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The 21st century has witnessed incredible strides in achieving gender equality through various movements, particularly feminist movements. However, as time has passed, somewhere down the line, controversial issues regarding women’s movements have become a bottleneck for the success of empowering women, especially by the hands of its own propagators. For instance, according to Black African-American women, “Feminists are racists; they are instruments of neo-imperialism; they are exclusive; they have excluded black women.” Thus, the current developments of women’s rights movements have turned feminism into an unpopular word or mere rhetoric. Over and above, the Me-too movement has impaired the purpose of highlighting harassment cases against women owing to its use against innocent people. The lack of cooperation of feminists with other movements, such as LGBTQ, has also restrained the success of feminist movements. Without any exception, Pakistan has also become the victim of controversial issues of feminism since the Aurat March 2018, receiving backlash from many segments of society. Nevertheless, by taking pragmatic measures, such as adopting a more inclusive approach, negating radical views of misandry, and struggling to implement legislation for women, the feminist movement can emerge into its true sense of equality. This essay highlights the controversial issues of feminism and recommends pragmatic measures to achieve women’s empowerment.
“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong, it’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”-G.D. Anderson
To understand the success and controversies of feminist movements, it is pertinent to shed light on the concept of feminism. Feminism, an intellectual commitment and political movement, seeks to ensure that women deserve equal social, economic, and political rights and freedom. For instance, according to Charles Fourier, the man who coined the term, “Women should not be treated in a subordinate or unequal way simply because they are women.” Nevertheless, despite shared commitments, there are various differences among feminist philosophers regarding the types and kinds of moral remedies sought for the rights of women.
Certainly, a historical perspective is important in elucidating the current controversies that have taken place in the contemporary world. In a broad sense, feminism has had three significant periods, with a fourth seemingly underway. These waves of feminism have aimed to achieve women’s liberation, such as the right to vote, more active in communist, socialist, and democratic parties, and access to political rights. Moreover, in recent years, feminism has increased awareness of many issues of overlapping categories, such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and production rights. However, since its inception, the feminist movements have been mired in controversies, having opposing viewpoints. Some people think that the movement of feminism was relevant in its initial phases but not important in contemporary times. Nevertheless, all these movements have aimed at improving the conditions of women. Therefore, these movements have played a significant role in not only highlighting women’s rights but also ensuring that they overcome patriarchal submission.
Evidently, some controversial issues regarding feminist movements have come into the spotlight, due to which feminism has faced a backlash from many segments, leaving the movement to become a mere rhetoric. To begin with, the # MeToo movement of feminists has become controversial, blemishing the cause of feminism. Beneath its veneer of protecting, usually, the fairer sex from physical, mental and sexual harm, # MeToo has morphed into a massive blunt instrument used sometimes to punish innocent people. In addition, there is a lack of understanding of what sexual harassment is due to a lack of parameters within the Me Too movement. For instance, Amber Head’s harassment case against Hollywood star Johnny Depp, which ended in his favour, has worried feminists as the verdict comes as a death blow to the # MeToo movement. The movement has turned into a bandwagon witch-hunt, causing life and reputation to be ruined without due process. Therefore, the controversial movement has caused a setback to the efforts of feminists to raise their voices through the movement.
Over and above, the debate of abortion controversy has marred the feminists to raise their cause of women’s liberation for their sex-based rights. Since the 1990s, feminists have strived to achieve the complete liberation of women by emphasizing the abortion movement. All pro-choice consider abortion as a fundamental and non-negotiable right. However, in the light of the protection of life and fetus and the value of motherhood attribute, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the precedent of abortion law. For instance, the history of the conferring of abortion as a constitutional right in the U.S. rests upon the landmark Roe v. Wade case. In 1973, Roe made an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which then ruled against the state. Now, almost fifty years later, the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, which allows individual states to ban abortions. In this way, the rollback of the right to abortion has become a longstanding, ongoing controversy that touches on the moral, legal, medical, and religious aspects, proving to be a heavy blow for feminist movements.
Moreover, modern feminism has veered from gender equality into a cult of outrage that seeks to belittle men. It has become one of the many reasons the word “feminism” is feared and looked down upon across the world, sometimes even by people who have worked for women’s rights all their lives. Moreover, certain feminist movements have adopted that the cause of gender inequality is based on men’s needs; therefore, they are keen on men-bashing. According to Robin Morgan, a renowned American social activist and journalist, “I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honourable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.” Due to the hatred towards men, the workplace environment has become sensitive for both genders as males fear non-cooperation and chilling relations. It also impacts the professional growth of women working outside the house.
In addition, the practice of intersectionality invisibility- the negligence of race, case, and class- has become another major cause of controversy, impairing the image of feminist movements. Feminist movements that focus only on issues that predominantly affect White women without addressing racialized sexism ignore the needs of Black women, who face higher rates of police abuse. For instance, in 2017, Black women earned 61 cents for every dollar earned by white men, amounting to $23,653 less in earnings over an entire year. According to Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American law professor, “All inequality is not created equal; we tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status.” The exclusion of women of colour has left the issues faced by these coloured women in many regions of the world. Therefore, such a lack of intersectionality has become a sore mark for feminist progress.
Furthermore, the relationship between feminism, transgender theory and politics is surprisingly fraught. The belief of feminists that trans women are not women and their trans-exclusionary approach has made them infamous for being transphobic feminists. Moreover, the gender equality, gender management, and gender mainstreaming approaches overlook most problems faced by people from the LGBTQ community and women of colour, framing their target stakeholders as white, cisgender, and heterosexual. For instance, Ghana is unsafe for lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ) women. LBQ women are rarely part of national debates about women’s rights, and a deep undercurrent of heterosexist and socio-religious attitudes has resulted in their erasure within the Ghanaian feminist movement. Evidently, feminists consider themselves as a unitary organization, and their exclusionary policies and politics are observed in their literature. As a consequence, feminist movements have received a backlash from many other movements as exclusionary and non-cooperative.
At the same time, Pakistan is no exception to the controversies of the issues of feminism. The Aurat March, which started back in 2018, has started to mobilize and gather women to protest against violence and harassment. However, the rallying cry of the movement “mera jism, meri marzi”, which translates to my body, my choice, touched a nerve in 2019 and continues to stir controversy. A certain section views the slogan as an attempt to impose “Western debauchery” in Pakistan, with the country’s religious clergy deeming it to be un-Islamic. Consequently, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting urged the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to direct all media channels to stop telecasting slogans like “Mera Jism, Meri Marzi” in a supposed attempt to curb ‘moral indecency’ linked to the Aurat March. Numerous members of the movement have been at the receiving end of numerous deaths. As a result, the feminist movement in Pakistan has remained an unpopular clique due to several controversies.
Nonetheless, it has become evident that the current controversial issues are distorting the image of feminist movements, which are struggling in the true sense to achieve equal rights for women. However, to overcome these controversies, the new generation of feminists should become more inclusive, learn to cooperate with other movements and not repeat the mistakes of the past by again leaving women of colour ignored and overlooked. Moreover, feminists should spread awareness about their hatred of oppression and not of people; at the end of the day, women need the support of men to wield structural power and prove the gender equality perception of feminism. For feminism to be effective, the government should implement laws in true spirit to protect the rights of women and ensure their equal participation in social activities.
From the above discussion, it is inferred that despite the continuous struggle for feminism, the contemporary issues of women’s movements have turned into a mere cliché. Women have been struggling for decades to obtain their rights and to overcome the harassment that they face in workplaces as well as public places. However, due to the differences among feminist approaches and perspectives regarding the solution of problems, the movement has become divided in itself. Apparently, the rigid stance of radical feminists and the non-inclusivity of other groups has reduced the role of the movement to a cliché. Thus, the real outcome of women’s empowerment has been blemished.
In a nutshell, feminism has strived hard to achieve equal roles for women. However, the controversies have not only blemished the success of the movement but also marred its image among many segments of society. However, it is essential for feminist movements to continue to achieve the goal of women’s rights and the empowerment of women. By the promotion of inclusive policies and working on a diverse range of issues, progress can be made towards a just and equitable world for women.
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