At a recent event to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), Israeli Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis (filling in for a female colleague) put the cat among the pigeons when he accused women of whining. “You want to mark the day, and that’s perfectly fine…. But being a feminist isn’t about saying ‘It’s not fair’ all the time. It’s about doing things,” he said.
The comments drew groans from his audience and protests from women, leading Akunis to later apologise “for any offence caused”. But was he totally off the mark?
It’s definitely not true of all women but don’t some of us play victim every chance we get? A lot of gender conversations between the sexes do seem to end with one side hectoring and the other side whining. And tragic as it is, it’s not the disadvantaged women in the villages or backward communities in small towns who bleat ceaselessly about their sorry circumstances. They stoically go about life, conserving their energies for eking out a living and providing a better life for themselves and their children.
It’s the urban, educated, privileged female—controlling the feminist discourse—who seems to perceive everything as a slight against womankind. (Like Kangana Ranaut’s messy break-up with Hrithik Roshan. Or, more recently, the ‘depressing sight’ of Jennifer Lawrence in a slinky dress when her male co-stars wore winter coats. This despite the Oscar winner clarifying that she wanted to wear the ‘gorgeous dress’.)
It’s indisputable that millions of women face grave impediments in their home and outside. They need to battle against people who supposedly love them as well as those who don’t. They struggle against unfounded prejudice, and have to fight for recognition and safety, even within their own families.
These women lead grim lives and need all the support we can give them. But so do the men who’re treated shabbily at home or work. They are victims too. We can’t be complicit in the oppression of a male relative and claim to be a feminist. Real feminists don’t just battle against patriarchy; they battle against all systems of oppression. They work with everyone to make the world a more positive place; they don’t just sit around, swatting ‘we-vs-them’ arguments.
The dictionary defines feminism as the ‘advocacy of women’s rights on the inherent equality of the sexes’. That means, be it at work or play, in the city or village, women shouldn’t accept less than men; but nor should they seek more. They can’t demand equal pay but refuse to step into a difficult leadership position. They can’t just be content with protest marches and hashtags; they have to also be ready to assume power and work within the systems they want to change. They have to be ready to work alongside others, productively, respectfully—through the year.
Which is why IWD makes no sense. By giving women one token day of the year, we’re putting them in the same slab as the Disabled, Technology, National Post, Sanskrit, Ordnance factories, even Sanitation; ‘issues’ that need addressing but can’t be spared more attention or time than a day. What about the rest of the year? Are those all Men’s Days? Where’s the equality there?