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The Feminist Male: Concept and Reality

(This article was first published in Miloon Saryajani : August 2002. The first inspiration to write an article on the concept of ‘The Feminist Male’ came from Smt. Vidya Bal. When she had visited Nashik in 2002, during a discussion I suggested that the time has now come to change the slogan of Miloon Saryajani because it keeps out men who form 50% of the population. In response, she asked me to write an article on the concept of feminist male. I earnestly believe that this article was remotely responsible for the subsequent change in Miloon Saryajani’s slogan. – Vilas Salunke) 

Translated into English by author himself.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that Millon Saryajani is not just a magazine but a devotedly undertaken social responsibility to offer a new vision to the society. It is a self-imposed duty that women have voluntarily accepted to broaden their self-consciousness and understanding of their identity as well as awareness of legitimate rights for their own empowerment. In short, Miloon Saryajani is an inspiration to create a situation for the Indian woman in which man woman equality will be established by letting her become thoroughly aware of the injustice done to her—a situation in which she will feel extremely proud to be a woman.

However, one feels that this movement of Miloon Saryajani, after being seriously implemented for more than a decade, has not proved to be as effective as was expected. In fact, one also feels that even the womenfolk who run this movement have this regret in their mind. Though we generally believe that social changes always move forward at a snail’s pace, it is worthwhile to evaluate the project undertaken by the magazine afresh after about twelve years. This issue can be explained by making a reference to the slogan used by Miloon Saryajani all these years on its cover page. Translated in English it may read as follows: A woman’s magazine that starts a dialogue afresh with the minds of women folk. This translation, unlike the original slogan in Marathi, uses the word ‘woman’ which is implicit in the original sentence. The slogan has a built-in faith that self-awareness for women is a primary need of women today and, if it is achieved, most of the problems of women can be sorted out. However, though this is right in the context of the multifarious issues involved in women’s lives, in the present situation we have to concede that it is not enough. When the slogan was framed, it was probably not visualized that it would be dangerous to limit the feminist movement only to womenfolk. This social commitment undertaken by the magazine aiming at propagating the feminist movement in the society seems to stick to a policy that keeps away 50% of the male population out of its purview. As a result, this social endeavor is denied the success it deserves. A doubt keeps flickering in the mind that this feminist movement of women carried out by women, for women is defeating its own purpose by keeping all men out of its circle of operation.

This is precisely the reason why the role of Miloon Saryajani campaign needs to be widened. If this goal is achieved, we would be able to provide a basis for a new social structure for India for which, of course, we need to bring about a change first at the level of thinking. Then only real changes in the society would become easy. We have to remember that feminism is not restricted only to the world of womenfolk; it calls for response from the entire human race. Unless we presume that along with feminist women, there can be feminist men in society, true male-female equality is unlikely to prevail. The concept of ‘Feminist Male’ needs to be analyzed and emphasized; it has to be widely discussed in all circles of society. Feminist issues in general and problems of women in particular will not be solved unless the entire society accepts feminist ideology. Social development cannot take place if true gender equality is not established. It can be confidently stated that only in the society in which the number of feminist men, along with feminist women, is equally large, real feminism will not only take root but also grow. To achieve this, first and foremost, the psychology of women has to change first. Miloon Saryajani has achieved this goal to some extent by creating rebellion in women’s mind. However, unless the rebellious feminist woman gets cooperation and support from feminist men in the real sense, the expected social structure based on true gender equality will never come into existence. If this does not happen, the society based on inequality will rest contented in its own complacency and will continue to slumber in the old outdated feudalistic ideology and blame the feminist women as ‘rebellious.’

The basic premise of course is to believe that the door to the upliftment of women will not open unless women themselves understand the essence of feminist ideology. However, a better proposition would be to say that feminism is the first step in building the new social structure based on gender or man-woman equality. Though the biological difference between man and woman is natural, we should not accept the social structure that presumes it as basic. Instead, we should accept an ideology which is based on gender equality and a social structure that implements that ideology. If this is the real goal of feminism, the entire society has to accept feminism. When we generally say, ‘The psychology of men has got to change,’ what we unconsciously mean is, ‘We should have more feminist men in the society.’ However, it seems that many people are not aware of or do not understand its true meaning. It is therefore incorrect to believe that feminism is the region or jurisdiction only of women. It is therefore obligatory on the part of Miloon Saryajani, the phrase which translates in English as ‘all womenfolk coming together,’ to present and explain the concept of the ‘Feminist male’ to all people. To do so the magazine which addresses itself ‘only for women’ should get the cooperation and support of men as its associates and copartners. The purpose of this article is to start thinking about the concept of ‘Feminist male’ so as to spread its awareness in the society at large.

Personally, for me, this thought process started in my mind when I visited the United Kingdom on a Cambridge University scholarship to attend a research-oriented Course in English Literature and do some research projects. One of my projects was based on the novels of British novelist D.H. Lawrence. A lady who was our Professor of English there discussed and guided us on the novels of Lawrence. She was of the opinion that D.H. Lawrence was able to produce such great novels of outstanding literary merit only because he was a Feminist. This came as a surprise to me because Lawrence had initially become famous on account of a misunderstanding that had spread about his unnecessary dazzling and explosive presentations of man-woman relationship. The same had subsequently led to a ban on some of his novels. Even today some people do believe that his controversial novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover is worth banning. However, after an all-inclusive assessment and appreciation of Lawrence on the part of critics, he was slowly recognized as a great novelist. Today his Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow and Women in Love are considered great works of art at the world literature level. The British Professor emphatically stated that D. H. Lawrence, being a true Feminist male author, really believed and advocated man-woman equality in the true sense of the term. That was why he was able to portray the ups and downs in the consciousness of his women characters as well as their physical and sexual responses so realistically and artistically. Imaginatively, he was able to enter into the psychology and physiology of his female characters effortlessly and portray their mind and heart convincingly. This he could do even though he was a man. Hence, she described him as a remarkable Feminist author. The Cambridge Professor believed that it is difficult to come across another male author who has shown such deep and sensitive understanding of female psychology, her feminine self, the inner flow of consciousness and awareness in her mind, her grief, her very existence and identity as D.H. Lawrence has been able to show in his novels. This explicit opinion of a reputed Professor of English literature, herself a woman and literary scholar in her own right, goes to prove that Lawrence was a feminist writer in the true sense of the term. Owing to his artistic and aesthetic presentation of the female psyche, he is undoubtedly considered one the greatest poets and writers of fiction in the English language.

By and large, it is given to understand that the feminist movement or feminist ideology has to be brought into reality in order to successfully establish the basic societal values that will lead to happiness of mankind. And for this purpose, the psychology of men has to change along with that of women. However, in reality emphasis is laid on changing the mindset only of women. Even if it is correct, feminism cannot be a success unless men are willing to support it. To encourage men to do so, a clear ideal should be placed before them. This article puts forward the view that such an ideal would be the concept of the ‘Feminist male.’ Of course, at the outset we have to admit that to become a feminist male is extremely difficult. It’s obvious that the concept of the Feminist male—which opposes our traditional social structure, our love for conventions and the idea of man nourished by patriarchy—will not be accepted easily. We rarely find names of feminist men like D. H. Lawrence, Maharshi Karve, Raghunath Karve and Mahatma Jyotirao Phule in human history. Though these names are exceptions, we can certainly say that the society, in which there are more feminist men or men who have affinity with feminism and are making earnest efforts to bring it into practice, will have a greater possibility to change the psychology of men in it. To put it in other words, we can say, if this concept is discussed further and is made clear and easy to understand, social awareness about it would increase and the possibility to achieve ‘man-woman’ or gender equality would be greater. Only such a society would be truly happy. We would achieve nothing, if the principle of gender equality remains restricted only to 50% of the population. The percentage needs to be improved so as to bring more men in the fold of feminist ideology. Let us therefore discuss here the concept for further clarification.

The ‘Feminist male’ seems to be an idealistic concept at least in today’s world. If we decide to discuss the qualities implicit in feminist men, we will have to do so at two levels of human life. Firstly, we will have to think of men in general, how they live and function at social, economic, cultural and cognitive level. Then we will have to look at man as an individual, his emotional, psychological and physiological aspects of life. Subsequently, we will have to consider these two levels together to bring clarity to the concept of the ‘Feminist male.’

While discussing the concept at the first level, the initial thought that comes to the forefront is that the social structure in India, its traditions and conventions, have all opposed feminist ideology. What is generally called Feudalism, a hierarchical social and economic structure adopted by Indian people for years together, nourished a totally negative attitude towards women.(In fact, it prevailed all over the world.)Theoretically and realistically, only a man who has accepted modern attitude and ideology is likely to reach the concept of ‘Feminist male’ because feminism itself is a product of modernism. Historically speaking, it is believed that modernity began in the western world at the beginning of the 19th century after the French Revolution of 1789-99 took place giving the world the trinity of modernity comprising concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity. As time passed, out of its womb was gradually born the concept of gender equality which was later named Feminism. Up to the end of the 18th century, women simply existed, there was hardly any ‘thought’ given to them by mankind. They were not an entity; they were just a part of humanity for whom no special attention needed to be paid. Any principle of inequality, whether it is gender or racial discrimination, or any discrimination based on caste and class, cannot go hand in hand with modernity both in thought and action. That is why it can be safely concluded that a man who has become truly modern by throwing off the burden of deadwood of tradition and has vehemently supported individualism and has embraced true humanism implicit in the trinity of liberty, equality and fraternity into his veins can accept feminism wholeheartedly. Any tendency which believes in differences among peoples and thereby fosters discrimination against some sections of humanity or encourages a form of inequality amongst them is bound to oppose equality between the sexes and look down upon the entire womenfolk. In fact, such tendencies create a social structure that suppresses all women. They are inconsistent with feminism because they cannot look upon any person as a human being and treat people equally as individuals. That is why many women are not ‘feminist’ even if they are women. That is why it is often said that sometimes women are enemies of women. In conclusion, we can say that only a man who nurtures humanism and individualism can truly become a ‘Feminist male.’

When we look at the male community individually, at their emotional, psychological and physiological levels, we realize how difficult it is for a male to become a feminist. Although things are acceptable at the rational level, a man finds it difficult to treat a woman as an equal. As a result, women are not treated equally both in individual and social life. Men behave inconsistently with feminist principles because of their natural masculine instincts hidden in their blood. In this context, what goes or works against them is their ‘natural attraction for women.’ Though sexual attraction between the sexes is natural, it works and affects human beings in a different way from the way in which sex works in other living species. Nature keeps this attraction under check in birds and beasts. The purpose of sex in these species is limited to a certain period of their lives because sex is linked only to reproduction. These beings are not forever restless owing to their sexual instincts; their sexual attraction is limited only to the short period of reproduction.

As against these species, humans have to carry the burden of sexual attraction all through their lives. As man is never free from the built-in sexual instinct, he is unable to set himself free from the idea that females are a commodity to be used. That is why he has to fight forever with the natural attraction he has for the females. Here we have to note the difference between male and female sexuality. Male sexuality is basically more extrovert, outgoing, restless and prone to be active. On the contrary, female sexuality is introvert, quiet and prone to remain inactive. Owing to this difference, an average, common male does not have the capacity to keep away from the attraction for female sex. This vulnerability and tendency to succumb to female attraction makes him terribly weak if he lacks the support of rational, social and cultural backing. That is precisely the reason why a man cannot accept and implement feminism in his life though he is mentally convinced about its urgent social need. It is not possible for most men, owing to their natural instincts, to get ready to behave as feminist men rationally, emotionally and actively.  That is why to become a ‘Feminist male’ is extremely difficult for men.

In short, the concept of ‘Feminist male’ is unlikely to become part of reality. Of course, there are exceptions to this observation as we do notice some ideal figures achieving that status! This clearly suggests that every male can and should make all possible efforts to reach as close as possible to the ideal concept of ‘Feminist male.’ The possibility of achieving human happiness and social good depends on the success of his efforts. If the number of men, who keep the concept of ‘Feminist male’ as an ideal in front of them, is more, the easier it would be for feminism to take root in the society. This would help bring in a social structure based on gender equality in the true sense of the term. This discussion indirectly suggests an obvious conclusion: Every ‘Feminist male’ would be a person who has consciously shaped himself to be a feminist or is a person so shaped by conscious efforts of others or by circumstances around him. It could be rightly said, following the famous quote of Simone de Beauvoir, “One is not born, but rather becomesa Feminist male. In this context, one could refer to the question some feminists had asked some women: ‘What sort of man does a woman like?’ The answer they gave was: ‘A woman would find only that man close to her heart who looks at a woman not as woman but as an individual human being by neglecting the existence of her womanhood.’ Let us then conclude: though this goal is difficult to reach, it may certainly not be impossible.

 

Vilas Salunke

Email : vilasalunke@gmail.com