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Guest Column: Redefining feminism

Archana Gawde: Society should learn to value women’s ethnic identities

Published: Monday, March 19, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

For many among us, the stereotype of a traditional woman is strangely opposite of that of a career woman. I see this kind of prejudice in my daily life. We all presume.

We associate an African woman with braids, an Arab woman with a traditional hijab covering or an Indian woman who has a bindi on her forehead with an oppressed female figure of a male-dominant society — forced to follow her culture’s traditions. In the same way, our minds are so polished to relate professionalism to high heels, A-line skirts, make-up and ironed hair that we have made a subtle equation in our minds that the more the ethnicity, the less the education and even less the professionalism. We have also made the assumption that the more cloth coverage and the less skin exposure, the more oppressed a woman is.

Cultural shyness, to a great extent, is manipulated and used as a proof of oppression, while the real courage to save women from sex trafficking, slavery and domestic violence is only embodied by a few. We live in an increasingly global society, with globalization sadly and pitifully tending toward westernization of cultures in our minds and in our outlook.

It is time we change this notion.

To truly become global, it is imperative that students accept the cultural richness around the world. We need to see society with a kaleidoscope of colors and multiple dimensions as opposed to a magnifying lens of pre-conceived ideas that define the appearance of a successful, independent career woman.

Let us understand that yes, there is oppression of women, and in many cases, traditions are forced upon women of various cultures. But traditions and ethnicity can also empower women.

Consider the world’s greatest woman public figures, activists and leaders — people like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman and Aung San Suu Kyi. Their ethnicities have allowed these women to incite meaningful, definitive changes in their cultures and in others’ lives.

A leader’s power to rise above life’s difficulties is related to the connection she can create with the people she leads, which, to a great extent, is generated by how effectively she identifies herself with the masses. If I, as a woman leader, can communicate this sense of belonging to a culture through my dress, then I have partly empowered myself to reach my people. Then, and only then, I will be in a position to lead change in my community.

This public appeal though ethnic identity is my power. There is no reason to demean this. There is no reason to look down upon it. There is no reason to sympathize.

Let’s rethink and redefine feminism. Let’s assume that when we see a woman with a hijab, a bindi or braids, that she can be educated, empowered and ethnic.


Archana Gawde is a molecular and environmental plant sciences graduate student and president of the international students association


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