Author: Dr. Vaneeta Aggarwal
It would not be wrong to equate women’s empowerment with democracy. Interestingly enough, some of the moments of triumph for both have overlapped each other. And it has happened often during the last couple of centuries. It is all too easy to equate the two as two complementary positive development shaping human history.
But what is democracy to the layman? Of course, the vote. And often, that comes in exchange for a liquor bottle or a decent small payment. These kinds of practices might be more widespread than you might be tempted to think in the developing world.
But isn’t democracy something greater? Is it not an awareness that lets the people sagaciously rule themselves?
The same is the case for women’s empowerment. For most people, it is a catchy buzzword that lends a golden halo to them or their organizations. The point is that it is something more significant than the surface of $100k salaries and hedonism. The end of women’s empowerment, like all higher order processes, is enlightenment. But the fact might be that women’s empowerment in education and employment leads to liberation and that they are merely steppingstones to women’s enlightenment or what netizens call woke. I would be going back to women’s liberation in a bit.
I remember seeing a recent job post where the candidate needed to deride men to qualify for the position. Is it not then replacing one bias with another? There is, in fact, the term for it in the feminist glossary- misandry.
Another important thing that women need to be particularly beware of the poser feminist or Woke misogynist. There are many such people, and you don’t need to research quotes that Jeffrey Epstein or Bill Clinton made before scandals brought their downfall. Lastly, SWERF’s or “sex worker exclusionary radical feminists” are not foul feminists.
Women’s empowerment is inextricably linked to feminism, so a brief overview of the various feminist schools will help us understand it better.
• Intersectional feminism
The intersectional school of feminism not only seeks equal rights for women. Instead, it examines the overlapping women’s identities on various parameters and how they are related to the discrimination and oppression women experience.
It refers to how people of this thought school view the liberation of transwomen to be equal to all other women and even other oppressed communities. They consider all members who identify themselves as feminine to be part of the larger female community. A fundamental point of this thought school is that all people have the freedom to choose their identity and who they are.
• Women of color feminism
The “color” school strives to clarify a colored woman’s unique struggles and combat the same. However, it also examines the forms of oppression that intersect for such women of color in many ways.
The terms refer to a particular ecological and social viewpoint inspired by the culture of Africana women besides all women of color spread all over the world
• Empowerment feminism
Empowerment feminism focuses on feeling liberated. However, other feminist schools criticize how unreliable it is as a measure of social support for self-expression and helping you prosper and flourish. Needless to say, that believers of this school undervalue how erratic, present sentiments can be and how easy it is to manipulate them. Isn’t it this “prevalent public sentiment” that kept them oppressed all this while?
• Commodity feminism
This school of feminism makes no bones about its commercial nature. The official line is that the movement seeks feminist goals and thinks making a profit is no unacceptable practice. Perhaps the most prominent example of such beliefs put into action is Ivanka Trump selling her lifestyle brand items through the #WomenWhoWork campaign.
• Equity Feminism or Conservative Feminism
The school can indeed be called the most male (read responsible) feminist school. They demand legal equality and don’t feel the necessity of believing that some patriarchal conspiracy kept them suppressed through the eras. However, the latter is indeed one legitimate way to look at things. Kellyanne Conway, an advisor of former President Donald Trump, puts it- “I look at myself as a product of my choices, not a victim of my circumstances, and that’s really to me what conservative feminism if you will, is all about.”
Waves of Feminism
Feminism as a thought school has the West as its base. But, of course, it’s been a west-led world for some time now. Like in other societal and economic matters, the West and its thought direct actions of influential people and organizations.
If you keep an eye on the calendars while charting out watershed moments in the women’s movements, it would be evident that there are three distinct push periods or waves. However, it is interesting to note that some feminist scholars challenge this “waves” notion. They give the inaccurate impression that women have not been fighting for their due rights in the intermediate periods. As for the “wave” observation, here they are:
First Wave Feminism- The first wave of feminism can be dated back to 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention. The convention aimed to discuss the condition of women from civil, social, and religious points of view. The movement remained strong till the inception of the 20th century and its early days. The movement reached a landmark moment in 1920 when lawmakers enacted the 19th amendment. The amendment gave women the right to vote. However, some discrimination in voting rights remained till the 60s of the previous century until when women of color faced discriminatory laws that prevented the right of suffrage.
Second Wave Feminism- During the sixties of the previous century, the second feminism wave picked up steam. The seventies were a crucial period for women when the efforts put in by noted feminists like Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan bore fruit. Huge strides in structural and legal equality were achieved for women during this period.
Third Wave Feminism- The nineties saw a revival of feminism, or rather the push for equality became more intense. In this period, feminism transformed into something far more inclusive and intersectional. It was during this period where feminism became free from rulebooks, and a personal interpretation became acceptable. The third wave experienced a significant boost from the rise of social media and the #MeToo movement. Perhaps, now is the time in history when women are best placed in western societies more than over. But that is no reason to let off the guards, and feminists need to carry forward the charge.
Dangers Faced By Feminism
Remember Leonard Cohen, the martyr? And a charming and stylish martyr at that. Remember his words- “The rivalry was vicious/ The women were in charge.” From a third-world perspective, it is not rare to find that the real tormentor of a woman is well another woman. Infighting, amorality, and rivalries are exactly what might make baser elements of patriarchy have the last laugh. Feminists need to keep in mind that their achievements were facilitated by the actions of enlightened men too. So, witch-hunts and playing the victim for personal egoistic vendetta might turn friends into foes. And in a constantly changing world where values are experiencing an upheaval, turning friends into enemies might do you an end.
The end of our species is not merely equality but enlightenment, being one with that larger cosmos. And that is to be gained only through a tireless search for truth.