Essence of true feminism

By Deepa Majumdar

I read with interest the article, “An Open Letter,” by Adelia Nongbri (ST web version Oct9, 2020). It refers to an article with a “ghastly title ‘KUMNO KI KYNTHEI KIN PHIKIR BAN IADA IA LADE?’ published by a vernacular daily, on the October 7,2020.” Since I have not read the original article deemed offensive by this author, I can only guess that it was puritanical and misogynistic. The author mentions Spivak, who really represents a certain strand of western thought.

I cannot comment on the situation in Shillong or Meghalaya, as I am not there in person, and do not know of the local situation. But I can assure this well meaning writer that given the devastation I see around me, here in the US, it is high time we women reviewed and reassessed what passes for “feminism” in the west and now in India (via neo-colonialism).

In his wonderful work on ethics, Aristotle defines each moral virtue as flanked by two matching vices — one, an excess, the other a deficit. If we apply this to the virtue of true chastity (a universal virtue) or voluntary self-control, the excess vice is the promiscuity (sexual immorality, hedonism, and adultery) one sees in western society as a result of the so-called sexual revolution. The deficit vice should be puritanism, which caricatures chastity, but comes with great violence against the object of a hidden lust. India, in particular, has a long history of puritanical violence against women — to the point of committing Sati (burning the widow on the funeral pyre of her husband).

But beyond these two extremes and transcending both, is the true virtue of chastity, which cannot be policed, but must be chosen. The biggest mistake of western feminism has been its reactive embrace of so-called sexual freedom (an oxymoron), without stopping to ask this question first: how can an appetite ever free us — at that, one that involves another person and maybe a third (if a child is born)?

All around me I see the devastation caused by the so-called sexual revolution (SR). I see young people with empty eyes and hearts parched with sorrow. Many suffer from what is called “Daddy blues,” or the pain of a fatherless America. Yes the problem of absconding Dads is one result of SR. Another result is the incapacity of the young to sustain relationships. A third is decline in standards of civility and the vanishing of the virtue of respect. There are many other terrible results of the breakdown of the traditional family. The two greatest perhaps are the plight of the unwanted child and the tragedy of abortion.

This kind of appetitive feminism has harmed women more than anybody else. It has degraded them through modes of self-objectification. It has made them lose self-respect. At least some modern women are terrified of being deemed sexually incorrect, and therefore unlovable. The very word “consent” degrades the sexual act to something contractual — instead of elevating this act above the animal level. For, the only proper context for human sexuality should be deep abiding friendship, mutual respect, and lifelong mutual responsibility and unselfishness towards one another. Here in the US, young women today are rejecting feminism, as a result of its unthinking embrace of so-called sexual liberty. To be called a “feminist” is no longer respectable among the young.

And yet, feminism is VERY important and will always be relevant. So long as even a single woman is raped or violated, feminism is relevant. But what should feminism be? Surely it should rise above patriarchy and inspire better behavior? Just as fire cannot be fought with fire, so also, masculine carnality and its violence towards women cannot be fought with a reactive feminine carnality. Only true chastity can ward off lust. This, I think, is what SR is leading us to in a historical sense — a voluntary inspired return to true self-control.

As for Puritanism, women should be as wary of puritanical sexism, as they are of lustful sexism. Nobody should control our bodies but ourselves. But with this right to our bodies, comes the enormous responsibility to neither degrade ourselves, nor others — especially the child who is not to blame for how it comes into the world. A higher feminism would advocate pride in our capacity for motherhood (to be distinguished entirely from patriarchal versions of motherhood) — understood as the capacity for unselfish and tender, nurturing love.

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