Credits: Pitchfork/Graphic by Martin Ehrhart
The below is the prepared text of speech delivered at the session on ‘Contemporary Feminism’ for the ‘B.R. Ambedkar Study Circle’, NUALS, Kochi on 15/02/2018. The comments made under brackets are meant to be extempore points to be utilized during the speech. Comments based on the same train of thoughts are in a single bracket, separated by a ‘//’. Comments and rebuttals are welcome – feel free to do so here or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I have given links to a variety of articles and essays, as much as possible, so as to substantiate my points. The below remarks have grammatical and syntactical mistakes for which I apologize – the preparation of this text were rushed. I may correct them in the future. Corrections made will be indicated in the text. I have added certain portions, which have also been given at the end of the text. They will be added in box brackets within the text.
Good Evening & Hello Everyone,
I would at the outset like to thank Anu for inviting me to speak here, as well as Namratha for being gracious enough to suggest that I be called to serve on this panel on “Contemporary Feminism”.I think these sort of activities are more than essential for the creation of an environment where we can all share ideas, debate and grow together. That is after all what college is about. I would Like everyone here to keep in mind that I am not in any way the best person to criticize feminism, since I am not a scholar on the subject, merely a keen observer. There is a coherent, rational case that can be made against feminism, and it is quite unfortunate that my incoherent rambling will have to do. Seriously though, I would like to say that I am not someone who will describe himself as a “hater of feminists” or such. I see the movement as those people with certain good intentions (and bad) using the wrong methods to achieve irrational goals. I am not attempting to offer a critical appraisal of feminism in this speech. ( This is an arduous task, considering that feminism has entrenched its ideas in many areas of the ‘liberal’ mind, and it would be an uphill battle to critically examine it without derision.) I would rather merely attempt to expose those gathered here to a variety of critical reading material. Speaking of reading material, I was unfortunately made aware of the circulation of certain reading material by Shilpa and Namratha only today morning. Therefore, I will not be able to comment on them, and I do apologize for the same. These remarks along with the links for the reports/articles/studies I have used here will be uploaded online as documentation.If there are any questions, I would like to take them after I’ve spoken.
Now, I would have myself described myself as a ‘feminist’, a few years ago. But I no longer do, mainly because I have realized that the ideals and values that I hold dear could be in opposition to the advocacy of feminism.
The first quandary that I faced when I started to write these remarks is defining contemporary feminism. We have apparently reached the fourth wave of feminism, one that is characterized by the use of technology to further the movement. Regardless, since the ‘Third Wave’ of feminism, there has been a remarkable lack of cohesion among the various feminist groups, which has only increased with the application of ‘intersectionality’ and the transgender question. (Rose McGowan)
Since it is hard to define feminism, one can assess its impact by analysing what self proclaimed feminists have stated/acted on in public and otherwise. And this where I think the clincher lies – that feminism or feminists have harmed the progress of ‘women’ There are of course as I said earlier a more robust, philosophical argument that can be made against ‘feminist goals’. I however am not equipped, knowledgable or intelligent enough to present the case here.I am merely presenting some instances/grounds on actions that feminists have taken or advocated and offering criticism on that. I hope that these remarks will be debated in the right spirit, without any derision.
One instance of feminist activism that has come into the forefront during recent months is the #MeToo movement. What started as a movement for women to speak up about being abused has turned into a massive swamp of accusations, substantiated and unsubstantiated on sexual assaults women have faced or apparently faced. The crown jewel in this aspect is the ‘Aziz Ansari’ allegations, which I believe more than enough people have read about. This and other instances have prompted a backlash against women – Ms. Arianna Huffington tweeted just a few days ago on how male managers are now three times as likely to *not* mentor women, and promoted #MentorHer or something of that sort. An article by Andrew Sullivan on the same issue about the backlash should be read for more context. (rebuttals I believe on the topic has been issued in The Atlantic and the New Yoker) Criticism has been offered on this movement by ‘Bad Feminists’ as well. I implore everyone to read Ms. Margaret Atwood’s article calling for due process and restraint ( to quote: “The #MeToo moment is a symptom of a broken legal system. All too frequently, women and other sexual-abuse complainants couldn’t get a fair hearing through institutions – including corporate structures – so they used a new tool: the internet. Stars fell from the skies. This has been very effective, and has been seen as a massive wake-up call. But what next? The legal system can be fixed, or our society could dispose of it. Institutions, corporations and workplaces can houseclean, or they can expect more stars to fall, and also a lot of asteroids.”) , as well as an article in Bloomberg, about how randomized public shaming of celebrities won’t really help. An Op-ed in the New York Times argues that the movement has unknowingly remorlized sex.
In India too, Ms. Riya Sarkar, apparently a student in Singapore or US, compiled a list of academics who have sexually harassed/assaulted women, and the same set of criticism can be offered.
I would like to deal with an ancillary topic at this instant – the apparent issue of the ‘rape epidemic’ or ‘rape capital Delhi’ As per 2012 Statistics – there were around 25,000 reported rapes. If we 10x this number, we get 2,50,000 rapes being committed in India. That’s 0.0406 % normalized for the female population in India. If we assume an increase of 100x, more than what is rational – we arrive at 0.406%. The US co-efficient is 0.8% ( 1.3 million rapes). This is not deny that we have a problem. Or to deny that the legal system is ill-equipped to handle these problems. Oer that women face a institutional deficiency in taking these cases to the logical conclusion, and do not face harassment. The ‘rape epidemic’ is not what it is made out to be is my point. The solution to this I will suggest later.
The second issue that has to be dealt with substantively is the question of the ‘wage gap’. There is some riveting research on the topic – a National Bureau of Economic Research study suggests “that industry segregation may not be structural or even coincidental. According to the authors of the study, women may select different jobs than men because they “may care more about job content, and this is a possible factor preventing them from entering some male dominated professions.”
(Uber example “Prior to an examination of the gap’s underlying causes, it is worth considering the following. This result is somewhat surprising because Uber uses a gender-blind algorithm and drivers earn according to a transparent formula based on the time and distance of trips. There are no negotiated pay rates or convex returns to long hours worked, factors that have been shown to open a gender earnings gap in other settings. Our research also finds that both average rider ratings of drivers and cancellation rates are roughly equivalent between genders and we find no evidence that outright discrimination, either by the app or by riders, is driving the gender earnings gap.”// “Interesting, a 7% gender wage gap for Uber drivers pe32rsists because men tend to be more experienced, drive faster, and take lucrative routes. Tipping may reduce gap because women get 10-20% more tips.” James Damore, Twitter )
In a recent viral interview of Canadian Psychologist Jordan Peterson by Channel 4 journalist, he attempted to make an argument on the same lines that I have made today on the Wage gap – that it is a myth, when we contextualize it to the real world. He was met with derision and hatred – even though he points out multivariated analysis point to the contrary. Peterson asks a fundamental question in that interview: Who decides what is fair pay? The best argument that Peterson makes is around the 13th minute – that Equality of Opportunity is eminently desirable, but equality of outcome is not. This is not something that the feminist movement seems to realize. In India, the Equal remuneration Act of 1976 exists. Rather than serving as a tool to ‘empower’ women in the workplace or otherwise, it has only served as a toll for a conniving bureaucrat to harass Businesses and other establishments. In this context, it would be pertinent to point out that the Female Labour Participation Rate has fallen in India to 27% – despite high growth rates in preceding years, fall in fertility rates and rise in female education. This can be explained by the Feminization ‘U’ Hypothesis apparently. (From the Hindu: ‘An increase in educational enrolment among the younger cohort, attainment of socio-economic status, and household composition largely contributed to the drop. However, some of the reasons cited for the decrease suggest that it was not entirely a negative trend. Stability in family income, as indicated by the increasing share of regular wage earners and declining share of casual labour in the composition of family labour supply, had led female family members to choose dropping out of the labour force.“One plausible explanation for the recent drop in FLFP is that with the recent expansion of secondary education, as well as rapidly changing social norms in India, more working age young females (15 to 24 years) are opting to continue their education rather than join the labour force early. The decline in the FLFP rate for females between 15 and 24 years of age was to a large extent due to an increase in female enrolment in education,” the research paper said.’)
It would be pertinent to keep in mind that there are structural, socio-economic differences between Western Liberal democracies and India, and therefore, the application of Western Feminism is itself called into question. In many parts of the country, first wave feminism itself has to take a hold – Schemes such as Beti bachao, Beti Padao (apparent growth in sex ratio// comment on how pre-natal diagnostic act has failed), Ujwala Awas Yojana (helped 3.34 crore women)have undoubtedly helped the cause of women’s empowerment in India more than a feminist movement. It is a sad state of affair that the State has done more for women than a social movement based on the concept that women should be empowered. Women have been unable to utilize those rights that have been given to them in India, and the main barrier that exists is the lack of independence. The answer to this question on what should be done will be given [a few minutes from now]. The Economic Survey 2017 also points out that Agency, Attitude and Outcome has tangibly improved, but maybe not enough. The extension of maternity leave to six months might seem to be a good idea, but this as a whole is bad for women because it retards the hiring of women – simply imagine yourself in the shoes of an employer. (Give hypothetical example, if necessary). This is similar to the problem with the Menstrual leave clause – (‘“First-day period leave” may be dressed up as progressive, but it actually trivializes the feminist agenda for equal opportunity, especially in male-dominated professions. Worse, it reaffirms that there is a biological determinism to the lives of women, a construct that women of my generation have spent years challenging. Remember all those dumb jokes by male colleagues about “that time of the month” or PMS? Well, this idea only serves to emphasize that there is something spectacularly otherworldly about a bodily function.’// ‘But for women to use the fight against menstrual taboos as an excuse for special treatment is a disservice to the seriousness of feminism. Stop this sexism. Period.’) I am again, not an authority on the subject, but Ms. Dutt’s point makes sense. So does the fact that it actively disincentivizes women from being employed. [During the panel discussion Namratha argued that the very fact employers will consider employing women a disincentive ‘shows why we need stronger protection’. I have a two pronged rebuttal to that – First, State interventions to ’empower’ women in the market place will fail. I will write a longer article to explain why later. Now, on to the latter point. A certain amount of clarity is firstly required. When I argued that it functions as a disincentive to hire women, my argument was not that maternal benefits as a whole is an undesirable public good. What I meant is that from the point of view of an employer, the maternal benefits act behaves as a deterrent from hiring women of a certain age group. Imagine that you own a manufacturing business and there’s a managerial post that needs to be filled. There are two candidates – A and B. A and B are both young, recently married, and have fairly similar academic and work experiences. However, A is a man and B is a woman. Who will I hire? The logical and rational choice is A. Why? The Maternal Benefits Act. I will have to comply in all probability with it, providing B with six months of paid leave and a creche facility if my unit qualifies. In short, I will have to go out of my way if I want to employ B. Which is untenable. A similar argument is made in this The Business Line article. The same problem exists with the idea of menstrual leave.] A similar argument against Women’s Reservation in Parliament has to be made. Why? Simply because Empowering women in this nature is not the same as creating powerful women. (Rabri Devi v. Jayalalithaa, Women’s Reservation in Panchayats, TN/Kerala/ Rajasthan // Women appointed to Company boards – Success or what // Rwanda: Political representation does not mean agency) Women’s Discrimination in Law meant to ‘protect’ them also has to be unveiled – factories act.
I have reached the last section of my prepared remarks – but before I proceed – I know I am offering limited criticism – there are wider topics with much more consequence – abortion, marital rape and so on that needs debate. But there are certain constraints to this panel discussion, and I have kept them in mind while preparing these remarks. I hope this forum hosts more discussions on this and related issues, and I wish Anu, Niranjan all my support and wishes for the same.
Having said all this,let me move to the suggestion I have to offer – A structured movement that focuses on Women Empowerment without state interference ( Done in many instances by Organizations like SHGs and more), Law and Order reforms and (wait for it -) Capitalism.
I believe the first idea is apparent enough. The second I think is also agreeable – what exactly these reforms propound will be a fundamental problem, but lets brush past that. The third idea,many people will find it to be imminently disagreeable, due to the socialist tendencies that feminism has long espoused even though that was initially not the case. (This is why, Davies claims, almost all of the earliest feminists “were ardent laissez-faire liberals and supporters of capitalist industry. They were well aware of the connection between the autonomy and freedom of choice that they advocated for women and the economic transformations that had made freedom possible as a lived reality.) Economic Freedom Is the basis of all freedoms. The Women’s empowerment movement should focus on bringing prosperity and wealth through market reforms. ( “The short answer is that capitalism liberated women from material constraints arising from the reality of living in a world of little innovation, slow or nonexistent growth, and chronic material deprivation. This was also true for men of course, but for reasons both natural and social, the conditions of premodern life affected women much more severely and stringently than they did men.”) A similar experience can be sought for LGB+ Community. Independence – something I talked about a few minutes earlier when I talked about why women can’t exercise these rights – is based on financial independence. Those societies that have utilized a capitalistic system – In Scandinavia and in the larger western world, have inevitable resulted in financial independence for women, and that is which can drive this forward.
In conclusion – Liberty is the way forward.
Thank you, and Jai Hind!
Sidenote: Do read this piece in Quillete on how Feminism denies women agency in the context of the recent grid girls controversy. Quote: “Opponents may suggest that Grid Girls have internalised their own oppression in a society shaped by patriarchal values, but not without making two claims: (1) that Grid Girls are unable to adequately think for themselves because of the society they live in and (2) that thinking for yourself is only evidenced by acknowledging the existence of a patriarchal status quo and resisting it.”
 A Wall Street Journal article published yesterday (01 March 2018) covers new research on “Gender equity” in STEM fields which show that women are likely to choose those fields if those societies are more unequal. This reiterates my point that equality of outcome is not a desirable one.
Manu Joseph : Men can’t be feminists Quote: “To call men feminists is like calling every Brahmin who wishes Dalits well a Dalit. Men can be allies of women, but that does not make them feminists because they are, including good men, a major part of the problem. They are the creators and beneficiaries of what feminism wishes to overthrow. “
What feminists don’t get about burqas (podcast)
“Who Stole Feminism?” by Christina H. Sommers (Book) – She draws a distinction between ‘equity feminism’ and ‘gender feminism’.
A choice, not an echo by Phyllis Schlafy (book) – by the writer who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment in the USA.
 Made on 17/02/2018
 Made on 02/03/2018