Posted by Vertika Mani Tripathi
Networking in the age of the Internet has many achievements to its credit and one of them is opening a new frontier for what is hailed as the fourth-wave feminism to flourish. The current wave is largely dominated by social media mobilisation of feminists networking from different parts of the world, different cultures and ethnicities. This has given rise to an interwoven global phenomenon which helps encourage solidarity and discuss shared experiences. There are feminist groups and online feminist platforms which act as a virtual refuge for millions of feminists all across the world, including me.
Allyship And activism
For women who live in small cities, it is especially hard because most people around them are highly patriarchal. In a middle class, educated family, even today feminists find it difficult to relate cerebrally with people around us. They are conditioned to believe in societal norms of misogyny and baseless gender roles, which they are reluctant to unlearn. They do believe in educating the women of their house, unless it is to get a degree and eventually get settled thereafter. Their daughters, wives and sisters learning about feminsm, wanting to be a feminist, talking about liberation, about changing the traditional norms, is certainly not what they want.
Consequently, we look for opportunities to connect with like-minded people who believe in the precept of egalitarianism. In such a scenario, it is more often than not that networking with online feminist groups come to our rescue. They help us find a way out of our problems, both personal and professional, by building an online community of women who have similar experiences and/or thinking. It provides us a safe space where we can talk about the issues we face in our homes, workplaces etc. Not only has networking given a sense of interconnectedness and support but also allyship when it comes to issues that demand justice. Networking helps form a community which fights against oppression of any kind and helps initiate the much-needed discussions which were not a thing in the past especially in our country.
Another significant achievement of such allyship has been the growth in feminist activism. Be it macro-level movements like the Metoo’ movement or micro-level feminists’ initiatives, networking has significantly contributes to the landscape of activism. Women voicing out their grievances and reflecting on the socio-political issues online through networking has led to mainstreaming of feminist notions and agendas. For instance, several feminist publishing portals too serve as a trustworthy news medium and help us build our own feminist agenda for our lives. Moreover, it helps us develop the much needed intersectional approach to not just feminism, but every aspect of life that we need as feminists, by giving us a glimpse into the issues that each section of feminists have to face in society.
What Do We Need To Change?
The unlearning of patriarchal notions and belieds itself is a process which takes time and effort. We need to understand this reality and keep this in mind so that we do not be pedantic. Especially in this era, everything that is in our mind and has been put in words is just a click away from the public to scrutinise. In such a case, being burdened about how precise we are/have been is not going to make us better as feminists but empathising and allying will. One of the consequences of networking and Internet feminist activism is how we often forget that it is okay to make mistakes as a feminist too.
Feminism should be adopted by us as a philosophy to live our life and doing so is a process. Being condescending, and tone-policing others will not help our cause and rather, will only repel others from the movement. It is definitely not what we want. If a person who supports feminist causes mistakenly says something misogynist in a fit of anger owing to the reason that he/she grew up listening the same phrase, will tagging him as an anti-feminist be fair? No. It is time that instead of getting into the web of over-exacting, we focus on actions.
Digital Divide Is Real
While it is true that feminism did start as a reactionary movement, its sole aim shouldn’t be limited towards it. For feminism to penetrate to each stratum and section of our society, it needs more inclusivity and this should reflect in our networking too. Why I say this is because the marginalised sections of society is still far away from the issues that we feminists often discuss on Facebook or Twitter. It is often women, especially at the lowermost rung of social hierarchy, like say the Adivasi and Dalit women, who do not, often, have access to internet. Their representation in the online movement and feminist networking is negligible.
This calls for us intersectional feminists and feminist allys to go an extra mile and talk to Dalit, Adivasi and Kashmiri people and help them bring their issues to the forefront. As part of our networking, it will be good if we try organise feminist meetings in smaller groups either in person or virtually where each person speaks about their lived experiences, opinions and aspirations. We need to make sure that Facebook or WhatsApp feminist groups have all sections of the society represented, if not, we need to find ways to ensure their rightful representation. If this is not done, this movement, despite the networking, will surely fall in lines with the first wave of feminism which is criticised till date for being elitist and the white woman’s feminist movement.
Time To Take Action
It is time that we transform our networking and solidarity into a strong socio-political action. This would require us to take tangible steps like occupying public spaces. There have been groups like Pinjra Tod, movements such as I Will Go Out etc. in the past that took the initiative to take it to the streets but it mostly remained confined to big cities like Bangalore and Delhi. We need more of such initiatives in the small cities of the country now and honestly, online networking can truly make it possible. This will be a step towards revolution, making it safe for women to venture out without fear, especially in the hinterlands.
What we need to do now is to make as much use of this networking-based feminism as possible, to discuss our agenda together and actually even seek political power mobilising on feminist ideals. It is because, believe it or not, political power will enable this movement to bring about the change that it wishes to bring forth. We need to occupy and rightfully claim public positions as much as possible. Whether they are bureaucratic positions, judicial positions or legislative positions, our call for egalitarianism and other women’s issues needs to be said, heard and adhered to in the halls of power itself.
Therefore, it is only when feminists of India tangibly occupy different rungs of the socio-political ladder of the country that real change could be made possible. It is time we take this networking a step ahead and formulate strategies which help it be a substantive one.
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