I really liked Roxane Gay’s collection of essays on feminism. It was intelligent and engaging. I warn you that this is not academic material. So if you are well along the path of feminism, have (suff)raged, burnt your bra and smashed patriarchy with those unshaven armpits, Bad Feminist might not withstand your rigor. Rage on, we need more of you.
I am just kidding. I labor under no impression that feminism is a monolithic movement. Nor do I consider it’s application (not the capital F-Feminism movement itself) above criticism.
Real world always complicates things.
Asking someone if they are a feminist is like asking someone how they are doing. As ubiquitous as the question is, more often than not, we ourselves do not know and there is no fixed reference point. Some consider the F word more offensive than Fuck. I figured, just as a mile marker in my life, I might as well put my stake on where I stand on feminism as of now. Unless I put it in writing I will not go about analyzing it with some structure.
I stand by feminism and the term feminist. As simple as that.
I understand the gradations, the usurpations, the false actors, the short-sighted divisiveness that arises out of labeling and streamlining feminism, but I still swear by it.
This is how I define it for myself. It is a movement that advocates and acts for equal rights for women.
Substreams of feminism are created because there are differing priorities trying to address various shades of inequalities meted out to/passed down upon/stacked against women. There is white feminism, black feminism, cultural feminism, religious feminism, militant feminism, radical feminism, eco-feminism, first wave feminism, second wave feminism, third wave feminism etc. There is intersectional feminism where multiple activisms overlap and mutate into a movement (like feminism in freedom fighting, corporate capitalist feminism etc.) I embrace all of it, willingly moving through the different forms of feminism giving each its benefit of doubt to exist and to be espoused.
How I Do Not Judge Feminism
- Feminists are humorless – Wrong. It is just that they can see through your joke, built on patriarchy. Feminists laugh when they know the person cracking the joke gets feminism. Once you have established that, then you buy some reprieve to indulge in skewering the phenomenon. Don’t crack a joke at Serena Williams if you do not take the time to study black female history. It does not matter even if the comedian is an African American woman. Research your material. And then strive for those laughs.
- Feminists want Privilege over Equality – Wrong. Combating privilege is a tough act because identifying and teasing out privilege is in itself tough. For e.g. class privilege brings economic independence brings confidence brings beauty breeds sexual independence breeds social mobility. Somewhere along that path there will atleast be a few casualties of lesser privileged women. That does not mean a fight for that chain is meaningless or of a lesser priority. Similarly, poverty means missed educational opportunities means less skills means economic and social servitude means internalizing patriarchy means women subjugation. It can be a vicious cycle. The combinations are infinite. True feminists who fight for specific causes know that their victories in their areas build up cumulatively and carry over to adjacent probems. They strive to create swimlanes of equality that if accessed by women are supremely liberating.
- Men are victims too – Yes they are. They are potential victims of everything that a woman goes through. Rape, sexual assault, violence, false accusations, slander, murder, discrimination etc. There are reverse gender discriminations, woman cliques/opportunists/bigots/racists etc. There needs to be a fight for the men too. Let the struggle continue. However, just like how scoping and defining a problem helps solve it more efficiently than trying to boil the whole ocean, feminism should exist on its own terms till complete woman equality is attained. Where pertinent, feminism can and should engage with political, LGBTQ, racism, class, eco and other activism, just like how the others should exist to fight their own targeted fights. They will all come together and collectively lift social sensitization. To lump them all into one movement is not only specious, but also terribly inefficient. #Notallmen is a hashtag by idiots for idiots. It is a truism and nothing is being addressed there except some moral masturbation.
- Never judge an “-ism” by its “-ist”. Feminism exists beyond individual feminists. The school of thought exists for a reason. If you can’t see the need for its existence, sensitize yourself. After that if you feel the application of the “-ism” is suspect modify the application. But make a sincere and educated effort to verify its need to exist before tearing into the movement thereby defeating the actual cause. This goes for any ideology and its practitioners. How far the movement has been hijacked is not an indication of how relevant the actual ideology is. The excercise of gap analysis actually helps in redressing the situation by further definition and weeding out of the false practitioners and practices.
- Denounce false practitioners: Call out the constant (because let us admit it; it is addictive) male bashers.Call out half-baked feminists, those who don’t know the difference between male and patriarchy (yes, I keep running into them every day). Educate the pop culture apologists; the “I am a feminist and Oh what is wrong with showing men dry humping women on screen? It is just fun.” people. Women are assholes too. Is it so tough to spot a fake feminist?
- And finally, rinse and repeat. We all go wrong sometimes. We often see things better in this connected world after we have done the damage. Learn from it. There is no right way. No perfect way to be a feminist. But you can always strive and keep improving.
Doling out the Big F
There are umpteen number of ways one can act. So I’ll just limit myself to how I approach putting feminism into play.
I believe choices should have consequences. Affiliations should have consequences. Taking political stances should have consequences.
I believe that in today’s consumerist world the easiest form of protest is withholding patronage. If a brand or ambassador espouses sexism punish it by choosing the competitor. Nothing hits worse than lost profits and reputation damage. If a politician goes unreprimanded in a political party for airing sexist views ditch the party. If you can’t find an alternative or cannot give up some nonessentials for the cause of what you want, raise your bar for feminism (or whichever cause you are passionate about). If you are dependent on a nonessential product to the point of addiction fix that problem too.
Ditch pop culture that flagrantly abuses women. Don’t pay to watch movies that reinforce familiar negative female tropes.
Don’t be a willing bystander to sexism. I don’t have the opportunity, the guts or the stamina to always stand up against discrimination, but I try to consistently distance myself from such talks and slowly people who I regularly interact with have started getting the message.
Engage in debates and conversations if somebody wants to discuss these (I always err on the quieter side personally and never initiate these conversations) but make it clear that where they land will invariable color my opinion of them.
No matter who you are, I judge based on a combination of social stance you adopt, the effort you put in to understand topics, and your intellectual honesty over time. I have lost quite a number of friends and family when I point out inconsistencies but my conscience rests that much lighter.
Be prepared to understand why a certain stance is taken.
As I write this I am pretty surprised at the number of stances I am forced to sort through if I was even half as serious as I want to be.
Avatars – Patriarchy
Patriarchy can be insidious. It can lurk in innocuous traditions as much as in violent rapes. It can be melodious in catchy songs or silent in public places. The actions themselves do not dictate or define patriarchy so much as the intent and process.
Patriarchy is silence that ensues when a woman is assaulted physically. It is silence when family members turn a blind eye to women within households being treated differently than men. It is the absence of meaningful discussions about equality and respect amongst people who matter and figure in your lives. It is women serving men before dinners. It is women milling around near the kitchen while men sit around in living rooms. It is the nod that women give men when the food is ready. It is in the quick footing to the kitchen by the women to soak the vessels while the men stretch their legs to let out a gratifying belch. It is in the proud announcement of womenfolk that the kitchen is their domain. It is in the fear of mothers when daughters come home late. It is the disapproving stare of uncles when a girl wears a short skirt. It is the confused look of elders when discussing patriarchy. It is scanning the vicinity where a woman smokes. It is the assumed invitation in the drink in a girl’s hands. It is the whispered secrets of period cramps. It is the roving hands in crowded places. It is the shoving in public places. It is clutched bags in front of breasts in the crowded trains. It is blurred nipples in Instagram. It is fake profile pictures.It is photoshop. It is self-censored nudes. It is the Tam-Brahm facebook groups. It is acid thrown on faces. It is online rape threats. It is FGM. It is veils. It is burqas as much as miniskirts. It is the unequal representation of women in governments. It is the baying of lust mad men dancing under Kareena Kapoor. It is the slap that Rajinikanth gave Vijayashanti to tame her. It is in the shame of rape issued to the hero’s sister. It is the implied suicide of a mother whose daughter comes home crying with a smeared bindi. It is in the implicit missionary position during suhaag raats before the camera pans away in movies. It is the early morning coffee by a fresh-faced girl while the sleepy man pulls her for a snuggle. It is pink and blue and fluffy and cute. It is in the need to wax and groom and conform. It is the expected gallantry of an opened door or pulled chair. It is the cheque handed to men after dinner as a right. It is mothers shushing daughters when men are speaking. It is the daughters gushing to please fathers who know no better. It is segregated classes in catholic schools. It is virulent modesty in madrasas. It hides under the name of culture. It prides itself in the name of religion. It disguises itself as good manners. It is the bigotry women show other successful women. It is in the friendly advices to keep appearances in broken marriages. It is the furtive checks for marriage rings and mangalsutras and talis. It is the absence of women in theaters showing sex movies. It is the hidden dildos and agony aunt columns. It is unrealistic porn movies. It is the difference between kinky sex and daytime sex. It is in the unnecessary mystery that women are wrapped in. It is the restless marriages humans are trapped in. It is in archaic moral and legal codes fornications are wrapped in. It is the bravado of child making and child rearing. It is the reason men are always older in a marriage. It is Raksha Bhandan. It is Karva Chaut. It is Pongala. It is Sabarimala. It is madi in Brahminism. It is jaathakam in Nairs. It is peity of fasting. It is deification of woman. It is unwillingness to question right then and there. It is fragile egos. It is bruised dreams. It is mustachioed and well oiled bodies. It is wet tee shirts and scalpeled lips. It is male public exhibitionism. It is peeping toms. It is the cynicism. It is the frustration. It is the bourgeoisie mentality. It is the security of middle-class safety. It is the apologies in the newspapers. It is the unwillingness to stand up for it. It is the air-conditioned cars. It is the ignorance of molestations. It is the overlooking of skirt grabbing in lands you have never been. It is in the frustrated tears of women you will never see. It is dead women swung on trees after merrymaking. It is the reason gods don’t like menstrual blood. It is the “but its for your safety”. It is the “I told you so”. It is the “if only you listened to me once”. It is the “you will fail because you are a woman”. It is the “but not here, not now”. It is the “not under my watch”.It is the “but they are my family”. It is the “can’t change them”. It is the “why should only I speak up?”. It is the “so what? I don’t care”. It is the “I don’t see it. It does not exist”.
It is not to say none of this cannot be done by a feminist. They can. They will and they should. But this is to say, right now, all this masks patriarchy more.
Sigh. It is tough. It takes the edge off sexual harassment but it is totally worth it. Ask the victims!
(did not reread the draft. so pardon typos)