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Updated: January 11, 2011 15:02 IST

What do feminists want?

Nalini Rajan
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Reclaiming the F Word - The New Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune. Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu
Reclaiming the F Word - The New Feminist Movement by Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune. Photo: Special Arrangement

Is the feminism of the 1970s dead, or even irrelevant, today? Is feminism the concern solely of middle-aged women?

According to the authors, Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, the answer to both is ‘no'. What is more, they take pains to drive home the point that many young women continue to be vitally aware of and interested in the feminist movement.

Redfern and Aune point out that the demands projected during the feminist movement of the 1970s were not very different from women's aspirations today. What do feminists want?

In the authors' view, their main demands are: liberated bodies; sexual freedom and choice; an end to violence against women; equality at work and home; freeing of popular culture from sexism; and reclamation of feminism. In seven chapters, they discuss these issues and explore possible solutions.

Tyranny

The various kinds of tyrannies associated with the beauty myth — ranging from eating disorders to female genital mutilation to “jumping off the beauty treadmill” — to which young women of today succumb are examined in the chapter, “Liberated Bodies.” The chapter “Sexual freedom and choice” spells out the reasons why women feel constrained in the matter of making choices. In many cultures, women are raped by their husbands; in many others, they put up with disagreeable sexual demands by partners in order to maintain ‘stable' relationships. There are double standards in society, guided by various forms of patriarchal writ.

In rape cases, the victims are penalised far more than the perpetrators, while lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are invariably the target of the homophobia of mainstream heterosexuality. The disturbing fact that violence against women — including molestation, rape, and harassment — continues unabated is also highlighted.

As for working women, the phenomenon of ‘double-shift' persists. The 1970s movement has helped ameliorate conditions only for a small section of the upper to middle class women in developed countries. For the rest, there is no end to the struggle for equality, whether it is opportunities in the workplace, sharing of work at home or child-rearing.

The fifth chapter tackles the tricky subject of politics and religion. Today, women — whether they are in the United Kingdom or Afghanistan — still encounter obstacles when it comes to running for office and even exercising their franchise.

Religious dogma

As far as religion is concerned, Redfern and Aune correctly argue that it is time to leave behind the old feminist dogma that an emancipated woman cannot also be religious. For example, Islamic feminists challenge the ways in which religious patriarchies interpret the Koran in order to subjugate women. Feminists are discovering newer forms of interpreting religious texts. At the same time, since sexism is entrenched in popular culture today, the authors attempt, in the sixth chapter, to discover the possibility of dissociating sexism from it.

As for “reclaiming feminism”, anyone, man or woman, who believes in the goals outlined earlier, is a feminist and will necessarily seek to achieve this also. However, it is important to note that there are ideological variations among feminists. In other words, it would be foolish to stereotype feminists or to see them as a homogenous group. Despite the existence of a backlash to the feminist movement of the 1970s, there are many young women today who call themselves feminists, as noted earlier.

Reclaiming the F Word provides a wide-ranging perspective on issues that affect the lives of women today. This book not only highlights the problems facing women but also discusses possible state policies to ameliorate their condition and provides suggestions for steps that may be taken by feminist movements in civil society to reach out and gain wider support for their cause.

RECLAIMING THE F WORD — The New Feminist Movement: Catherine Redfern, Kristin Aune; Zed Books, London. Books for Change, 139, Richmond Road, Bangalore-560025. Rs. 450.

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