Yes, you. Don’t try to slink away. You know who you are. You are the pretty young college girl, who declares feminism isn’t for me when a professor asks. You are the macho man, who laughs when he meets feminist women (the concept of feminist men and others across the gender spectrum will short circuit your brain I imagine). You are the middle-aged working mom, perhaps living out a few feminist ideals secretly but shun the word. You are the reporter who makes listicles about why feminism is dead and women have it all. Perhaps you are even a right-wing unintentional Twitter troll, forever trying to build a case for why feminism is against our traditional Indian values (code word: patriarchy). Bear with me for a while, hear me out. Open your mind for a few minutes, just a sliver. You can always shut it whenever you like.
Have you ever heard of statistics that tell you that men are more likely to commit suicide? Every year or so a bunch of dismal studies confirm what we all know by now – men are far more likely to kill themselves. Of course, there is a lot of intersectionality at play here and factors such as race and age matter as well. Have you ever thought why men kill themselves so much? Because men are less likely to report depression and anxiety. Combine the societal idea of a stoic, macho man with the stigma and shame of mental health issues. What you get is a silent epidemic, where men are unable to express themselves or ask for help.
Where does feminism come in? Feminism, as I understand it, looks to break gender stereotypes and norms. Feminism counters the notion of ‘boys will be boys and girls will be girls’ and works to dismantle about who gets to cry and who gets to punch. It tries to make space for individuals to be who they are. Remember, women get punished in the workplace for taking maternity leave but they aren’t the only ones. Men are also penalized for taking paternity leave, a grim reminder that they are expected to play little to no role in raising a child.
Ladies, let’s take a minute to look at your lives. I am talking about you ladies who are middle-class with a college education and perhaps even a job – do you imagine the right to education and work just fell out of the sky for you? What feminism has done for you is allow you to not only be housewives at home, responsible for chores while men go and fight wars and bring home food. You could do that. Or not. What it has done is slowly, very slowly, steered societies and families away from inevitable gender roles, to which you were doomed, an idea our fatalistic society has tested to its limits.
It has started the conversation about why domestic work is not valued in economic terms. It has led to studies that show that when both men and women work, women still do more of the housework. You are perhaps still the legal property of men in your life – have you ever filled a government form where you were anything but the daughter or wife of someone – but there are feminists across the gender spectrum trying to change that. Don’t get me wrong: feminism isn’t a cure-all and patriarchy is still deeply rooted in the idea of ‘Indian culture’. But let me share with you a quote by Roxane Gay from her book Bad Feminist, in which she also shares her deep discomfort around the pedestal we put feminism on and the moment it we find it isn’t perfect, we blame it for everything:
“Some women being empowered does not prove the patriarchy is dead. It proves that some of us are lucky.”
So remember, just because you got lucky, does not mean everyone else did as well. You may not choose to vote, for many reasons such as the dismal state of politics in our country to your personal apathy. That is a very different choice than being legally disempowered from being able to vote and represent your country. Perhaps you don’t care, but remember the Women’s Reservation Bill has been stalled for almost a decade in the Indian parliament, which is dominated by men in a country which is almost 50% women (don’t forget the missing women we lost to feticide and neglect). Representation in public spaces matters.
Hello again, men. Do you have friends who are girls? Did you ever go out and do fun things that young people do like watch movies and eat copious amounts of food? Did you perhaps meet the love of your life and have a choice in who you married? Did you perhaps choose not to marry? All of these little and big freedoms have their origin in the idea that someone’s genitalia does not define them. Think some more. Did you meet a man that you loved or were attracted to and feel despair? Did you ever experiment with women’s clothes and feel shame? Has the contagious shame epidemic around menstruation touched you or a loved one? Feminism does not want this for you.
So the next time you chose to call someone a ‘feminazi’ or be dismissive in some other equally insidious way, stop and think about it. Are you sure you have not benefited from feminism in some way? Do you know what is it that you are shrugging off? Pause for a minute and think about it some more.
Featured Image Credit: Liz Henry used under CC.