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Women's Liberation Struggle

by Ac. Krtashivananda Avt.

The freedom of women from unjust social laws of religious institutions, capitalist
manipulation and a patriarchal social order is a fundamental factor in the
humanisation of the society. The domination of women by men started about three
to four thousand years ago during the ascendancy of the priest era. In the capitalist
era it reached its culminating point.

According to followers of Marx, it happened when the surplus in agriculture permitted


the hiring and exploitation of labour. They believe that this domination of the male
over the female was based on men's economic power and the military machine they
built. Marx followers, however, have failed to notice the socio-psychological
phenomena of this domination. In reality it was the religious institutions that initiated
the subjugation and subordination of women.

Patriarchal character can be exemplified by the declaration in the Jewish, Catholic


and Islamic religions the supremacy "of a father God in heaven, king or priest in
society and father in the family." According to their scriptures, women cannot be
ordained as priests. Furthermore, in Islamic religion, multiple marriage by a male is
accepted as a bon-fide right even today in many countries. In India in the eighth
century, Shank'aracharya and his Brahmin followers subsequently sealed the fate of
women. Only in the 20th century have those oppressive systems and laws been to
some extent abolished. The psychological attitude of that era has yet to completely
disappear.

In Western society, feminism was born in the background of the Renaissance. When
in society oppressed feeling tries to express itself to release its suffering, it finds it
vitality with an uncontrolled momentum. A revolution in the inner sphere of society
takes place. Naturally it has its childhood, adolescence and maturity. In the early
phase it started with the symbolic protest to break the institutions, to deny
everything that was imposed by man, and in their fantasy women created a world of
their own - isolated and without direction. They emphasised a 'masculine model of
feminine.' In this form, feminism was more criticized than it was welcomed. Today's
feminists brand that phase as 'early feminism.' In the next phase was an effort to
design a complementary feminine form. The idea was that if women could fulfill the
complementary role of man, then she would regain her lost dignity. But this concept
was also ultimately discarded. Then came the third form, termed as 'true feminism.'
It means our feminine world is different because our aspirations, emotions and
feelings are different. They realised that feminine virtues can be developed and come
to dominate, or as yet unknown virtues can emerge. But it was realized that the
genuinely feminine is either unknowable or as yet unknown, and to be brought into
existence.

Eco-feminists demarcated the world into two spheres - the rational or masculine
sphere and the sphere of nature or femininity. They realised that not only are women
subjugated by men but the masculine sphere has a dominant role over the feminine
sphere. That is why the struggle for liberation should be directed towards the
domination of the entire feminine sphere - environment, the underprivileged classes
and weaker sections of the society. In other words, women must challenge the
institutions of power that dominate them.
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Eco-feminists reject the masculine model, especially in relation to nature, and argue
more directly that this masculinising attitude leads women to join men in belonging
to a privileged class, in turn defined by excluding the underprivileged class, silent
nature. That is, the strategy to include women into a new dominating class, without
caring about the structure or the attitude of domination.

Earlier feminists used to react to the label of being 'close to nature.' The eco-
feminists not only accepted it proudly but went further and declared that not only are
we 'close to nature' - we are nature. They declared that the primary of female (i.e.,
feminine character traits, not necessarily biological femaleness) would be
acknowledged as primary, the source of all life force. But they could not define the
concept and tried to define it as Genuinely Feminine. Val Plumwood, in her book
Women, Humanity and Nature, said:

"The project of the discovery and emergence of the genuinely feminine is


conceptualized not as something whose character has been formed by the exclusion
of the masculine sphere, but as an independent force, silenced and unable to reach
expression under patriarchy, but ready to and able to emerge once the barriers of
phallocentric society to its expression are removed. Women's bodily experience is
taken as the starting point in the attempt to give expression to the silenced and
unknown feminine."

To define it more they adopted the idea of Reverse Dualism and gradually emerged
the ideas of rationality-emotionality, or associated dualism. In simple words it was
stated that "what is needed is an account of the human ideal for both sexes which
accepts the undesirability of the domination of nature associated with masculinity."

They termed it as 'Androgyny.' This is a being in which both the male and female
characteristics exist. But so far no clear concept was provided on how to reach this
state.

It is not enough to challenge nature/culture dualism, and the dominant masculine


model of human culture. As log as self is separated from the natural world, as in
liberalism, and as long as the dialectical contradiction remains, any model, however
lofty, is difficult to realise. Ultimately, we have to find the answer in spirituality. We
have to realise that differences remain in the physical and psychic spheres but not in
the sphere of the soul. The deepest of human feelings must find its inspiration from
the soul and not from biological urges or from the intellectual or emotional domain.
Human beings have yet to search for their inner light. As Virginia Woolf once wrote:
"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged, but a luminous halo."

As mentioned earlier, women's struggle for liberation found momentum during the
Renaissance in the West. Three trends influenced it. First was the idea of liberalism,
which took the form of individualism. The second trend was the Freudian school of
thought which revolted against Victorian morality and embraced the idea of sexual
revolution. Finally in the sixties, the youth revolted against all forms of authority, i.e.,
religious injunctions, the state, teachers and guardians. This destabilised the
harmonious relationship in many families and ultimately created social antagonism.
However, with the emergence of eco-feminism, this transformed into a more positive
direction.
Now let us look towards the Eastern world. In India women's exploitation was
wrapped up in religious injunction. Patriarchal society, taking advantage of the
emotional weakness of women , derived many unjust laws and slogans to rob women
of all their freedoms in the economic, social and religious spheres. It was the great
Bengali writer Rammohan Roy in the 19th century and after him many other writers
and social reformers, including Ravindranath Tagore through the Brahma Samaj
movement, who exposed the exploitative nature of Hindu priesthood. After gaining
freedom from the British, widespread education brought serious change int he values
and psyche all over India. Ultimately women struggled to restore their rights to
education as well as in the economic and social spheres.

For centuries patriarchal society had imprisoned women inside four walls. Today they
are coming out and breaking those walls gradually without much fanfare and without
a movement similar to trade unions. That is why they did not create any antagonistic
class like that of early feminism in the West. The priest class simply lost their
domination with the awakening of social consciousness in women.

The Shariah law did not do justice to Muslim women. Talibanisation was its extreme
form. Many moderate Muslims claim that this extreme fundamentalist oppression is a
distortion of the real essence of Islamic religion. Whatever is written in the Koran,
Shariah and Hadith becomes merely a theoretical proposition if in practice women
are pushed into a corner and forced to obey the dictum of all powerful mullahs.
Except for some isolated efforts by Kamal Pasha in Turkey, Nasser in Egypt, Sukarno
in Indonesia and Ayub Khan in Pakistan, no serious effort was made to reform
Islamic religion by synthesising it with science, technology, art, literature and socio-
economic ideas that have evolved over the last 400 years. Edward Giban's Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire strongly exposed the blind prejudices of Islamic
society.

Toda women in many Islamic countries are revolting against the unjust laws and
forcing their governments to make changes to Shariah law. In Islamic society the
struggle for women's liberation has been a long and painful chapter. The Moroccan
social scientists Fatima Marnisi narrated this struggle in her books: The Veil and the
Male Elite, A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam, and Islam and
Democracy and Beyond the Veil. After World War II women began sneaking into the
universities of Middle Eastern countries. According to Marnisi, "Only the university
and education provided a legitimate way out of mediocrity." In Tunisia and Egypt, a
large number of women struggled to enter the university. In Egypt the rise of
fundamentalism and the feminist movement happened simultaneously. How did
feminism become so strong in that oppressive environment? Those great women
declared: "Opposition taught us to practise the politics of the 'tireless pen.' ... that is,
the more the police ban, the more must be written." That means, if one of their
writings was banned, seven more should be written within 24 hours. Even facing
mass imprisonment and torture, the women declared, "The mosque and the Koran
belong to women as much as to heavenly bodies. We have a right to all that, to all its
riches for constructing our modern identity."

It is true that those struggles are within the framework of religious identity, but it
still is a remarkable step and is paving the way for newer and greater struggles for
emancipation. The unjust, tyrannical power structure built up by these orthodox,
oppressive and chauvinistic priests has begun to crumble.

In the 20th century, humanistic ideals appeared to counter many dogmas. Today it
must be accepted that humanistic essence in its limited form is not the last word in
social awakening. The next phase is Neo-Humanism. Neo-Humanism is the collective
assimilation of all the natural expressions of the human species and the entire world
of flora and fauna. We have explored the intellectual field in its entire dimension, and
now we must search our soul to find the unity in diversity.

One part of man is extroverted, which finds its expression in conquest and
domination, but there i another characteristic of man wherein he wants to discover,
to explore, to act as the nucleus of existence and to hold the structure. Women are
fundamentally introverted, and with their spontaneous treasure of love and affection
they want to create, to grow and to hold. Due to these traits, women built their small
homes with their natural flare of love and affection. Now breaking the four walls,
they have come out to the larger world and in this century they will take the lead in
rebuilding the world in this same spirit. In the 21st century, the emergence of Neo-
Humanism will herald a new era of unity, while recognizing the diversity and unique
characteristics of each gender. As the great Ravindranath Tagore said:

My true identity
Cannot be measured by flesh only...
I have been created by the splendour
Of immortal wealth
To reach a glorious end.

Copyright The author 2005