“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am a feminist. Now that should not come as a big surprise. However, among certain circles such an admission could incite more venom than a swear word. So why is “feminism” the new “F” word?
The negative notions we have of feminism are a reflection of our own ignorance. Yet what is more disturbing is the lack of feminist values among Tamil men. As Tamil men, we should be at the forefront of defending feminist values. This is not to be confused with feminism needing male support, but because our culture has always been supportive of matriarchy and belief in the equal rights of men and women.
The very basis of feminism is that men and women are equal. Feminism acknowledges the difficulties women face in daily life and that there are institutional challenges that women have to deal with exclusively. From harassment at work to objectification in their private lives, women face challenges men do not. While I can very easily walk home alone at 3 AM, most women can not.
What is interesting about Tamil identity and feminism is that in Tamil society today we seem to have forgotten some very basic ideals we learned as children. There are two aspects of Tamil identity that I believe reflect our cultural respect for women. While both aspects are heavily Hindu, I believe they are universal to some extent.
The first aspect is the Sanskrit saying “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Deivam” (Mother, Father, Teacher, God). Mother (“amma”) comes first. This emphasis on maternal dignity and respect is one of the first things I learned and something I believe in deeply. The respect I hold for my mother is translated to the feminist ideals I believe in now. This Sanskrit phrase is one that several Tamils know of and need to embrace. Ones respect for their mother should extend to all women.
The second aspect is the image of Ardhnarishwar. To those unfamiliar with this image, it is the union of Parvati and Shiva – a reflection of the equality, respect and devotion between men and women. This image is immensely powerful and an image that I believe is an important caveat of Hinduism. So given that these two aspects of Tamil-Hindu identity reflect the very basis of feminism – the importance of equality and respect for women – why have we deviated so far from this essence?
Something I’ve observed from watching Kollywood movies – apart from defying physics – is that women are depicted very poorly. Yes, there may be a movie or two that depicts female strength. But let’s look at the overall picture. Generally, the story revolves around the male protagonist. Furthermore, rape is used in these movies as a battleground; the woman is an object for which the male antagonist can inflict pain onto the male protagonist. They also seem to depend heavily on rape as a motive for the male protagonist to enact reprisal or revenge. And while some may see it as a merely a plot device, I genuinely question why this is necessary.
In Vettai, why didn’t they just kill Amala Paul while they could? This need to constantly use rape as a means of drama is sickening. Yes, the bad guy gets killed and her “honour” is restored. But what is the real impact of that? In Django Unchained they didn’t show rape. Rape was neither in The Avengers or Skyfall. So why is Kollywood so obsessed with adding rape related drama in its movies?
This has a tremendous impact on the way we perceive our identity as Tamil men. The idea of constantly being protective and having the monopoly on power is reproduced constantly. It would be awesome to see a Tamil film with a strong female protagonist. A Kollywood Kill Bill, Charlie’s Angels, or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Now, this is not meant to bash Kollywood – they do produce some very appropriate movies that do not embody these aspects. But look at where we went from: “matha pitha guru theivam” and Ardhnarishwar to having women constantly being subjugated to rape. Odd transformation don’t you think?
Thus, feminism might need to be revived. Kind of like how Gandalf returned stronger and a lot cooler, feminism might need “level up” (or get a job advancement to my fellow gamers). With all the atrocities being committed against women, men must have a role in prevention. We need to hold our peers accountable. We need to reject patriarchal practices including the subjugation of women.
And we need to stop with the hypocrisy and double standards. Stop demanding Victorian-esque women if we ourselves cannot be Victorian-esque men. If as a guy you want a girl to be a virgin and to never have kissed or dated, then as a guy you, too, should never have kissed a girl, dated, or had sex.
The reality remains that as hard as it is to embrace the F word, feminism is crucial. Our Tamil identity does not oppose it. For some sober statistics, think about this: everyday in Sri Lanka there are at least 4 rapes reported for which majority are children (under age 16) (Thamiah, 2012). From here, it is important to understand that despite what we have failed to do before, it is the success in the future that we will work towards.
As men and as human beings, it is also our duty to prevent these atrocities from being committed. I am a feminist and I am proud of it.
Thamiah, M. (2012, June 12). 4 Children under 16 are raped daily. Retrieved from The Sunday Times.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect TamilCulture’s editorial policy.