The Controversial Issues of Feminism and the Contemporary Women’s Rights Movements


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1- Introduction

Women’s struggle for equality and the cessation of oppression against them have been partly won by acquiring the right to vote and equal access to education through many waves of feminism. Nevertheless, they are still disproportionally affected by violence and discrimination in every aspect of life, primarily because of the contemporary women’s rights movements, maligning further the controversial issues of feminism.

2- An overview of the concept of feminism
3- Explaining the contemporary women’s rights movements
4- Where do the controversial issues of feminism stand in the contemporary women’s rights movements? 

  • Argument: The MeToo Movement shifted ‘innocent until proven guilty to ‘guilty until proven innocent, paving the way for false allegations
    Case in point: False allegation of harassment forced a lecturer in MAO College to kill himself
  • ✓ Argument: The verdict given by the Supreme Court of the U.S. in the Roe vs Wade case made the government of America face a continuous backslash
    Case in Point: The anti-abortion movement in America
  • ✓ Argument: The emergence of radical feminism – as a wider, man-hating, and notorious contemporary movement – propelling the non-ending Matriarchal Vs Patriarchal debate 
    Case in Point: Robin Morgan – A renowned American Journalist and social activist – defends ‘man-hating’ as the right of the oppressed class to hate the class that is oppressing them 
  • ✓ Argument: Postmodernism and the protests from the LGBTI community changed the whole structure of feminist movements but for the worse
    Case in point: According to Human Rights Watch, Qatar Preventive Security Department forces have arbitrarily arrested lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention
  • Argument: The ongoing debate between liberal and radical feminists impeding the achievements of feminism in general and women empowerment in particular
    Case in Point: Unlike the more reformist approach of liberal feminism, radical feminists reject the prevailing order altogether, advocating separatism at large

4- The case study of Pakistan

  • The controversies surrounding Aurat March 

5- Way forward to address the crisis of Modern-day feminism controversies

  • To prefer more inclusivity in the contemporary women’s rights movements 
  • To put forward a more reformative approach
  • To strengthen the legislation
  • To invigorate Mainstreaming and awareness campaigns

6- Critical analysis
7- Conclusion 

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Feminism, over the years, has come out as a movement to end sexist exploitation and oppression to achieve gender equality in law and practice for all genders, particularly women. However, the controversial issues linked with feminism, either directly or indirectly, have affected the women’s rights movements in the modern world. For instance, the ongoing anti-abortion movement in the U.S. – following the Roe Vs Wade case – has propelled a liberal Vs cultural feminism debate, impeding the achievements of feminism as a whole. Thus, the current developments in the feminist culture of the world have taken over the prime time where some feminists have been displaying the unreal meaning of feminism that, consequently, has transformed the whole idea of feminism into nothing more than a cliché concept. Furthermore, the Metoo movement resulting in fake harassment cases, the notorious men-hating radical feminist movement, and the protests from the LGBTQ community in the wake of postmodernism have changed contemporary women’s rights movements for the worse. Pakistan, being no exception, has also been facing controversies starting from Aurat March slogans to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2022. Nonetheless, concrete steps that include an inclusive and culturally relevant approach and invigorating awareness campaigns are necessary to emancipate the contemporary women’s rights movement from the above-stated controversies. This essay sheds light on how the controversial issue of feminism has affected the women’s rights movements and also explains how the controversies could be eradicated.

“I didn’t fight to get women out from behind vacuum cleaners to get them onto the board of Hoover.”

Germaine Greer

Before elucidating the controversial issues affecting the contemporary women’s rights movements, it is pertinent to contextualize feminism. Feminism, by and large, entails the idea of gender equality and women empowerment at political, economic, and, above all, social levels. Although initiated in the West, the idea of feminism is manifested worldwide. Being an interdisciplinary approach, it has addressed every inequality and discrimination irrespective of gender, religion, and nationality. For instance, the four waves of feminist movements – diverse in nature – have helped the world community. Thus, from getting the right to vote to addressing the gender pay gaps, feminism has come a long way. 

To begin with, from global marches to social media campaigns, women are raising their voices and calling out sexual harassment gender pay gap and demanding women’s political representation. These movements not only strive to end gender discrimination at all levels but also endorse a more reformative, intersectional, and inclusive approach. As a result, these ongoing liberation movements consistently play their due role in shaping public opinion and creating awareness among the masses to empower women. Moreover, from holding perpetrators accountable for violence against women to changing social policies and norms globally, these movements have brought the concept of feminism to the main stage. Thus, the current feminist movements have been the most influential globally.

Having discussed what the ongoing movements for women’s empowerment entail, it is imperative to dive deep into where the controversial issues of feminism stand in the contemporary WRMs. 

In the first place, the challenge of proving oneself innocent in the wake of the Metoo movement – a social media movement against sexual abuse, harassment, and rape culture– has inflicted harm upon the ongoing women’s rights approach. Several kinds of research have been conducted showing a majority of respondents, both male and female, with the headset that the movement has made it harder for men to interact with women, especially in the workplace. Moreover, along with the onset of this movement, there have come stories of men being afraid of what might happen if they were falsely accused. For instance, a false allegation of harassment following the Metoo movement forced a lecturer at MAO College Lahore to end his life. Hence, this ongoing movement has shifted the pendulum swings from ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and paved the way for false allegations, creating controversy. 

Moving ahead, the anti-abortion campaigns in the USA to reverse the Roe v. Wade decision — a verdict given by the Supreme Court of America making abortion legal — has added salt to the fire. The proponents of this movement and many right-to-life organizations claim that abortion not only results in mental health problems but also damages future fertility and is a cause of breast cancer. The medical professional organizations and pro-choice followers, however, are of contradictory viewpoints. Thus, this ongoing debate has made the government of America face a continuous backlash and promote legislative amendments that would broadly restrict abortion. For example, in June 2022, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending federal abortion rights and allowing individual states to regulate their own abortion laws. Consequently, the overlapping controversy of abortion rights has overshadowed the actual purpose of contemporary women’s rights movements. 

Apart from the anti-abortion movements, the polluted ideology of radical feminism coupled with a wider, man-hating, and notorious contemporary movement has, once again, propelled the non-ending matriarchal vs matriarchal debate. Starting as a movement to eliminate the social domination of women by men, it opposes the existing political and hierarchical social structures. It aims to dismantle patriarchy rather than adjust to the system through legislative changes. Although initiated as a progressive movement, it has now changed into an anti-male approach rubbing salt in the wounds of cultural and liberal feminists who are of the opposite viewpoint. For instance, Robin Morgan – A renowned American journalist and social activist – has publicly defended this ‘man-hating’ approach as the right of the oppressed class to hate the class oppressing them. Therefore, it has created a controversy highlighting the internal challenges of these contemporary feminist approaches. 

“I feel that ‘man-hating’ is an honorable and viable political act, that the oppressed have a right to class-hatred against the class that is oppressing them.”

Robin Morgan
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Furthermore, the challenges imposed in the wake of ongoing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) protests have further aggravated the controversies surrounding the modern-day movements. From Disney — one of the world’s biggest entertainment companies — facing backlash over non-representation of the LGBTQ community in its content to an LGBTQ event at a Florida church igniting public anger, postmodernism has changed the whole structure of feminism, but for the worse. Moreover, many countries face allegations and backlash due to their laws regarding the LGBTQ community. To illustrate, Qatar, the first Middle Eastern and Muslim country to host the FIFA World cup 2022, had to face global backlash. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Qatar Preventive Security Department forces have arbitrarily arrested LGBTQ people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention. Thus, these ongoing debates over the LGBTQ community are exacerbating the whole situation. 

Besides this, the contemporary struggle between liberal and radical feminists is also impeding the achievements and struggles of women’s rights movements. This polarization has reached a level nearing its apex in the past decade. Consequently, feminism today is divided into two camps, causing the concept’s unity to be torn to pieces. To illustrate, unlike the pragmatic approach of liberal feminism, radical feminists aim for a radical change and reject the existing order altogether, advocating separatism at large. Hence, the modern women’s rights movements are witnessing a series of controversies blocking the true idea of women’s empowerment from prevailing. 

Pakistan, being no exception, has also been the victim of these controversial issues. To elaborate, the controversy of Aurat March, although started as a movement to put an end to domestic violence and sexual harassment, has impeded the achievements of women empowerment in the country. The slogans like ‘mera jism, meri marzi‘ continue to stir disagreement at the national level. Proponents are of the view that the slogan highlights sensitive issues like marital rape. Still, certain sections of the society view it as an attempt to impose “western debauchery” in Pakistan. For instance, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting urged the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to stop the telecast of such slogans to curb moral indecency. Thus, the controversies surrounding the movement are darkening the image of feminism in the country.

With the above emanation of various controversies affecting the contemporary women’s rights movements, it has become clear that some concrete steps addressing the crisis of Modern day controversial issues have become the need of the hour. The compelling first step to alleviate these controversies is to bring more inclusivity to the modern-day women’s rights movements. By inclusivity, it is meant to resolve the internal disputes between feminist movements. Thereby, the concept of women’s empowerment can only become uncontroversial if proponents of every movement would stand together supporting the idea of women’s empowerment at large explicitly. 

Identically, the world needs to apply the reformative, and not aggressive, approach to bring forth a softer image of feminism. To elaborate, a critical conscious effort using a pluralistic lens is the need of the hour to abolish the controversies surrounding the contemporary feminist discourse. While stressing some points regarding women’s empowerment, feminists today deliberately try to neglect the sensitivity and irrelevancy of it. Moreover, the interrelatedness of various forms of oppression and discrimination needs a framework to propose a solution for all society sections. Thus, the foundation of future feminist struggle must be built on reformation and relevance. 

Lastly, there’s a dire need to strengthen the existing laws and make constitutional amendments that are required in the 21st century. It is because women cannot be protected socially if they face legal oppression. Also, more than just ending sexism and strengthening the legislation, the world needs to invigorate mainstreaming and awareness campaigns; because only then the long-lasting impact of these controversial issues would be lifted from the modern-day movements. 

To critically analyze, the idea of women’s empowerment can only prevail in its true essence when the sentiments of the masses are echoed without any contest. Allegedly, women across the globe, owing to the virtue of their inherited sex, share a common oppression at all levels. Nevertheless, the division of feminism into various movements has made the whole concept debatable, paving the way for controversies to originate. Owing to these controversial issues, it, however, becomes difficult, if not impossible, for the real concept of feminism to live up to its cause. Thus, the actual ideology of ongoing women empowerment movements gets polluted.

In a nutshell, the overlapping controversies in the modern women’s rights trends have overpowered the continuous struggles of feminism. Moreover, these controversial issues have paved the way for many debates between cultural, liberal, radical, and postmodern feminist movements. Nonetheless, if taken sagaciously, some concrete measures can help emancipate from these controversial issues. Hence, a shift from a radical voice to a global one, from self-interest to mutual interaction, and from feminist diversity to feminist solidarity is necessary to bring forth the philanthropy of feminism to the main stage. 

Feminist solidarity rooted in a commitment to progressive politics must include a space for rigorous critique and dissent, or we are doomed to reproduce in dominated communities – the very form of domination we seek to oppose.

Bell Hooks

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