A letter from a Feminist

Feminist
Credits: chsaplitprideandprejudice.weebly.com

There is widespread condemnation of Mulayam Singh’s “boys will be boys” (available here) remark and yet a parallel obligation to not identify oneself as a feminist. There is staunch disapproval shown by men, women on social media sites on how ‘sexist’ remarks by politicians should not be a part of our political culture. This public discourse however ceases to overlap with the ‘ism’ that most strongly identifies and articulates the reasons behind the position (or lack thereof) of women in society- the ‘ism’ being, feminism.

Recently, I came across an astonishing picture on my Facebook News feed. A well-known lawyer-to-be twenty-something lady had shared a picture that said – “Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their kids, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Another person had shared a very absurd notion about what feminism “has become” – emphasizing that feminism was not about equality of gender but rather killing the macho man. The same guy had shared, another rather disturbing notion – “All Men are pigs- and women and men are equal.”

Recently, Nikhil Chinapa along with students of Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi was conducting a talk with journalist Sagarika Ghose about women and elections 2014. Topics discussed included women safety, women’s issues being raised in the general elections and a ‘womanifesto’. Not surprisingly, Chinapa talked about how gender sensitization in today’s society is the task of woman- because children between the ages of 1-5 spend most of their time with their mothers and it is therefore the task of a woman to inculcate sensitivity in the male child. One of the girls quickly responded by saying parenthood is a ‘joint’ responsibility and if children grow up because of mothers, then what do the fathers do? Soon after Mr. Nikhil left the show. Not that hard to anticipate.

Facebook has pages and groups that promote violence (‘beat her up’), rape jokes but has a policy to not accept breastfeeding or reconstructive surgery pages. Students in Delhi University will often say, “I believe in the equality between men and women but I do not consider myself as a feminist.” Of course, you don’t consider yourself as a feminist – whatever feminism means – because to identify oneself as ‘feminist’ in a society that does understand the meaning of the word in question is disturbing.

There are all types of myths about feminism (which I will address). Pick up any matrimonial Ad in any leading newspaper and you will find patriarchal society advertising: “Bride wanted- Fair, tall, slim, convent-educated.” In LSR, we are taught to celebrate gender, diversity and question the heteronormativity we see around us. But outside LSR, there are adverts in newspapers that say “LSR girls need not apply.” I was recently asked by someone if this was true, and I said yes it was.

A friend of mine, who has selected ‘feminist theory’ as her subject in third year went for a paper presentation in a reputed college in North Campus. The standard protocol for such presentations includes a Q&A round in the end. To her shock and horror the audience bombarded her with questions that were far from feminist theory, such as, “Why do LSR girls always present on Gender? What is wrong with you?” – Emphasis on wrong – if this wasn’t enough, even the judges took a long shot at her. Standing in an auditorium with a crowd of boys and girls all laughing and smirking at her, she went back. This is a form of bullying and this is the reason I choose to write this post.

What is feminism? Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural and social rights for women. There is no one type of feminism. There are ‘feminisms’ (with an ‘s’). Feminism as movement can be seen as originating from Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ in the 18th century, but there have been various ‘waves’ of feminism – there has never been a single wave, and therefore each one has been from different women in different locations in society with different objectives. Fortunately 21st century feminism adopts a ‘matrix of domination’ approach studying the intersections of age, gender, class, race, ethnicity etc. Not every feminist has the same perspective on society- there are different streams within feminism like radical feminism, liberal feminism, Marxist feminism etc.

What is anti-feminism? It is the opposition of feminism in some or all of its forms. “Anti-feminist” is a term used to silence academic debate in feminism. Feminism has been opposed because of traditional values or religious beliefs. Anti-feminists have also argued about ‘fundamental differences’ (within quotes for a reason) between men and women.

Difference between Misandry and Feminism – Misandry is the hatred, dislike, contempt of men. It is a disorder that should be treated by a trained psychologist, just like Misogyny (hatred towards women). Feminist theory is the academic discipline that studies feminism as a social fact. Feminism in the broadest sense of term is a movement encompassing academicians, students, researchers, and housewives etc who have intense disagreements on most subtopics- who come from families with supporting, loving and thoughtful fathers, sons, husbands and boyfriends.

Why is Feminism important? In India, there is a Madonna-whore complex. The strict dichotomy to categorize a woman into a ‘mother’ or a ‘whore’ results in discrimination, violence and misogyny. Politicians in India speak statements that claim “Women who have sex need to be hanged”- and give approval (by remaining silent and not taking legal action such as here) to ‘Khap’ Panchayats to kill women and men. There is no honor in killing a woman.

Stereotypes – Every woman feminist cannot be put under a compartment labelled ‘Valerie Solanas’ (the radical feminist remembered for an assassination attempt of Andy Warhol) just as every man cannot be put under a label called ‘Don Draper’ (the womanizing protagonist from Mad Men).

To those who derive pride from the fact that they were born as a man or woman and hence claim their right to superiority (just like any religion, class, caste etc). Please understand the following:

Is there any pride in being a Woman? No. Is there any pride in being a Man? No. Please do something to be proud of. And stand up against discrimination.

 

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