Friday, January 12, 2007

Feminism and Such

As always, I was wasting some time this morning surfing the web and came across this post , a nicely written expression of venom against this guy and that, the first of which was expressing the view that "Feminism is all wrong" (he did not quite know what he was talking about and if he had just left the word feminism out, would have gone unnoticed) and the second guy was saying something along the lines that "women should not wear (underwear) revealing clothes" (I read this when Desipundit first featured it and laughed because it seemed to imply that skin is OK, underwear is the problem!) and this other rather strongly worded protest against these guys.

Two things struck me about this whole thing. Firstly, when I read the posts that caused the uproar subsequently, my thought was that this whole man-woman issue is too multifaceted for anyone that thinks straight to have an opinion without parenthetically clarifying context and scope of said opinion. You cannot just randomly say something sweeping and be expected to be taken seriously. But then, the outbursts mentioned above happened because the authors did take them seriously enough to want to respond. I was surprised by the very justified passion it aroused in them and failed to arouse in me. That immediately presented two tasks for me. One, I have to stop and think as to what I thought Feminism was and how I felt about things associated with it. And two, what is the reason I do not feel the passion that some others do. This post is an attempt to do a little of both.

A reasonable definition of feminism is a movement that tries to ensure social, political and economic equality for women (not the ability to lift 80 kgs as defined by the first guy mentioned above, NOT physical). Now, notice that all of the above, social, political and so on are based on achieving a consensus among a large enough group of people. It is not like science or somethings like that that have an absolute truth of sorts associated with them. At the present time, we appear to have attained the latter two objectives of the feminist movement for most parts. The law does not distinguish between a man and a woman in most parts of the world today (the exceptions to the above statement need more specific considerations, that is beyond the scope of this post). So the only thing that remains is the social aspect of things. The consensus concept mentioned above takes a hydra headed form now. Let us consider the rather simple point the second guy mentioned above was thinking about, namely modesty in clothing for women. The reason this phenomenon evolved (on some social time scale, not biological time scales) into a consensus was Freudian in some sense. When civilization came about, people realized the value of conformity. When all women in a society look the same at all times EXCEPT your wife in your bedroom, then sexual fulfillment for both partners is enhanced. This is important for reproduction AND for the overall sense of well being for all concerned (this is where Freud comes in) and hence a good thing over all (I realize that I have to substantiate this claim some more, by first telling you why conformity among women is more important than among men and giving you some references, but not tonight, too lazy). But as with all such consensus, it has outlived its usefulness for, conformity in today's context is irrelevant as you have access to the whole world (through the movies and the Internet and such) and the people in your immediate vicinity conforming does n't mean a thing and you can never make the whole world conform to anything. But reaching the new consensus, namely that the old one about conformity is not relevant will take time and effort (sometimes in the form of the bloggers mentioned above that expressed their venom).

On a slightly different track, most of the survival issues in life are taken care of for us at this time in our evolution as a society (at least for all of us that can blog and read bogs for sure). And hence we can think of other things. This is illustrative of Socrates' words "Slavery is essential for the advancement of civilization" or words to that effect. Somebody must take care of the basic survival essentials before we can start thinking about other things. In this day and age we have electricity (or some other equivalent power source) that does this for us, draw water, provide fuel to keep warm or cold or whatever, cook food, wash clothes and so on. If I was sitting here and cataloging these same thoughts on a papyrus scroll 2000 years ago, I would have had slaves take care of these other things. So, as a society, we have more time for objective thought and logical deduction. When we utilize this time to think clearly we realize that we (all bloggers and all others that are in the equivalent economic strata that choose not to blog) now live in an almost purely intellectual world, "I think, therefore I am" kind of thing. Then, it naturally follows that women must be allowed equal opportunity in everything. We have to admit that we are physically different, we can bear children, they cannot. But intellectually, there is nothing established scientifically or otherwise that says women are lesser in some way (ignoring some things in the Quoran while making this statement). So, after this long rambling, I am allowed (I think) to restate the objective of the Feminist movement as being able to afford an upbringing to all children in the future that does not distinguish them based on their gender except in the very basic physical sense? What this would do is eliminate "nurture" from the "nature vs nurture" question and allow us to look at nature itself, and how it distinguishes, if at all, between man and woman. That kind of brings me to the end of the first point I raised, namely what does Feminism mean to me.

Now onto the second point. Why don't I feel very strongly about this? A one sided and rather stupid comment like the ones mentioned above should make my blood boil. Should n't it ? In the course of this rambling about Feminism above, I have realized that the reason this is not the case is rather personal in the sense that it has no global validity beyond me as an individual, i.e., they have no statistical relevance. Hence I will relegate them for some subsequent post (Hint: I was brought up in a relatively ultra liberal household; I am a woman in a man's world viz., theoretical physics). Got to go now anyway.

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