Friday, 20 July 2012

Feminism: the amusing to the sober

I had an interesting discussion about feminism a few days ago from a very smart lady that happens to be both feminist and Muslim. For those of you confused about how a woman can be both those things, it is entirely possible, and more and more women are redefining the way they perceive their role in modern society. This discussion I was having was way too short for my liking: it was more of an abstract of the topic from her point of view, but it got me questioning my own perceptions of gender roles in society. I have always had a hazy idea of what these roles should entail, and I have always acknowledged that a lot of my preconceptions in this regard stems from an immensely patriarchal view. Come to think of it, the society in which I live is a beautiful blend of cultures and ideologies that have two very strong commonalities threading through all of them. That is an inexplicable emotional attachment to the geography of our beautiful city, and an overwhelming tradition of patriarchy.

She sent me some literature to read through, but I have chosen to document my views before my education starts, to chronicle my change of perceptions in all things “girl-power”. Please do not judge me if you find my views too traditional or too progressive, I always try to take a middle path where there is no clear winner.

In terms of equality between men and women, there are two types that I can differentiate. The one is absolute equality, where men and women share complete equality in everything; from salaries to child-nurturing to changing tyres. Then there is relative equality, where both objective and subjective means are utilised to ascertain equality relative to characteristics inherent to the respective genders. My view is that patriarchy stems from a place meant to engender equality at a very relative level, while with modern advances eliminating the need for traditionally gender-specific duties, the feminine role has tended more and more towards absolute equality. Let me explain using an analogy. When we lived in harmony with nature in our mud huts, the men would go out and hunt for bokkies (the animal kind) so that there could be food on the fire for his family. He would protect the house against wild animals and child-molesters. And he would have his wounds tended to by his partner after a hard day out. The woman would gather berries and tend to the kids, and kept the clay plates in a condition that was clean enough to ensure the health of her family. Now this is a case study in relative equality. Men are generally stronger and more adept at violence, so they naturally gravitate towards the role of protector and provider. Women are physically suited for children and tend to be less dominant, so they take up the role of nurturer and mother. Would it be in the best interest of equality to have expected the woman to hunt a buffalo and protect her house against a hungry lion? I think the wise Aristotle said it best: “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”.

That said, however, we do not live in a world where men have that clear directive of protecting and providing. ADT does the protecting and providing is now common ground. (By the way, some police stations are themselves clients of ADT. Worthy of a collective WTF.) Nurturing is left to babysitters and masseuses, so traditional roles no longer find a comfortable niche within society. That harmonisation between man and woman has taken on a far more personal and individual dynamic, such that the workings of these relationships have become as customised as an app-ridden cellphone.The social constructs of the past is being dismantled very quickly, and so should our views on traditional gender roles.  That said, I do not believe absolute equality can be achieved (at least until we all become androgenous beings that procreate through test tubes), and I suspect most people prefer it that way.

Another element on my views on gender roles is that often, the nature of the male is not sufficiently understood by the female, and vice-versa. I can only speak from a male point of view, but I do not think that women understand the strong natural magnetics that draw men into a certain way of thinking. It has been scientifically proven that men and women are wired differently, yet curiously, women expect a certain sophistication of thought, emotion, and behaviour found in themselves that men oftentimes fail to achieve. It is often mused about anecdotally, but never really integrated into holistic perceptions. Women woefully underestimate the power of their femininity over men. They don’t quite get how magnetic, intoxicating and even hypnotic their aroma, voice or smile can be. Men have the ability to conceal it, and have generally progressed enough to keep things socially appropriate, but those primal pangs are still there. This hidden nature extends far beyond the sexual. Men have inexplicable urges to dominate, compete, experiment, conquer and claim. Most men have these urges under control. However, too many do not, and this causes a huge problem.

In matters of equality, I think these masculine traits are what caused the need for an uprising of feminism. Abuses of this nature by men have caused women to become subjugated and abused, and this is unacceptable in modern times. As far as we have come as a country in the recognition of women’s rights, the facts on the ground tell a completely different story. South Africa has one of the highest instances of domestic violence against women in the world. In terms of employment, women are still under-represented in the workforce, despite making up the overwhelming majority of single parents with custody of children; and what is worse, they earn less than men for doing exactly the same job. The rape, prostitution, slavery and exploitation of our women by animalistic men still speaks volumes for how far we have to progress in women’s rights in a suffocatingly patriarchal society. And the saddest thing of all: most men believe that the fight for women’s rights is a feminist thing that should be taken up by women only. It is a great irony that feminism is bound to fail without the direct participation of men. We men need to be taught to be masters over our own barbarism: women are not property, or tools, or entertainment.
To a large degree, I think the debate about what kind of equality is most applicable in today’s society is irrelevant. First, we need to establish SOME kind of equality. As things stand, women are extremely vulnerable, and men need to stand with them in changing both our legislation and our cultures to facilitate a safe environment for our women to excel. We should be marching in the streets, joining feminist movements, and educating our young girls in an objective critical fashion.

Feminism therefore isn’t really feminism. Feminism is social evolution. And we all need to be involved.


  1. This has got to be your best post yet, Feminism is social evolution. I couldn't agree more

  2. Totally hey. One could even say re-civilisation. Like we progress so much technologically, but go nowhere in terms of social justice.

  3. Wow! I thought I would relate to this but you hit the nail in the head. Adding my two cents's worth I believe that men and women can never be equally equal (if that makes sense). Society and evolution requires the feminine and masculine for there to be a balance. These roles can only be perfected by the respective parties. Men need to be dominent to assert their masculinity, yet understanding that this should not prejudice women. Women need to realise that there is power in submission. This can never be to their detriment because it gives a margin to control. In essence, none can function without the other and with mutual respect a balance can be achieved.

  4. definitely need respect to achieve the balance, which is not the same balance we had in the past.. I'm not sure many women would agree with there is power in submission, esp since it is the submissive state that makes a woman especially vulnerable. don't get me wrong, it is ok for either women or men to be submissive, but the absolute requirement for this is that his/her partner should abide by the tenants of respect and responsibility at all times.

  5. Thank you Kamal. This is a piece that you can be very proud of as an academic, and especially as a man. You've spoken eloquently, honestly and humorously...

    I agree wholeheartedly that feminism is a social evolution, toward equality and the recognition of women's rights.

    These urges to "urges to dominate, compete, experiment, conquer and claim" are socially constructed I would argue as masculinity and femininity are both social constructs on suitable gender roles rather than biological.

    I especially appreciate your plea to men to take action against the injustices we face as the issues of rape, prostitution and so forth can only be adequately tackled once once they are recognised and understood by the other half of the population, ie: men. More men need to speak out.

    Thank you.