By Tarik Jan
As one of the central issues of our times, feminism is seemingly an exaggerated stretch of what is fair, just, and equitable. And like any other exaggeration, it has its nemesis in the antithesis it creates. Started in response to the dialectics of the Enlightenment era as women’s rights within the societal ambit it has now degenerated into a movement of negation and a cry of angst against what it considers as structural brutality to women.
But despite its shrilling note and an ostentatious oneness, it has diverse permutations that speak of its problems rather than positive diversity.
It would however be unfair to say that it met no success. Both liberals and conservatives in the West have accepted its agenda insofar as it related to allowing women suffrage, property rights, and equal job opportunity, even though these successes were part of the democratic dispensation, which was inevitable in the process of time. Its real success will come though when it would make headway in abolishing patriarchy and marriage, the principal plank of its radical program.
From all counts both are almost impossible to be realized as they are fully entrenched in human nature, supported by utility, social efficiency, morality, and above all honored by time and the wisdom accumulated down the ages in its memory.
What compounds the feminists’ problems are that their alternative suggestions are not only ugly but also distasteful, grotesquely bizarre and even laughable. For instance, in place of marriage between the sexes the radical feminists suggest lesbian relations, against patriarchy they propose matriarchy. Never mind the absence of matriarchy or the lesbianism as institutions in the repository of human experience the feminists are adamantly stuck in their groove for they have nothing else to say – their argument is fragile leaving behind laughable pretty phrases in the feminist literature. For instance, read Monique Wittig “one is not born a woman,” that the sex categories of man and woman are false manufactures of society, even “imaginary formation.” Did matriarchy ever exist? Wittig suggests invent it.
With a Cervantes’ vein in her she suggests overpowering “man as a class for once men disappear women as a class will disappear as well, for “there are no slaves without masters.” Her great classic Les Guèrillères (1976) crosses the limits of absurd, though shining with a prose bordering on poetry: “You say there are no words to describe this time, you say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.”
Wittig is not an exception. There is a whole repertoire of phrasal expressions which they use. For example, embrace lesbianism to defeat patriarchy (Rita Mae Brown). Or by default go for sluthood; marriage is legalized prostitution (Mary Wollstonecraft), or the impossibility like detached unemotional women (Suheir Hammad); patriarchy is mythical, developed by domesticating animals (Elizabeth Fisher) and so is heterosexuality which is forced (Adrienne Rich and Charlotte Bunch); the abstract notion that the female can exist without the male (Shulamith Firestone) – in other words they are femisogynist, women by themselves; that the women listening to their biology and tying themselves in matrimonial relationship are accepting slavery, reminiscent of the bourgeois and proletarian equation of brutality and exploitation (Marx and Engels and their female followers). Besides, women can dilute the patriarchal hold by their refusal to give paternity right to men (Germaine Greer). Absurdist of all, religion is patriarchal (Mary Daly).
The feminists themes are mostly faked, rich in imaginary, wrapped in warm as well caustic idiom (e.g., Betty Friedan’s lavender menace), and passionately argued, occasionally tiring for their polemicist texture and exuberant redundancy.
Asma Aftab has done a good job by surveying some of the feminist literature. She has left though some influential works which have shaped the feminist mind in the West like Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father – Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation; Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics; Juliet Mitchell’s Women the Largest Revolution, and her Women’s Estate; Maggie Humm’s Modern Feminism; Sheila Row Botham’s Woman’s Consciousness, Men’s World; Naomi Wolf’s Fire with Fire; Alice S. Rossi’s The Feminist Papers – From Adams to de Beauvoir and so forth.
The Pakistani Feminist version, which Asma Aftab has dealt at the end, is an awkward development in our society which chews Western themes and need to be exposed further. For example, if Shulamith Firestone (The Case for Feminist Revolution)happens to readKishwar Naheed’s and Fehmida Riaz’s poetry she will be surprised to see her low-grade image in their work. The two may have superficial likeness with Firestone as they belong to the same aberration that ran its course as Marxism in human history. Firestone was though original in the sense that she went beyond Marxism by suggesting that it was important to look beneath the economics of surplus value and means of production to find the capitalist structure resting on sex-class conflict. She blames the female biology for its being unfair, its barbaric pregnancy, which Kishwar Naheed also does.
Or, for example read Kate Millet’s views on the women’s forced silence in a patriarchal construct (A Vindication of Rights): “I’m slammed with an identity that can no longer say a word; mute with responsibility” has its reverberation in the poems of Naheed and Riaz cited by Asma Aftab at the end of her work.
Or, read Germaine Greer say: “If independence is a necessary concomitant of freedom, women must not marry.”
The only difference between the two brands of feminism is that while the West is fluid and dynamic moving beyond the vocabulary of the 1970s, the Pakistani labeled feminism is an echo from the past still chewing the jargons and clichés of the seventies. That it is Betty Friedan’s approach to the feminist scene in U.S. that has become the new face of the feminist movement that does not deny motherhood to women or denigrate the marriage institution perhaps they do not know. There are also voices within the feminist movement calling for respecting the fact that sex roles are genetically determined. Studies after studies are confirming that marriage and children are good for the parents and that the children born to such parents are doing better on a wide range of social indicators (McLanahan and Sandefar, 1994). In a large base study conducted by two prominent academics involving 5000 married and non-married individuals in twenty U.S. cities, 83 percent of mothers were romantically linked with their children’s fathers. All of them were pro-marriage (Sara McLanahan and Irv Garfinkel, 2001, cited by Gordon Bulin in his report to the Senate’s Sub Committee of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, may 2004).
Contrary to this, our feminists are still warped in the time machine. Conditioned by the Marxist vision of social reality, they parrot the mantra that God and religion are dated concepts for they are irrational and exploitative – fixing women in the rigid definition of gender. To them, Marxism is rational and thus scientific and liberating. I wish they had read Albert Camus’ view on Marxism: Marxism, he wrote, is not scientific, it has scientific biases. Needless to say the French Noble laureate Camus belonged to the left.
Not surprisingly, our feminists slam Islam as retrogressive – a call from the past which has fallen discordant with the present. They nevertheless forget that the Western women got their suffrage rights in 1913 (in the U.S.) almost 1200 years after the Muslim women; property rights in 1839 again with almost the same lag.
Muslim women had also something else for which the Western women had to fight – they had the right to deny the law of coverture that banded husband and wife into one common law entity represented alone by the husband. Muslim women had their separate person, keeping their money to themselves. They could also retain their pre-marital names even after marriage.
Unfortunately, the feminists all over the world see a world full of strife, each trying to outlast the other; oblivious of the crucial fact that everything in nature is running by the law of interdependence and cooperation, each having its own distinct role to play. If humans are part of this universe, which they are, then they have to be team players configuring into an organic whole, at peace with one another. The science verdict is that it is a bio-friendly universe; there is symmetry and a systematic elegance to it; otherwise, life would not have been possible. Against such a background of cumulative existence, feminism has to reconsider its basic premises.
In Muslim societies feminism cannot be exclusionary – it has to be inclusionary embracing men as well, for they are not adversary to women but partners in goodness and well being. At the same time, it should affirm women’s uniqueness because they are the fount of life; the maker of families and civilization. Other than their biological makeup they are equal with men in all aspects. They are not men like either nor do they have to become men in order to receive their respect. They are their own person. They are women.