11 November 2010

Is sex sexist? And, is something wrong with what women study?

Does heterosexual sex necessarily involve subjugation of women?

Is the feminist movement toothless or even unnecessary today?

If women can’t reach the same professional heights as men, is it because they studied the wrong subjects in school?

These are some of the questions being currently discussed in Germany as a result of a public spat between feminist and author, Alice Schwarzer (left), and the minister for families, pensioners and women, Kristina Schröder.

To me, it seems Schwarzer is looking at how child birth often pushes the woman out of economic production. Because, the value of reproduction, the value of a woman’s time and effort in reproducing a human being is still unaccounted for, taken for granted. Corporations myopically question what they are to gain from the reproductional function of women. But then they are quite adept at conveniently pretending they operate in a social vacuum, when it suits them to do so.

It is only in few countries like Sweden where mothers receive huge support in terms of maternity leave and childcare facilities. Other countries, even developed ones, are still dilly-dallying about what they should be doing for working mothers.

About the second question, it reminds of me something that happened in the first year of living in Kolkata. I was looking out of my office window when I saw some CPM cadres march by, shouting “Inquilab Zindabad!” I asked my boss what they were revolting against, what was their agenda, what was the revolution in the 21st century about? My boss, a CPM loyalist, was very offended and said something about keeping the spirit of revolution alive.

A movement loses fizz when its goals are reached or its members get compromised. Have the feminist movement’s goals been reached? Clearly, no. And, when I say no, it’s not only about how even competent women find it difficult to become the CEO of their company, but the ingrained, implicit, and often explicit violence that women are conditioned to bear and even propagate. So, have we women been compromised? Or, been led to believe that all’s well as long as we match up to men.

I sometimes think in terms of the three generations in my family: my grandmother worked shoulder to shoulder with my grandfather in the fields, cooked for him, and raised a family of nine kids.

My mother had to struggle to get through college, not because she could not afford it, but because it was not she who decided things in her life.

In my life, it seems however, that most important decisions are mine. Yet, when I peer at them, I find quite a few of them to be the result of conditioning so strong that I don’t even realise they are not mine.

Yet, the differences between my grandmother’s life and mine are profound. And, both she and my mother have always dinned it into me how important it is to a woman to have her own source of income.

To me, feminism is not about being equal to a man. It is about being recognized and treated as a human being. It is about being able to decide for myself. It is about being able to reach my potential unhindered by my gender. And, I recognize that a lot of these freedoms hinge on who controls the purse strings. Not that an economically independent woman is not exploited, but she can afford to negotiate terms better.

And, about Schroeder’s statement on women’s under-performance being linked to the subjects they studied, I, like Schwarzer, must say that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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