The inception of feminism was a social reaction to institutional sexism and when gender narratives were binary and rigid. As society has evolved and human beings more empowered, the concept of gender and sexuality has become fluid, the binaries of society now replaced by more complex narratives. However, modern feminism seems to be outdated as its prime narrative and political pursuit seems to remain gender exceptionalism and not equality.
Modern feminism even tries its best to battle biology, with politics trying to undermine the facts of the natural world. MMA fighter Fallon Fox is the first openly transgender fighter in the industry, shifting from the male to the female division. However, her winning streak was met with controversy as it brought to the light how the physical strength of male MMA fighters is greater than that of women. The blowback to the Fox controversy came in the form of outrage from women’s groups, calling it a form of discrimination against transgenders, even when the basis of the controversy was never gender. MMA fighter Ronda Rousey spoke out about the case saying that no one can reverse the effect of puberty which always gives male competitors the strength advantage. However, the politics surrounding this case shows how ‘female exceptionalism’ fought against the bare facts of the human anatomy. Tennis legend John McEnroe once courted controversy by saying that Serena Williams is the best ‘female’ tennis player in the world, with women’s groups playing on his ‘bad boy’ image dubbing him a sexist and a misogynst. Once again, his argument was biological and not driven by individual ability. Serena Williams herself once said that male bone density and muscle growth is greater than that of women which gives them the edge in sports, but the narrative of ‘female exceptionalism’ once again mired a statement of fact into a political argument. Theories should be twisted around facts and never facts around theories, yet even biology tends to be dragged in and debated by modern feminism, which never tends to serve the equality narrative.
While fighting patriarchy, the feminist narrative pushes the oldest patriarchal concept that only women are fit to raise children. Courts in India generally tend to give the custody of minor children to mothers, and order fathers to provide maintenance which by its very essence is patriarchal. A married man can be sent to jail for adultery for 5 years under Section 497 of the IPC, but there is no provision to book a married woman for the same crime. In the case of divorce law, only a wife can receive maintenance from a husband, irrespective of the woman earning more or the circumstances of the separation. These are discriminatory practices in the modern age, however, it unusually fits into the feminist narrative as it champions ‘female exceptionalism’ – the exact political inequality which powers patriarchy – the very thing feminism was developed to tear down. It may have served a purpose to tilt the scales of gender rights 30 years ago, but now it’s time for re-negotiation towards equality in the modern era with all the challenges and complexities surrounding gender. Modern feminism is political with the idea of equality, which dents the ideology even if it serves its politicians.
Men may have more physical strength, but human beings – men and women – are capable of great power, courage and heart. Not every mother is capable of raising a child, fathers can be great single parents and no gender by its very virtue holds the moral high ground in society. Feminism’s mission should be equality – women are equal to men – and never the exceptionalism of women. As education, politics and economics battle to breakdown patriarchy, and allow the space for wider social narratives of sexuality, gender and identity in a universal struggle for civil rights, feminism should not be left behind. Its proponents should be more enlightened that its politicians.