Author:Navya Dubey , Nirma Univerity(Institute of LAW)
The other day, I was following a discussion on Hijab and the choice of wearing it. Given I am not a Muslim, I thought it fair to not comment and just follow the lead on the women who chose to speak; some activists, and some from the religion itself. While reading up on many comments about choice, I flipped to some other thread and saw another discussion on choice, this time, that of observing a fast on Karwachauth. Two threads, two different religions, two different set of men and women.
That got me thinking. Is choice really the end result or is it a bone of contention? I have my reservations on following traditions, especially those that tip in favour of the patriarchy, but then again, it is my choice. But even for those who follow, is it really out of choice, or is it to seek validation from a system that showers praises on women who toe the line and follow tradition and look down upon those who not?
In the words of famous author and Ted talk speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, there is a concept called ‘’Feminism Lite’’. This concept is also charted out in her book Dear Ijeawale or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Let me quote what she says:
‘’Feminism Lite uses analogies like “He is the head and you are the neck.’’ Or, “He is driving but you are in the front seat.’’ More troubling is the idea, in Feminism Lite, that men are naturally superior but should be expected to ‘’treat women well.’’ No. No. No. There must be more than male benevolence as the basis for a women’s well-being.
Feminism Lite uses the language of ‘ALLOWING’, Theresa May is the British prime minister, and here is how a progressive British newspaper described her husband “ Philip May is known in politics as a man who has taken back seat and ALLOWED his wife, Theresa, to shine.” Now let us reverse it. Theresa May has ‘ALLOWED’ her husband to shine. Does it make sense? If Philip May were prime minister, perhaps we might hear that his wife had ‘supported’ him from the background, that she was ‘behind’ him or that she ‘stood by his side’’, but we would never hear that she had ‘ALLOWED’ him to shine.
‘’ALLOW’’ is a troubling word. ‘Allow’ reeks of power. You will often hear members of Nigerian Chapter of the Society of Feminism Lite say, “Leave the women alone to do what she wants as long as her husband allows.’’
All in all, Feminism Lite is a concept that hijacks Feminism and creates a counter concept of women who are hailed powerful and ‘’real’’ feminists for following the path of patriarchy and taking the backseat to never try or exercise their freedom. So, does that mean when a women wears hijab or observes Karwachauth she is following Feminism lite? Probably not. Maybe, they are exercising their choice. Definitely, they are entitled to their choice. But then, the privilege of having a choice lies with painfully few. For instance, for many people Karwachauth is a celebration of love, with both the new- age spouses fasting for each other. Even then, you cannot deny the fact that it is in fact enmeshed in the ideology that the husband’s life should be long and fulfilled. Again, here, the husband has a choice, a healthy one, the wife does not.
Take a situation, there is a couple at home. The husband says he can’t fast. No one bats an eyelid. That is exercising choice, because the repercussions remain the same, whether the choice is exercised or not. On contrary, if the wife says she won’t fast, don’t miss the raised eyebrows, questions, and of course, volley of pep talks shooting her with advice that she should adjust her routine accordingly. That implies that while the husband fasting or not fasting really does not make a difference, a non-fasting wife is looked down upon. When choices are coerced to sidestep drama and stifle voice, Is it really a CHOICE?
In a similar vein, in case of Hijabs there are many proud, empowered women who sport hijab, and their families don’t care if they remove it. These women are able to exercise their choice. However, is it a case in majority? No. In many third-world Islamic Nations, women are often killed for defying honour if they remove their headscarves, and this is allowed with blatant legal sanction in these countries. When not wearing a piece of clothing can have you killed, do you really have any other choice apart from wearing it? Again in many purportedly ‘progressive’ households, girls from a tender age are taught that not covering their heads would displease God. Children with nascent mind seek validation from their elders. If they are continuously conditioned to believe that they will only be accepted if they toe the line, bereft of any logic, what do you think their young minds would be conditioned into? Don’t idiolise or put women on pedestals equating them with Goddesses. Enable them, Empower them.
I have no issues with women who fast or women who wear Hijab. Especially with those who are independent women and can pull off both the things entirely out of choice. But to say that it is a universal choice, is a façade. It is their personal choice that stems out of privilege, the privilege of being born and wed into households that are progressive. But one cannot just mask over this disconcerting fact that for most women, there is NO choice. The path that lies for them on the other side of choice is either death or boycott. Either way, women slip into muddied waters with little or no escape. They do not have social capital or money to walk out and not look back.
So the next time we float “the choice argument’’ maybe we should introspect a little and think whom we are influencing with our privilege.