Emerging from Oppression: The Revolutionary Triumph, the Pitfalls, and How to Finish the Work

Ácárya Acyutánanda Avadhúta

Using few words, Shrii P.R Sarkar has given us a vivid picture of the thousands of years of oppression of women in patriarchal society:

“Because such injustices continued for a long time, women developed an inferiority complex and a sense of despair. Who can count the millions of women who have spent sleepless nights weeping their grief out in the dark, and died with no hope for redressal of such tyranny. They were pulverized like soft lumps of earth under the steamroller of vipra rule.”

(“The Vipra Age”)

“In every sphere of life men have either substantially limited the rights of women, or made the ability of women to exercise their rights subject to the whims and caprices of men. Such an attitude never existed among the primitive human beings who lived at the dawn of human history. Nor had primitive men conceived of the deceitful practice of establishing their supremacy by keeping women in bondage in the name of social purity.”

(“Social Justice”)

“The moment opportunists discover a weakness in somebody, they exploit that weakness and devour all the vitality of the person. They even consider it a weakness on their part if they reflect on the sufferings and heartaches of those who are weak.”

(“Social Justice”)

“Those who shudder at the sight of various social vices . . . should realize that among all the causes behind this so-called all-round degeneration, social injustice is the principal one. Because of injustices against women with respect to their social rights and because women are economically crippled, a section of women is compelled to take to prostitution.”

(Problems of the Day)

The Revolutionary Triumph

The women’s-rights movement may overall be the most inspiring liberation movement the world has ever seen. For them to throw off the dogmas that chained their minds was a great achievement. A few men helped out along the way, but men seem to deserve little credit.

(Changing circumstances do seem to deserve credit, however. Though I can’t speak with much scholarship about this, industrialization and world wars brought women out of the home and into the workplace; increasing mechanization lessened the advantage men had had in terms of greater physical strength; in Russia, Lenin and the Bolsheviks supported women’s equality; developments in media – first radio, then television – helped remove women’s ignorance.)

I’m not well-informed about when the raised consciousnesses of different individual women first resulted in organization and thus could be called truly revolutionary, but in terms of tangible advances, probably the greatest ones occurred in Western democracies once women themselves began to organize independently of men. In the USA, what is known as the “first wave of feminism” secured voting rights in 1920 after seventy years of struggle. That first wave of feminism also made progress in access to higher education and to professions.

The second wave of feminism in the USA, starting in the 1960s, saw women securing further rights in the workplace, and also rights in relation to their husbands and in relation to health care, and securing also sexual freedom and a right to abortion. (Securing a right to abortion certainly helps indicate the increasing strength of the movement, regardless of the wisdom of that victory.)

The Pitfalls

In his article “Women’s Rights” Shrii Sarkar wrote, “life. . . . means real liberty and not license to commit anything good or bad.” Elsewhere he wrote: “Lack of consciousness about rights and responsibilities drives social beings towards a tragic end.” The women’s-rights movement must overall be the most inspiring liberation movement the world has ever seen. But in this second wave of feminism we see for the first time, along with all the inspiring progress, some tragic failures of responsibility (I will specify below).

Shrii Sarkar also said, as quoted above, “Because such injustices continued for a long time, women developed an inferiority complex and a sense of despair.” But once they started to understand the injustices, some of them also developed a lot of anger. The more they learned, the more educated they became, the more for some of them the inferiority complex turned into anger. (For the spiritual among them, a calmer determination to fight injustice must have developed also; I’m not well enough informed to provide examples.)

The injustices against women went back for millennia, so there was always fuel waiting to be lit into anger, but the expression of anger, and possibly even the conscious sense of it, seem to have developed slowly. I have the impression that the 70-year struggle for voting rights in the USA was carried out fairly decorously, and (though this is speculation), it seems possible that the women involved in it felt “We ought at least to have voting rights, but overall it is right that the men should continue to be the main architects of public policy.”

But a critical mass of women decided by the 1960s that there was no reason women should be subordinate at all. It could be expected that when that dam burst, excess on the part of some women would result in one or more seriously wrong policies. The stream of pro-choice or pro-abortion feminism became the women’s rights mainstream in Western countries. Did anger cloud their judgement and lead them to take that disastrous wrong turn? (Click for information about Shrii Sarkar’s views on abortion) We only know for sure the outcomes in terms of their public positions, and because of those positions, pro-life (anti-abortion) feminists, who are a small minority of feminists, even question whether those pro-choice or pro-abortion feminists are really feminists:

  • Pro-choice feminists want respect for some aspects of womanhood, but not for the potential that nature has most uniquely equipped women for – motherhood.
  • Once pro-choice feminists came to dominate the women’s-rights movements (in 1967, in the USA), they failed to try seriously to change society in such a way that society would honour and support female biology, which means biological processes that sometimes include unexpected pregnancies. Instead of a strategy of making society support unexpected pregnancies, they adopted a strategy of seeking a right to never go through pregnancy, that is, a right to imitate male biology. In other words, pro-choice feminism denigrates the female body by suggesting that its natural functioning is often undesirable and not as good as that of men – and thus by suggesting that women are not at all inherently equal. On a subtle psychological level, this seems anything but feminist.

An organization run by pro-life feminists, Secular Pro-Life, uses the slogan “Abortion – a means by which women conform to a society designed for men.”

How to Finish the Work

Pro-choice feminists want respect for some aspects of womanhood, but not for the functions that nature has most uniquely equipped women for – motherhood, and above all, giving birth. The main work that still lies ahead may be a society that honours the natural functioning of the female body.

Erika Bachiochi, today’s leading theoretician of pro-life feminism, has written eloquently here about the seemingly unfeminist attitudes that we have discussed:

“Because men’s duties as potential, and then actual, fathers are not as deeply inscribed in their bodies, the law, if it is to uphold a genuine equality of the sexes, must act to educate and, if necessary, compel men to embrace paternal responsibilities, the fulfillment of which our society so evidently craves.”

“From the creation of thousands of crisis pregnancy centers and maternity homes across the nation to, more recently, making college campuses and workplaces more hospitable to childrearing, prolife activists have sought to assist women who bear children with the task of raising those children. There is much more to be done in this area, particularly in streamlining and normalizing adoption, in increasing workplace flexibility, in incentivizing marriage, in decreasing the tax burden on those who support children, and in finding ways to ensure greater social and legal enforcement of paternal responsibility.”

Here is a still more radical pro-life feminist view:

“. . . promoting female equality on this front will require people who are not mothers to give up some time, energy, and money from the career areas of their lives to share the load. And if children are unplanned and are not to be aborted, this will mean that those who are not pregnant (which includes all men) will have to give up time, energy, and money to share the load of children whom they did not want and even their mothers did not want. Obviously, this won’t be popular among those who have traditionally enjoyed the privilege of focusing entirely on careers . . .”

Pro-life feminists say that pro-choice feminists “took the bait” that was offered to them by left-leaning men who had the attitude: “We don’t want to restructure society so as to support women and children against our interests, but we will let you abort your children.” As the organization New Wave Feminists says, “Instead of removing the remaining oppression, pro-choice feminists try to redistribute the oppression.”

Within Shrii Sarkar’s mission, perhaps the first priority now in the interest of “a society that honours the natural functioning of the female body” is to finally materialize a programme he gave long ago. In an old procedure order, along with other programmes for Ananda Marga’s Women’s Welfare Department, he gave a programme of maternity homes. These have also sometimes been called “homes for unwed mothers”. Such homes can help greatly to ensure that giving birth will seem to a pregnant woman like the best option for her.

Courtesy of Viiráunganá, the global Girls’ Volunteers magazine published in Kolkata. This article appeared in the January 2024 issue.

© 2023

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