“Stop with your Feminism! Everyone including men face the same issues“—is something I hear invariably at gatherings. Recently, feminism has bothered ‘humanity-loving’ law students and ‘equalist’ Instagrammers. These devil’s advocates are fighting for the logic of—Why do feminists not talk about men? Well, I want to ask them why is it that the concept of men’s issues arise out of its deep state of sleep, only when womxn’s issues decide to tiptoe out of the house?
In a country where each state is famous for its violence against women, you still say, we have achieved basic equality? In Sikar and Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan, we have 850 girls to every 1000 boys owing to the growing menace of female foeticide which is encouraged due to the burden of dowry on the girl child’s parents. We already saw what happened in the Gujarat riots of 2002 which manifested the subordinated position of Muslim women in this country—a pregnant womxn’s belly was slit open by a sword during the violence.
And did you forget that Kashmiri womxn are fetishised for their appearance or skin by mainland Indians?
I hope Safoora Zargar’s name echoes in your heads because she is currently in jail, 21 weeks pregnant. Do you know what she’s in for? For having opposing views against the central government. There is no law that protects pregnant women when they’re in jail.
And I hope you remember the racial prejudice which Northeastern women face in the capital.
In this country of a Hindu majority population, which believes and stores its faith in the cargo of the caste system, how could you even begin to think that Dalit womxn have achieved even an ounce of equality?
You know what? I think we are in need of a dire conversation, because these forms of everyday injustices and discrimination against minorities and in particular, minority womxn, aren’t going away in a day, although you might want to believe that it already has! Here is a Q&A for you.
Q. Where, when, why and how did feminism originate as a movement?
A: Feminism as an organised movement began in the early nineteenth century. It swarmed over the world in three waves. It is believed that the Suffrage Movement, which gave women a breathing legal identity, instigated the broader movement for feminist justice. This protest for voting rights was considered the first instance of a mass gathering of women asking for their fundamental rights. The collective coming together of the conscience of myriad of women to be acknowledged by the system proved to be the beginning of something monumental.
Indian women collectively resonated with this movement not even a decade back from now because of the orthodox system of patriarchy we still believe in. The #MeToo movement was a chance for women who could access both technology and social media to talk about sexual harassment, which is only one of the swarming issues that we have left to address. We have riot-based sexual violence, caste-based harassment, virginity tests, period poverty, infibulation, infertility stigma and vaginal mutilation to name a few issues. Because of the cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of India, every sect comes up with a different form of prejudice.
Originally it was Savitribai phule who radically reformed the state of education for Indian womxn and depressed castes and classes in India. India has layered discrimination. Gender justice is a forlorn dream for Indian womxn because patriarchy is backed by religion, caste, color, gender, disability, sexuality and region. Men who consider themselves self-appointed judges of women, exercise power because the puppet strands of the Indian society are in their hands.
The word ‘untouchable’ has been removed from the constitution, but has it been removed from the minds of Upper Caste Hindus? I don’t think so. Dalit women suffer because of their caste and gender position and the lack social capital and hence they lose the privilege of class. Further, the current ruling party tried to portray Muslim women as oppressed because they wear Hijabs and their religion practices triple talaq, without exploring the consequences of such outsiders’ intervention through law and policy. And, as far as I remember, we didn’t exactly ask for their intervention. Further, India has divorce rate of less than one percent because of how economically challenged and systemically shackled Indian womxn are.
The reason for listing out such grave instances of discrimination against womxn across the spectrum of identities is to emphasise that Feminism brings together the subtexts of such issues and poses as a larger body which reaches for a more intersectional equality and justice for womxn everywhere. We are not just fighting the legal system and the government; we’re fighting against a very old regime of male domination and cultural suppression by criticising societal norms and internalised misogyny which are inculcated by all of us from a very young age. I think it’s safe to say that institutionalised Feminism has just rooted itself in this country. So, buckle up!
Q. How has Feminism transformed over the years?
A: When Feminism appeared in the public in nineteenth century, it asked for legal visibility through the right to vote. After this was granted, an educational reform went underway. Women’s rights transformed into a cause which was visible to the naked eye after a humongous fight for equality. It gradually stood for anyone who identifies as a womxn. Feminism identified patriarchal elements over the years and aimed at dismantling them.
Currently, Feminism in India is an amalgamation of minority and equality rights movements including Dalit, Tribal, Muslim and Queer movements. Feminism has also ruptured the shell of definition and taken over the reins in its hands to define who a womxn is. A womxn is anyone who identifies themselves as a womxn, simple. Feminism isn’t just a movement; it’s a belief which wears down its definition and gives you the liberty of faith to fight in the journey towards equality. It doesn’t have to be an ideological weapon, sharp and perfect at all times.
Q. Where are Men’s Rights in Feminism?
A: Fun fact—Patriarchy affects men grossly too. Who would have thought that!
You might have seen comments and reactions to Varun Grover and Ankush Bahuguna’s stories and posts on Instagram where they apply nail polish or make-up. What is never missing from these videos are hate comments from men whose masculinities get hurt when men embrace traditional notions of femininity. Have you ever asked yourself why masculinity is considered empowerment for women but femininity is considered deescalation of men? Yep, you guessed it! The culprit is structural patriarchy which hinders gender fluidity in people.
When we form rigid structures for people to follow, then we rob them off of their will and choice to be someone they want to be. Men who couldn’t identify with the masculine skeleton of patriarchy suffered at its hands. It is extremely unforgiving and stern. And hence, Feminism fights back and believes in non-conformity of gender roles which is beneficial for people all over the globe.
Q: What is the difference between feminism, pseudo-feminism and misandry?
Feminism is the advocacy of womxn’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.
Misandry is the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men (i.e. the male sex).
Pseudo-feminism is saying women deserve more respect, or that people of other genders deserve no respect.
Q: How much of an ideological privilege is it to claim or discredit any movement?
A: You clearly could have delivered your opinion on how you think human rights should work on the basis of equality and not on gender without degrading and invalidating others’s beliefs and experiences.
Women’s rights weren’t handed to them on a silver platter. According to Abrahmic religions, women grew out of the rib of man. They were already considered secondary in nature. For the Hindu religion, Manusmriti is a popular text which sees women as an object for seduction and glorifies derogatory remarks about their body and character. Someone had to spend their life fighting against such sexist religious dogmas for our place in today’s world. You have the privilege of going to a college and you can define yourself by something other than your gender. You are ideologically privileged enough to critique the movement which stands for people who do not have access to such definitions or education. The Ministry of Statistics in India tells me that only 65.46% of women are literate in this country. Forget ideology, alphabet is a privilege too.
Your opinion wasn’t historically socially granted; it had to be fought for in pretty challenging ways. Your antithetical reasoning took place in society because someone fought for your voice to be heard about two centuries back or are still fighting for the same.
Q: Why is it called Feminism and not humanism or equalism?
A: Human, Mankind
Humanism; a rationalist outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.
Equalism is a practice, policy and a belief that all human beings should be regarded as absolutely and completely equal, regardless of gender, race, age, ethnic origin or any other factor that defines our individual differences (always confused by Egalitarianism which can only exist in an ideal society and anyone can tell you that we’re nowhere near it).
First of all, undermining womxn’s struggle throughout history by erasing their narratives and renaming Feminism as Humanism is confounding. It is a very privileged statement to consider Feminism as a term and debunk its definition. If we remove Feminism, we’re ridding the world of its organs. We’ll be wiping out intersectionality which gives a space to womxn and people from all spheres and spaces to belong to this movement. This movement is called Feminism because it started off as a movement for womxn, because their femininity was the only conscious object they could exhibit to represent themselves. It was by womxn, for womxn and now, the ambit has expanded to include various other minorities through time.
I will explain this in simple words with an example because time and again people question the existence of this movement and the people who it was organised for. So, once upon a time there was a big world in which there was a big war. After the war ended, people decided that they need a peace governing body and because of the multiple dimensions of problems that existed in the world, they formed parts of the body which looked over terrorism, health, environment, politics etc.
Here, human rights as a concept is a massive body amongst which we have rights for minorities, migrants and whoever is oppressed and has the potential of being oppressed. For instance, you can’t say that the hashtag #blacklivesmatter shouldn’t exist or that the hashtag should say #humanlivesmatter because ‘everyone is equal’. Black people are targeted by racist individuals and power structures that lead to their systematic subordination. Hence, we do need specific movements that address targeted oppressed communities and their oppression to fight for the bigger project of ensuring human rights for all.
Q: Why do Feminists say ‘believe women’ and ‘respect women’? Why can’t you collectively say believe and respect ‘people’?
A: ‘Respect womxn’ is a slogan because previously and even presently society fails to respect womxn and their choices, autonomy, wishes and everything else under the sky.
You might’ve never had to face snide or sexist remarks; maybe your family has never asked you to remove the bright red lipstick, your relatives never talked about your marriage as your only goal in life, you weren’t asked to be home before sunset, your clothes weren’t policed and your body never sexualised. But it has happened to me and the hundreds of other womxn I know. My feminism isn’t always always about going out to protest the newest law; sometimes it’s about asking to stay out just one more hour after sunset and making sure that womxn who come after me never have to beg for their own time from someone else.
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