Bitching and Complaining: Why [I, you, we] need feminism | By Navneet Khinda

 “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.”

In 1966, Romania’s Dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu issued a series of policy changes, known as Decree 770, aimed at creating a large population by restricting abortion and contraception. They were pro-natalist policies used to realize the national socio-economic plan of development.

To enforce the decree, contraceptives were made unavailable, sex education was non-existent, and abortion was severely restricted. Women were periodically monitored by gynaecologists and the secret police kept their eye on every aspect of a woman’s life.

Long story short, this resulted in a mass amount of women dying from botched abortion operations done in back alleys. The number of orphans increased considerably, with those born becoming malnourished or physically handicapped.

“Ceausescu’s Children” came to be known as the Decreteii – children of the decree. They were unwanted and disabled, with many suffering from HIV/AIDS due to transfusions of untested blood. That was 40 years ago.

In the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, war rape occurred as a part of ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian wars. Without getting into the details of the conflict itself, rape as a tool of war was a prominent tactic which involved “rape camps”. Rape, perpetrated by Serbian forces, was disproportionately directed at women in order to impregnate them in the hopes of forcing Bosnian women to carry Serbian children. As you can imagine, this has had far reaching effects.

These two topics, though mentioned in brief, are the topics of research I exposed myself to in highschool. Yes, they are heavy topics to deal with, especially since I was around 15 or 16 years of age when I first started exploring human rights violations.

At the same time, on a level closer to home, I was also becoming more aware of the abuses towards women in my own culture; in homes of families that I knew, and with people that I care about.

My early foray into research, coupled with my own personal experiences of injustice against women opened my eyes to the limitless expanse of suffering that women face not only world-wide, but in my community.

I began to perceive the existence of the overwhelming vastness of hatred and misunderstanding, not just in my cultural community, but in general. This awareness fuelled in me a feeling, or a state of being, comprised partly of anger, of frustration, of sadness, and sheer disgust.

Both at home and abroad, governments and societies, to varying degrees, are contributing to the ills associated with women: sexual abuse, violence, mental and emotional abuse, illiteracy, forced prostitution and human trafficking, higher mortality rates, unfair wages, and generally the lack of agency to control their own lives.

I have learned that there are different levels of oppression permeating throughout the many layers of society; some that I see, some that I don’t. But I know they exist.

I’m so grateful and lucky to have been born in Canada, in a place where the legal rights of women are no less than those of a man. In a place where a woman can access power and privilege that others across the ocean cannot, simply determined by place of birth. I cannot even begin to imagine what my life would be like if I was born in India, where the status of women intersects with class, caste, and religion.

However, though it’s easy to point to the many abuses committed abroad, more light needs to be shed on what’s happening in our own backyards. What I’m going to describe as a certain “cultural mindset” is not limited to the arbitrary borders of nation states.

To this day, in this country, we still talk about achieving equal pay for women, about the right to choose, about female infanticide, about missing women, and honor killings. We still argue over whether it was a woman’s fault for being raped, since she was wearing something indicative of her “slutty” nature.

Even the less heinous of issues, such as female representation in politics, remain on the table. How, and when, are women going to break through that “glass ceiling”? I’m not just talking about provincial or national politics here, for even at the University of Alberta, the level of female student politicians over the years in our Students’ Union is dismal.

It’s almost 2013, and still there are the Malala’s of the world – girls who long for education only to be left in near-death conditions.

In the name of religion, dogma, ideology and ignorance, our rights are trampled on.

I’ve been told to stop whining, bitching, and complaining numerous times – by members of my family, my friends, coworkers and strangers. People ask me, isn’t feminism irrelevant? Don’t we already have legal equality?

My answer to the first question is no, and to the latter, yes. Legal rights have been achieved, especially in western countries like Canada but what we are lacking, world-wide, is the social fabric necessary to achieve progress. It is at the community level where injustice happens – in the everyday customs of various cultures and religions. It is the community that fails to recognize and change.

It’s really a two-way street. Decline or stagnancy on one side keeps the other side (the legal institution) from having its full effect.

So no, I won’t stop “bitching and complaining” because the things I’m complaining about need to be heard.

As a woman of Indian heritage, I’ve come into contact with a wide variety of people with varying views, but I’ve definitely come into contact with people who wish to control women and perpetuate their own views of what is right and wrong onto what is a large portion of the population – roughly 52 percent of the population actually.

Over the years, I’ve pushed myself to be independent and critical of others’ opinions and world views, which puts me at odds with a lot of the people I grew up with.

Because of my struggles, and of those around me, I am able to some extent grasp the harshness of life out there for other girls and I always wonder when it will end. Probably not in my lifetime, but I am hopeful and confident that one day all women can live and prosper without limitations.

People always ask me why I got interested in politics at such a young age and I never really had an adequate answer. But the more I thought about it, I realized that it was the feminist in me that brought me here. It’s what drove me to study women’s rights, human rights, and eventually to pursue this academic path.

Feminism, for me, is the insatiable desire to overcome oppressive forces that women face every day.

Those forces can materialize as domestic violence in my community, wage issues in the workplace here in Edmonton, or across the ocean in Pakistan, where girls like Malala are denied the opportunities I have been given.

So, who needs feminism?

Aboriginal women in Canada need feminism.
Young girls destined to live out their lives in the brothels of India need feminism.
I need feminism.

Image taken from here

From October 22-26, The Wanderer Online is participating in the “Who Needs Feminism?” Call to Action Week, which you can read more about here. Throughout the week, we’ll be posting 2-4 articles per day where writers answer the question “I need feminism because…” If you’re interested in writing something, please send us your piece at wnfualberta@gmail.com.

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  • Erika

    You go girl!

  • Men need feminism just as much as women do!

  • S

    This article is long on problems & rhetoric and short on solutions. I think fewer people would dismiss feminism as “bitching and complaining” if feminists proposed ways to fix the current situation rather than simply point flaws.

  • TH

    I think a lot of your anger is very unfounded. You are right in saying that you were very lucky to be born in Canada, and I think that your time would be better spent appreciating what you do have rather than resenting the “equal treatment” that you have been denied by this unfair world. Does your resentment comes from the fact that people have told you that you couldn’t do something because you are a woman? If this is the case don’t you think your time would be best spent trying to improve yourself so as to achieve that goal? What good is it doing you to stay up at night and seethe about how unfair the world is and spread views that disseminate hatred toward men? I would think that the fact that the 2 front runners for Premier in the most recent election were women should help repress some of your anger about unfair representation in politics. I would also like to point out that men usually don’t take years off in the middle of their careers to start and maintain families. There have been many well respected female scholars who have studied these wage disparities that you cite. They have often attributed them to the fact that many women suffer from having to divide their attention between running a household and pursuing a meaningful career.

    I do sympathize with the fact that women have many unique challenges and difficult decisions in their lives; but so do men. I think that keeping score of all the times that you and other women have been treated unfairly is just a waste of your mental capacity.

    • Firstly, there’s nothing in this piece that ‘[disseminates] hatred towards men’, and such views are not supported. There is a huge difference between feminism and misandry. Men do face challenges in life, of course, but the ones women face are far greater and much more restrictive in careers. Women do need to make note of such injustices and discrimination, otherwise the societal problems that surround gender won’t be addressed nor resolved.

      So I would say such anger is founded.

  • LR

    Every instance of “feminism” I have ever encountered has been along the same lines as a left-winged, socialist movement to lessen the power of men in society so that the position that women have is easier to tolerate, rather than do something to make the position of women in society more strong relative to the other sex. Why is this? Because women aren’t inherently competetive or dominant, they’re more tallented in the social domain, and so they are more interested in gaining power in society by cooperation. But the betterment of women in North America cannot come from pointing the finger, or playing the blame game, saying that women don’t have it well off enough. No reasonable CEO, manager, or director will ever listen to this as a legitimate argument, there is no backbone to this. It has to come from competing harder, and going out and getting what you deserve. There is no entitlement by your sex, there is only people who chase their ambitions, and those who complain that it’s too hard. The reason women are paid less than men, on average in the corporate world, is because when they are offered a salary, they don’t negotiate higher. They simply accept what is offered and leave money on the table. Yes there are still a lot of inequities that we need to iron out, but it only changes when women assert themselves, and quit the passive agressive attitude that the world isn’t fair. The world not being fair is the surest sign that you have the power to improve your standing in it. At the end of the day, men need women, and vice versa. When one is empowered, the other is too just as much. When one sex steals power without doing anything for it, getting something for nothing, everyone suffers. Be the first to offer value, give to give, and the world will give back.

    • LR

      The term “thin priviledge” comes to mind. There are a few parallels for sure: Not only are the obese draining the health care system, but they want every other human being to change their sexual preference towards the obese so that they can feel “normal” rather than work hard to lose the weight like every other person with a healthy body does, and thus denies those who work hard with determination the reward of their dedication. This is as unnatural as it is unethical. Women want to be treated as equals to their male counterparts, even though they are genetically and physiologically different. Not only is this unnatural, but it’s irrational (another female quality). It’s like saying, “I wish I could eat more, so I’ll just change math so that 200 calories per Coke is now 50 calories instead” or “I don’t like that 1 and 1 are two so I’ll just say it equals 5”