Feminism as an Anti-Oppression Cause

Toril Moi’s Afterword:-

“Simone de Beauvoir now belongs to a past generation. Her pioneering example has opened the way for women to be taken seriously – and loved – as intellectuals and as women. On the threshold of the twenty-first century, she still makes it easier for us to live our lives as we wish, without regard to patriarchal conventions. My awareness of the complexities and contradictions of her life has added depth to my admiration for Simone de Beauvoir. Her persistent and patient efforts to become an independent woman, to build a literary career for herself, and to devote herself to the solitary task of writing testify to her courage, patience and fortitude. Her absolute insistence, in the face of patriarchal prejudice, on her self-evident right to emotional and sexual happiness is truly exemplary: one could hardly expect her to have done it all without displaying the slightest trace of pain or psychological conflict. It ought not to surprise us that, like the rest of us, she too was torn by the contradictions of a patriarchal society. Reading her autobiography, I am struck at once by her strength, energy and vitality, and by her helplessness and fragility. When I realize how hard it was for her to gain a sense of autonomy and independence, I find her achievements all the more admirable. To admire, however, is not to worship. We do not need to be perfect, Simone de Beauvoir teaches us; we simply need never to give up. To me, that is both a comforting and an utterly daunting prospect.”

My own interpretation of the term “feminism” has always been that it is a cause to attain the ideal situation where women can enjoy, in the same way men can, all civil rights and freedoms (as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations), without any sexist code, whether in terms of race, nationality, religion, politics, culture or social norm, imposed unfairly on them. More crucially, it represents first and foremost an unequivocal renunciation against human oppression of any kind, be it explicit or implied by tradition.

As liberated as women are in economically affluent Hong Kong, indigenous female villagers in the New Territories are denied an important property right that has been enjoyed by their male counterparts. They are not allowed to apply for a village house under the New Territories Small House Policy. If this is not blatant sex discrimination, I don’t know what is. I can recall vividly the scene where irate male villagers were menacingly towering over slender-built ex-legislator Christine Loh when she attended a campaign trying to fight for indigenous village women’s right to inherit such village houses. What is even more ridiculous is that the United Nation found it necessary in 1995 to alert the Hong Kong government that the policy was discriminatory against women, and the policy was specifically exempted from the Sex Discrimination Ordinance in 1996.

As a general equal rights issue, I don’t see why so-called indigenous New Territories male villagers who have reached the age of 18 should continue to enjoy such a housing privilege, when the remainder of Hong Kong society has always been denied such a right. This privilege is the combined outcome of a 1972 well-meaning British government policy to accommodate indigenous villagers and an antiquated village custom whereby male villagers in a clan used to be able to build houses for themselves and their sons on their land. Fast-forward 39 years, there is now an application waitlist of 150,000 villagers for village houses. In housing-short Hong Kong, I just don’t understand why politicians are not making a big deal out of this issue. But I digress.

Back to the situation of Chinese women in Hong Kong. Apart from the example of indigenous female villagers being discriminated against in a tangible way, many Hong Kong women still shoulder an intangible deadweight, and that is, traditional preaching that originate from patriarchal Confucianism and 朱熹、’s 三綱五常, which underscores male dominance and subjugation of the weaker sex. That preaching, handed down from generation to generation, has managed to shackle even the most educated amongst them. Married women willingly take on the slaving multi-tasking duty of being bread earners, wives, housekeepers and mothers, often with little help from their other halves. Mature single women have to face being labeled unkindly and in sexist ways as “中女” (nickname for middle-aged women), “剩女” (leftover women). Divorcees are still looked upon with suspicion and disdain. Oppression comes in the surreptitious form of tradition!

Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive, which adjective a lot of anti-feminists like to use on women whenever the latter try to voice their opinion about their rights and freedoms. Feminism has always been about encouraging women to be assertive rather than aggressive on the issue of attaining the rights and freedoms that any human being is entitled to. I tend to think that characterization of feminism as the promotion of misandry is dead wrong. If it is going to be constructive to society, both sexes need to understand themselves and their opposites a little better.

I would highly recommend that all women and men in Hong Kong read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, if they have not already read it. The version I read was H. M. Parshley’s 1953 translation. There is a 2009 unabridged version translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevalier.

Finally, happy International Women’s Day to all women in Hong Kong and the world over!