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Gendered emancipation of women

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The sanctity of womanhood is incompatible with social liberty and social claims; and for a woman emancipation means corruption. Although 176 years have passed since this remark was made by French novelist and playwright Honore de Balzac, much hasn’t changed when one genders+ the study of freedom and emancipation. But before this is studied upon, one has to break the overgeneralization of freedom being synonymously used in place of emancipation or emancipation seen just from slavery’s perspective (which is also not without fault when one uses the term manumission for emancipation.

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Emancipation, in this case, means freeing slaves through government action, while manumission is the act of freeing slaves voluntarily by their masters). Freedom, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is the “power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”. Alternatively (and more suited for this paper), it means the “absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government”, or the “power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity”. It is a state of being free without any constraints. Emancipation, on the other hand, refers to the “fact or process of being set free from legal, social, or political restrictions; liberation”. Thus becomes the differentiation clear; emancipation is an action, while freedom might just mean a state of being or an ideal (and as pointed out above, in a slave society freedom shall mean the state of not being imprisoned or slaved, while emancipation would mean freeing someone from slavery). Young Hegelian Bruno Bauer, in his writings, explained emancipation through the Jewish population wanting to achieve it politically in Prussia. Bauer argued that Jews could achieve political emancipation only by relinquishing their particular religious consciousness since political emancipation requires a secular state (and in the same vein added that the state must also renounce Christianity), which he assumes does not leave any “space” for social identities such as religion.

According to him, such religious demands are incompatible with the idea of the “Rights of Man”. True political emancipation, for Bauer, requires the abolition of religion. In Roman law, emancipation meant freeing women or children from the patria potestas – the father’s power. This connotation in itself highlights the gendered usage of the word in history and its significance in examining it in such a light. In either case, to be emancipated is to be able to move ahead without any obstacles, to have unrestricted thought or movement, to move from a situation of constraint to one of some kind of freedom. While an ignorant misunderstanding between the definitions of freedom and emancipation might still be forgiven and diminutive in nature, the problem of equality not being synonymous with emancipation has notoriety since the Roman times. Even when a Roman woman could be emancipated, it didn’t mean a possibility of assuming an equal standing with a Roman man (husband or father, in this case). The same could be said for the women of the English Catholic society – the social and economic privileges enjoyed by the male members of the Church weren’t ever given to the women. It is in this sense that a gendered definition of the action of emancipation and the ideal of freedom be made, for even the achievement of suffrage for women in the twentieth century didn’t bring about the removal of sexual differences that had justified the denial of suffrage in the first place. The coming of the industrial revolution and establishment of capitalism didn’t fare any better; even with more jobs available for women and under industrial capitalism both the employer and the worker (female and male) an equal party to labor contracts, their social status weren’t ever equal and economic parity with men, out of the question.

The second wave of feminism didn’t fare any better either with “consciousness-raising” movements. On the contrary, the end of legal subjugation didn’t bring about social or political equality with the ones that held power. What this ushering of a capitalist system did, as many argue, was to, through a gradual and long process, legitimize sexual division of labor by perpetuating subtle forms of segregation in society. To that end, the suggestion of establishing an anarcho-syndicalism society on a class struggle basis in place of a capitalist society isn’t entirely absurd when one considers this – the very fact that capitalism is favored by women (and in the same vein, patriarchy not outrightly sought to be overthrown) is due to the presence of a class differentiation between women. Women in higher strata of society, who no matter still don’t have parity with their male counterparts, do enjoy services and privileges not available to all women. These women live in a “cushioned reality”, a bubble of existence which makes them immune to all the problems face by women in general. For them to overcome this society would also mean to give up their status of having these special privileges. It is in this endeavor that feminists reject liberal feminism, whose goals are largely limited to achieving the same rights for women as those held by men without questioning the existing values and structures of male-defined institutions and look for a better ideal to hold on to. Thus can be brought to light emancipation in a gendered sense, which, while at one point, is the process, strategy and myriad efforts by which women have been striving to liberate themselves from the authority and control of men and traditional power structures, as well as to secure equal rights for women, remove gender discrimination from laws, institutions and behavioral patterns, and set legal standards that shall promote their full equality with men, and at the other, to bring unencumbered measure of social and economic thought and movement, freeing women from any dependence, economic or political. Freedom as an ideal must then be looked from the perspective of being free from the restrictions imposed by the dominant male and systemized through years of oppression under a highly unequal class society. Shankar Tripathi 241

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