should also be
done for the trainers as well.
When it came to the topic of reservation, there was a significant proportion of respondents, of
about 25% people interviewed, who were against the idea of reservation of woman in
education and believed that certain financial factors need to be taken under consideration
when providing for reservation. However most respondents agreed that in Indian context,
certain incentives like free education for woman can be given to encourage increased
participation of females in schooling. A significant 87.5% of respondents also believed that
they would be interested in having a dialogue around these issues.
Culture also plays an important role in determining many of the ideas that define our
perception. When asked about whether cultural practises like not allowing woman in certain
temple premises or following a dress code as per religious tenets be allowed to continued just
because it so far has been part of their culture even if it is clearly discrimination against
woman, most of the interviewed responded by saying it is up to the individual to choose
whether they want to continue practise such customs or not. However when quizzed whether
information be provided about the various alternatives present to the custom that is being
practised, most of the respondents i.e. 87.5% vouched for informed choice where education is
provided about all the choices that an individual has with its implication and let the individual
then decide whats better for her.
Men too felt that there is a sense of conforming to masculinity construct provided by the
society that they have felt in their life. Often times they have been either ridiculed for having
feminine traits or qualities or any perceived behaviour, for example- being expressive,
sensitive or crying to something as mundane as wearing pink, or have ridiculed someone for
having these traits. An interesting idea that came up in one of the interviews was to have
Masculinity Lab where masculinity as a concept is studied and redefined because it has
complementary effect on how woman are perceived in society. There was consensus that
emancipation of one gender, even if the male gender was believed to have had more
privileges compared to woman by most respondents, would have a trickledown effect to
emancipate the other gender too as both the genders and the issues they face are intrinsically
linked.
Conclusion
We understood that there was not a clear definition of feminism that arose from all the
interviews. However we understood that every version of feminism is intrinsically linked to
the social constructs of gender and the conditioning by the society in form of upbringing,
education and culture that people grew up in that has played a vital role in defining individual
ideas. What we gathered was that the majority view of feminism was negatively but was also
largely complemented by rigid views when it comes to cultural practises and lack of
awareness of the actual condition of woman as compared to men in a society. There was a
visible hesitance to claim the status of a feminist for even people who championed the cause
of equality and strove for the values that our version of feminism strove for.