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Feminism as a concept is one with a variety of different views. While to some it may seem like a rightful assertion of what they believe society should be, some believe it to be unrealistic and too idealistic. They believe that by relying too much on the principle of feminism, they are overdoing it, thereby resulting in the loss of the effect of the concept as such.
Feminism as a concept emerged during the late 19th century, where the important demands made were that of more rights in the public sphere, the right to vote, the right to own property, and obtain a reasonable education. (footnote book). As time went on, and women felt more and more comfortable with asserting their rights openly, newer topics like sexuality, reproduction, domestic violence, domestic labour etc, came into prevalence (footnote book). Feminists then believed that the major thing lacking in society was the fact that masculine ideas were being used in both the political and social fields. (footnote book).
The concept also aims to be relevant in the present day context. Feminists have tried to tackle issues such as single mothers handling a household, lower wages, especially in the present day, poverty and lack of education for most women, even today.(4)
Feminism in India has also been gaining some momentum with the new age. Women's magazines, women oriented television shows etc, are helping this new wave of feminism in the country.
This paper attempts to look at the variety of ways that woman oriented mediums aim to promote feminism in our country. It also tries to decide whether these mediums are promoting or in fact contesting the concept of feminism.
WHAT IS FEMINISM?
Feminism is basically an idea that aims to end all forms of sexism that exist in the world presently. There are however, several variations of what this sexism actually is, and the different ways by which it can be resolved. Also argued, is the role of a man or a woman in society, and what implications each gender has in society. Nevertheless, the feminist perspective provides interesting views on matters such as reproduction, sexuality, labour, poverty, racial discrimination
The meaning of the term feminism has differed greatly throughout the world. While in the U.S and the U.K it started out as being mainly a political wave, demanding for the right to vote, in other parts of the world writers have mainly looked at the injustices faced by women, although the nature of these injustices may not entirely be certain. In 1892, the first International Women's Conference was held in Paris. Only after this, did the word feminism start to be used in its serious sense in society. Second and third wave feminism was mainly generated to look at the shortcomings of earlier theories of feminism and avoid the domination of ‘white women', in the field. A sincere attempt was to be made to look at the views of coloured women and others as well.
An attempt to help the situation would be to look at feminism as a set of ideas and beliefs rather than looking at it as a political ideal. A lot of occurrences take place even outside the political sphere that ascertains the need to improve a woman's position in society. Although feminism may have started as focusing only on the legal and political aspects of a woman's life, it has broadened to the more social issues now.
Oppression is the feminist's key issue. Feminists fight to resolve oppression and ensure justice. Oppression is unjust and a woman, like any other person in society has a right to ensure that they obtain justice.
Another area where feminists argue the need for equality is the economic sector. It is believed that with the increase in economic equality, the society can become a better place to live in.
However, it may also be said, that at times sexism also works against men. There are instances where men also may come under the radar of being victims of sexism. But, it is commonly agreed upon that women usually suffer the brunt of inequality more than the men do.
Sexism, also just does not examine several harms that are committed, but looks at the fact that someone is harmed because she is a woman. There is no one single form of oppression that a woman faces, and that several forms exist and manifest themselves in a variety of ways even today.
Even though there are variations in the way feminists differentiate themselves from one another, an agreed framework is being sought after to monitor equality and growth of women. There will most definitely be a set of principles that all women will look to fight and ensure parity for women in society. Such principles may include, equal wages, reproduction etc. (book 15). One of the main requests of feminists has also been to give women more recognition in the public sphere. This is the only way that women would be looked as being worthy enough to be respected even at home. (15).
Liberalisation, also to a certain extent helped the cause of feminism. Liberal thought had its roots in rendering individual rights and giving an individual all the importance as may be necessary. The argument of being treated at an equal level with the men in society, sprung mainly from the liberal theory. Since the liberal theory believed that the only just and fair system was one that did not discriminate among individuals under any circumstance, feminists adopted this idea to their advantage. (26)
Thus, feminism is a doctrine aimed at ensuring that women are treated on par with men in society. Although the interpretations of this doctrine may vary from person to person, the main idea is common to all- that is the progress of women in the society at the same level as men.
FEMINISM IN INDIA
India, as a country from time long before, has been neglected in the sense that it is a third world country and is capable of offering only so much. The concept of feminism holding a high ground in such a country would not be feasible.
Women's Studies in India have been looked as a socio cultural subject as well as an effort to trace the role of women in the country and how it has changed. Footnote http://books.google.co.in/books?id=YICroPrSyz4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=feminism+india&sig=3ws6hFGtDrSM4hgxXZD6cknaKOU#PPA3,M1
As the 19th century dawned in India women were more open to creating new roles for themselves, some that men had not thought about creating for them. Pg 6.
The advent of the colonial rule was what proved to be most influential to the feminist movement in the country. With the coming of the colonial rule, women were exposed to what could be a life suited for them. There was a lot of debate concerning the fact that very difference between a man and a woman is what made women more apt for social roles, like that of a mother. However, women started organizing campaigns and joined organizations, their role as a mother was used to argue the fact that for this very reason they should be given access to education and overall emancipation.
Also, during the colonial rule, Gandhi had an effect on the growing perception of feminism in the country. He was hailed as the founder of the Indian feminist movement. His definitions of the qualities of a woman were used by a variety of women during the pre- independence feminist period. Women during the pre- independence period based most of their theories on the likeness rather than the difference in ideas they might have.
In post- independent India feminism achieved a slightly higher status than before. Women here asserted their rights to be treated equally and fairly within society. They dismissed the need for gender based structures in society and division of labour based on sex.
They believed that there existed only a biological difference between men and women and that under no circumstance should that affect the ability of a woman to be able to perform on par with men in the society. The role of being a ‘mother' and a ‘daughter' was widely emphasized in the earlier Indian times. This however changed and became more to do with depicting the helplessness of these women. There were pamphlets, exhibitions held to show the vulnerability of a woman and how it was being exploited by all people in society.
This in turn led to feminism being more open and resulting in there being a change of the image of a woman from someone helpless to someone economically strong and independent. While in pre- independent India it was accepted that a woman was socially backward and had only a certain fixed place in society, in the mid seventies, this changed drastically. All issues regarding unequal wages, pushing women into unskilled areas of labour were sought to be contested fiercely. It was believed that no woman, especially in that time was to be subjected to inequality.
Another reason why the issue of feminism gained heavy importance was that by nature, the Indian society was male dominated and most causes of problem arose out of this very difference. The sphere of what feminism would also look to abolish was also greatly widened. The body of a woman, which had been looked at, socially, as something very disposable was now treated with much more respect. Even legally attempts were made to provide solace and justice to those women who had been raped, that had not earlier been available. This was further broadened into marital rape and rape of prostitutes alike.
Women were to be treated as rightful members of society and had to be treated with equal dignity and respect. Towards the latter part of the twentieth century, women were to be given the right of self determination. They were looked as being capable of making their own decisions and therefore should be given a right to make all major decisions themselves.
After independence attempts were also made by the congress to make sure that women got equality under the constitution. Feminists were in fact the first ones to start and recognize the need to codify personal laws in the country. Suggestions were made even by Dr. B.R Ambedkar to make sure that women were given a strong status in society. The age of consent to marriage was increased; the age of when a woman can be married was also increased. Several reforms were also introduced to ensure the right of a woman to a divorce and property. (96)
The Hindu Marriage Act, The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act were also seen as being significant in ensuring all personal laws were codified and women had a right to claim their rights even in a court of law.Movements like the Shahada movement also became popular after the rise of feminism. The shahada movement aimed at resolving domestic violence, especially in the low down areas of society. If a man beat his woman up, he had to apologise to her in public.(101)
In addition to this, there were also anti-price rise demonstrations in Bombay and Bihar. With the advent of such movements, women became more comfortable with trying and portraying themselves in public and showing that they were also capable of doing something revolutionary in society. (102)Issues were raised to contest that a family was primarily looked at as a unit of consumption than a unit of production. Furthermore, women were looked at as being the main source of this consumption. So, whenever there was an economic problem, with respect to goods, a woman was always deemed to be at fault. (104).
In modern India also such issues of a woman's position in society is taken into account. Even now there are disparities regarding whether a woman should be allowed to work and step out of the house or not. It was also realized that what maybe feminism for women in the urban community may not be the same for those in the lower or rural communities. What has been analysed by many women today as being problems in the urban society may differ from those that are considered to be problems in the rural communities. A woman from the labour or working class of society will have a larger set of problems than say a woman living in the city with a job.(106)
Therefore, although there are irregularities regarding the actual position of an Indian woman in society, one thing that is certain, is that their role has been increasing steadily in society.
WOMEN'S MAGAZINES IN INDIA
Food, gossip, relationship advice, beauty tips, you name it; a woman's magazine has it. With the new age of liberal women, women's magazines are also gaining huge popularity among the masses of women. The women's magazines are an ideal way for a woman to spend her free time, and at the same time get advice on something she probably would not find elsewhere. These magazines have become so popular today that every bookstore and every library has copies of them. No woman, in today's day would deny having read any of these magazines at one point.
There are several leading women's magazines in the country now. Femina, Women's Era, Verve, Good Housekeeping, to name a few are the leading magazines sold in India currently. http://explore.oneindia.in/media/magazine/womens/
The trend of women's magazines was started mainly to infuse a new perspective in a male dominated society,as mentioned by a recently bought about magazine- Feministing. http://feministing.com/archives/004002.html
The issues dealt with in these magazines are that of educational opportunities for women, food, maintaining a home, relationship advice, advice to single mothers etc. The magazines look at issues that otherwise a woman would not be too comfortable talking about with to her family members. These magazines also provide suitable solutions for various issues a woman may face.
For example the magazine Femina, has divided its magazine into various sections, which include- food, health, beauty, relationship, homemaking, travel etc. Beauty and health sections, give you tips on how to maintain a healthy figure and to eat right. The relationship section gives you advice on all matters regarding relationships including how to start one, how to end one, issues regarding mother-daughter conflicts. Travel destinations are also explored thus givinG http://www.femina.in/