Reversing the constraints of women’s subjugation Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
December 6, 2001

ONE WRY irony of human progress is the way in which the state of women’s emancipation parallels, for the most part, the condition of our civilisation. With the all-too-many exceptions of those societies and religious sects in which the female gender is relegated to inferior positions, women’s liberation has marched closely, if not side-by-side, with the rest of humanity.

In the last century alone, women have moved purposefully out of the kitchens and salons and into factories, houses of commerce, and various technical fields. They have entered laboratories as scientists, and donned the robes of the legal profession. Woman have become general physicians as well as specialists in the many aspects of medicine; they have graduated from universities and returned to the halls of academia to impart their knowledge and theories to the students of the next generation; women have moved from merely being support and administrative staff in the armies of their countries to the point where they function almost as equals with their male counterparts in situations of combat; women have successfully entered the arenas of national and international politics, and there have been more than just a handful of female Prime Ministers and Presidents between the years of the 1960s and the end of the 20th century. In Guyana and many other countries, women function as carpenters, plumbers, welders, electricians, masons, painters and mechanics. Women have broken the barriers of most male-dominated professions and trades, and have proved themselves worthy functionaries and technicians when they are allowed the scope to practise their skills.

This post-modern emancipation of women most likely had its genesis in the women’s liberation movement of the early 1960s after the writings of Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan took root in the fertile soil of the young women’s consciousness. These two founding mothers of 20th century feminism must have been gratified as well as surprised by the momentum of that wave of feminism, which began with a radical call for the burning of brassieres and a rejection of the perception that women should be treated as mere sex objects. Women of that era began scholarly investigations into history, religion and anthropology to find the origins of their subjugation, and if possible, to reverse the negative influences that forced them to occupy an inferior role in society. This was the birth of women’s studies, which now occupies a position of respect in the social science faculties of hundreds of tertiary institutions.

Feminism can be defined as a system of analysis by which one views the world with its myriad distinctions between masculine and feminine genders It is a tool whereby persons seek to redress the weight of discrimination against women in a world where social relations are determined by gender. Feminism is by its very nature political since it challenges any system of thought or practice that allows women to occupy a socially inferior position. In today’s world, feminism has assumed many directions. Feminists can be conservative, liberal, black or lesbian. Then there are those youthful groups of female warriors, who have been described as “fearless, funny and fighting mad”. In the words of one writer, these young activists are impatient with ideology and are taking on the world in a wildcat way, which manages to get their messages across.

Some critics feel that as a cohesive force, the women’s movement lost its way in the 1980s, and exists only as a forum for radical and jaundiced views on the traditional family, and the women who choose this way of life. However, stripped of its descriptive trappings, feminism itself continues to exist as an idea, a system of values for measuring social relations. It is favoured by groups of women, who identify with one another and share similar goals. Their understanding of the culture of feminism not only helps them to determine the parameters of their place in the modern world, it also assists them in preserving the gains of their emancipation.