“Feminism” is an Ideology that demands equal rights for men and women in terms of politics decision-making, career, and having Children. It is considered a struggle to achieve the same rights, opportunities, and dignity as men have in society.
About half of the global human population is women. At every step, all over the world, women face inequality subordination, and secondary class status. Before the first Industrial Revolution, human life was not male-dominated and both men and women contributed equally in society. The Industrial Revolution began in England in about 1750-1760 and lasted sometime between 1820 and 1840. During this period women were restricted to the domestic atmosphere and men started to work in industries. As a result, women remain vulnerable socially politically, and economically.
Definition of Feminism
The term “Feminism” came into use during the 1890s but its origin can be traced to the late 17th century. There is no fixed definition of Feminism and it has a variety of meanings and interpretations. In different fields of life, we define feminism according to its own social, political, religious, and cultural perspective.
In short, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexiest exploitation and oppression.”
According to the Cambridge Dictionaries, Feminism can be seen as “The belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state.”
As a social movement, the main Characteristics and demands of Feminism include:
The Right of an Education.
Equal pay in work the workplace.
Fighting against gender stereotypes and performative behaviour.
Protection against sexual harassment and assault.
The rights of own property.
The general purpose of Feminism through centuries is to establish opportunities and results for women equal to those allotted to men. There are four distinct waves of feminism that align with the period of time.
These waves are –
19th to 20th Century
Right of Vote
1960s to 1980s
Domesticity & Sexuality
1990s to 2000s
Diversity & Intersectionality
2000 to present
The Portrayal Of Women and Feminism In India
Indian Women have been facing challenges in the form of Inequalities, and mental and physical violence acts. The portrayal of Feminism in Indian Literature is considered to be one of the most debated topics.
The portrayal of Feminism in Indian Literature goes back to ancient Indian History. “Ramayana” is considered to be one of the Greatest epics of Indian Literature written by Valmiki. In this epic, the Characters of women have depicted the real condition of Indian Women in the Ancient period. The Character of Sita who is the Wife of Lord Ram has justified the power and strength of her husband Rama. She has also been portrayed as vulnerable without her husband. The epic has made Lord Rama an Exemplary protagonist at the cost of the Rejection of his wife. She gave “Agni Priksha” to prove her purity to become Ram’s wife when she returned from Lanka.
Toru Dutt, a 19th-century Indian poet, expressed her pain and grief through her poem “Sita” and questioned the dominance of Indian Patriarchal society.
Feminism In The Indian Context
Feminism in the Indian Context can be divided into three Phase
First Phase – 1850 to 1915
The first phase of Indian feminism was started in the mid-nineteenth century. At this time India was to assimilate the Western idea of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The first phase of Indian Feminism was initiated by men to uproot the social evils of Sati-Pratha and allow widow remarriage. Indian societies also forbid child marriage and to reduce illiteracy. However, as nationalist movements emerged in India, Indian society was improving the status of women by the late 19th century.
Second Phase – 1915 to 1947
During this period the struggle against colonial rule intensified. Nationalism became the pre-eminent cause. Gandhi legitimized and expanded Indian women’s public activities by initiating them into the non-violent civil disobedience movement against the British Raj. Peasant women played an important role in rural Satyagrah as of Borsad and Bardoli. Women-only organizations like ‘All India Women’s Conference’ and the ‘National Federation Od Indian Women’ emerged Women were grappling with issues relating to the scope of women’s political participation, women’s franchise, communal awards, and leadership roles in political parties.
Third Phase, Post 1947
Post-independence Indian literature has portrayed the condition of women in new dimensions. The real suffering of a peasant woman in rural India can be witnessed in ‘Nactor in a Sieve’ a novel by ‘Kamala Markandaya’. This novel has a story of woman and her husband in an Indian village who were exploited by money lenders.
‘Rukmani’ the lead female character of the Novel, is a rural Indian woman who did not receive, education, financial security, and societal support.
On the other hand the novel “Voices in the City” by ‘Anita Desai’ has stressed freedom and facing realities in the lives of Indian Women.
Depiction Of Women In the 21st Century
Indian Society has been going through several changes in establishing an identity for women. “The Binding Vine” a novel by ‘Shashi Deshpande’ has highlighted marital rape. Another contemporary author, ‘Shobha De’ has highlighted the emotional and sexual needs of an Indian middle-class woman through her story “Second Thoughts”.
Development of Feminism in West
The concept of Feminism Movement got proper prominence and importance in the 1960s. Earlier, Feminism was limited to some female writers but the increased number of Female writers and the representation of Women characters in the fiction world drew large attention in the Literature. The evolution of the feminist movement in Western literature is as follows:
First Wave Of Feminism
First-wave Feminism is mainly concerned with the treatment of women in a male-dominated society. The Major works that raised the issues of Feminism during this phase are Mary Ellman’s ‘Thinking about Women (1968), Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics, and Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Many important works of male writers have been studied in order to analyse the attitude of male towards women and society.
Second Wave Of Feminism
Second Wave is concerned with women’s writings including Ellen More’s Literary Women, Elaine Showalter’s, A Literature of Their Own, Nina Baym’s Women’s Fiction, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Mad Woman in Attic, and Margaret Human’s Women Writers and Poetic Identity.
Elaine Showalter’s ‘A Literature of Their Own Published in 1970. This phase chiefly explores the relationship between females and literature and texts were analyzed to understand the treatment of female characters by the male in the society.
Showalter proposed three stages in the history of Women’s writing
Feminine Phase (1840-1880), in which women writers imitated dominant male artistic norms and aesthetic standards.
Feminist Phase (1880-1920), in which radical approach has been maintained and at last.
Female Phase (1920 to onwards), primarily focused on female writing focused on female writing and female experiences.
‘Mary Wollstonecraft’, one of the authors who wrote about Feminism, advocated in her ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women that women must be treated equally because they have to play a crucial and vital role in society, especially in bringing up children.
She attacked male thinkers and scholars like Rousseau who argued that women did not need education but she supported education as a means of women’s improvement.
American activist, “Margaret Fuller” one of the famous female writers of the 19th century, in her Women in the Nineteenth Century, in her “Women in the Nineteenth Century” believed that education is the means of emancipation for women and her key planks are education, employment, and politics.
While in the 20th century ‘Virginia Woolf’ a modernist and Female Victorian author, explored gender reaction in her ‘A Room of One’s Own’ and ‘Three Guineas’. She remarks a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. She advocates for the liberation of women, financial independence, and the right to reveal feelings and experiences through words.
Whereas ‘Simone De Beauvoir favors that there is no essence of the woman and that a woman is constructed by men. She states in her feminism manifesto of The Second Sex, ‘One is not born a woman but become one.’
Feminism questions the long-standing, dominant, male, interpretations and patriarchal attitude. Feminism has empowered the confidence of women and provided individuality identification in Patriarchal Society.
“Feminism” is a movement influenced by the ideas postulated, popularized, and precipitated by thinkers and authors like “Simone de Beauvoir”, ‘Alice Walker’, ‘Elaine Showalter’, ‘Simone de Beauvoir and Kate Millett, and others. It is a modern movement expressing protest against male domination and involves sociological and political theories concerning gender difference issues. The term ‘Feminism’ was first used with regard to the issues of equality and the Women’s Rights Movement.
Wave Of Feminism
Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women.”
Women of any nation are the mirror of its civilization. Feminism has experienced two waves. The First Wave also called liberal feminism, usually refers to the social movement in that women fought for their legal vote rights and basic civil rights in America and Britain from 1820 to 1920.
The second wave is also known as the women’s liberation moment, which focused on the differences between females and males and discussed the origin and operation of gender discrimination in ideology, culture, and society. It was a period of feminist activity that began in the early 1960s and lasted roughly two decades.
The modern feminist movement origins from “The Second Sex” by Simone de Beauvoir,
“One is not born, but rather Becomes a woman. No Biological psychological or Economic fate determines that the human female presents in society, it is civilization as a whole. That produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is describes as feminine”.
The Second Sex Feminism
“The Second Sex” is one of the best-known works of the French existentialist “Simone de Beauvoir”. It is a work on the treatment of women throughout history and is often regarded as a significant work of feminist philosophy. Beauvoir researched and wrote the book in about 14 months. She published the book in two volumes – “Fact and Myths” and “Lived Experience.”
Part one is “Destiny” in which she first describes “Biological Data”, the relationship of the ovum to sperm in all kinds of creatures fish, insects mammals. Then Beauvoir proceeds to the human being, comparing the physiology of men and women and saying that women are weaker than men for example, in muscular strength, with fewer red blood cells and a lesser respiratory capacity.
Part two is “History” in which Beauvoir describes two factors explaining the evolution of women’s condition participation in production and freedom from reproductive slavery. She describes man’s gradual domination of women and eventually the opinion of ancient Greeks like Pythagoras who wrote: –
“There is a good principle that created order, light and man, and a bad principal that created chaos darkness and women.”
She also examines the spread of birth control methods and the history of abortion.
Part Three is “Myths” Simone also writes about women’s menstruation, virginity, and female sexuality including copulation, marriage, motherhood, and prostitution. In mythological literature “women are considered as Goddess”. Still, women have to fight with this society for their rights to which only they have the right. Arthur Rimbaud writes hopefully “One day, women can become fully human beings when a man gives her freedom.” Simone also quoted:
“Her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly.”
In the second volume “Lived Experience”, Beauvoir analyses how girls are typically treated throughout their childhood. She contrasts a girl’s upbringing with a boy who at age 3 or 4 is told she is a “little girl”. A girl is taught to be a woman and “Feminine”. Simone described that females only get dignity in only two works 1st is in household work and 2nd one is to provide bed service to their husbands according to their mood.
Women are always expected to be passive and submissive while men are encouraged to be active. The day when it will be possible for the woman to love in her strength and not love in her strength and not in her weakness, not to escape from herself but to find herself, not out of resignation but to affirm herself, love will become for her as for man the source of life and not a mortal danger.”
Thus, in the early 20th century, women’s political, social, and economic choices in France were limited due to patriarchal dominance, in almost all aspects of life and business, including the publishing industry. Despite these challenges, de Beauvoir’ were able to break through these challenges, especially with a book such as “The Second Sex”.
Although the book “The Second Sex” received much criticism from notable literary figures, the book also praises and supports many others and most importantly women within the feminist movement. Beauvoir’s book played an important role in the second wave of the “Feminist Movement”, especially after being published in the United States.