Culture, by definition, should be transient, influenced and inspired by the people living at every given time. Culture should be malleable, willing to shift and evolve as people do. Unfortunately, society is marked by a dogged refusal by many to let culture evolve.
Men and patriarchal society wield culture like a weapon in the oppression of women. Harmful widowhood practices, gender-based violence, discriminatory inheritance practices and many more injustices against women are justified with the excuse that they are embedded in the culture.
Feminism is about the liberation of women and other marginalised people from oppressive systems and so, feminists have and continue to fight to eradicate the oppressive aspects of culture. Feminists fought for the right to work and earn fairly and have rights as individuals separate from their husbands. Today, feminists continue to fight for women’s rights to self-determination, expression and bodily autonomy. In the quest for the liberation of women, those who seek to uphold culture even at the expense of women consider feminism an enemy of culture.
Women making choices independent of patriarchal norms are called feminists even where they don’t hold feminist ideals. The word is weaponized as an insult, a descriptor for unruly women. Women who do not want to marry, oppose unjust treatment in marriage, are divorced and women who choose not to have children are seen as willfully opposing culture and society typically tries to punish them for it. Generally, women who hold feminist ideals are deemed problematic because women are expected to do as they’re told and as culture dictates.
Feminism does not outrightly seek to undermine or do away with culture. The problem lies with harmful cultural practices and their seemingly static nature due to the people who hold on to them relentlessly. It is unavoidable that there will be clashes between feminists and feminism and the patriarchy and those who uphold it.