Feminism: The word and the meaning


“… sexism can indeed only operate against women, but can also be perpetuated by women.”
– Jane Sunderland, Exploring Gender: Questions and Implications for ELE. Pg. 5
The word “feminism” has been recorded as the word of the year recently, followed by another word “complicit.”  Apparently, both the words seem to be world apart in terms of their meanings in our everyday semantic world. But to an intrigued mind like mine’s at this moment, both the terms are appearing, somehow, inter/related.
There are different types of feminists. Some are over-radical activists jumping at “every” discriminatory gendered issue. Some are drawing-room feminists never voicing their concerns except for chatting with their comfortable coterie. Some are pedantic feminists who give lectures on the importance of feminism but seldom practice. Only some feminists genuinely put feminism into praxis. (Is the number of the last category more than the others? Well, perhaps, that depends on one’s speculation only! For you never know who actually is a real “feminist !”)  Here comes the importance of the term “complicit.”  How many “feminists” are actually complicit with patriarchy and phallocentric ideology? Shall we not call those pseudo-feminists as “complicit feminists?”
The genuine feminists often face genuine opposition in managing/resisting the “complicit feminists” or the pseudo feminists. These “complicit feminists” are found almost everywhere. They profess to fight for the cause of the women (and other gendered minorities). But in practice, you never find them with you when you actually need some support to fight against gendered discrimination.  Their preference for “sexism” is apparent in their behaviour related to their social responsibility, especially, when that is related to sexual discrimination of women. Apparently, they lay a claim on that they are not “gendered,” and that they are against “gendering”- but they fail to recognize their sexism and gendered behaviour. And their practice is equally discriminatory and sexist/gendered towards the victims of sexual/gendered harassment. It is dehumanizing for their own selves but they do not seem to even realize that. Their own comfort zone is more important for them rather than the needs of the victims to whom they own a social responsibility.  While witnessing cases of sexual harassment of some women in any place or organization, you will often see some of those “complicit feminists.”
They come closer to the victim and sympathize with them – often with a piece of advice saying that, “What is the use of fighting with a man? Finish it off. Do not drag it. It is a LOSS for you. The whole society is like this. It is the system.  YOU CANNOT FIGHT.”  Their sympathy is only to dilute the spirit of fighting for justice and resistance. Their concern is misplaced. They are inconsiderate of the fact that the victim needs support to get her rights, and NOT sympathy… not pseudo-sympathy at all.
In one of such situations of sexual harassment, I have seen many male-members coming out in support of the female victims by providing guidance and counselling. In such a situation, the behaviour of those female “complicit feminists” appears more atrocious and disparaging.  Many a times, I (academically) argued that men need feminism more than females. But over the time, I have realized that many women still need to understand the importance of feminism, and that includes many so-called “educated” and “empowered” females as well. They need to be conscientized, so that they can put the ideals of feminism into praxis – genuinely, and with force. The word “feminism” needs to be more significant and more consequential for those “complicit feminists.”
I say “Kudos” to all those who made the word “feminism” the word of the year by searching for its dictionary meaning. I hope and expect that they are enlightened about the condition of women that we have created/constructed for them. But, once again we need to assert and reassert that, “feminism” is not just a term in the dictionary. It is a way of resisting the discrimination in a gendered world without being “complicit” in it.
Arzuman Ara, is an Assistant Professor of English (ELT) in The English and Foreign Languages University, Shillong Campus, Meghalaya.