Trigger Warning: Mention of violence
My inbox filled up with chiding texts from a man I had met once, “I’m sorry if I did something to hurt you,” it read. He and I had spent months speaking at length on a dating app, he told me he was part of a Marxist newsletter back home and sent me a couple of readings on radical feminist theory. Our only meeting that was supposed to be a hookup resulted in him nicking me.
There was blood everywhere but I kept it together. After all, it was an accident, he couldn’t possibly have intended to hurt me. A couple of days later, he recalled the incident with much glee and pride that I only muster up for a Succession rerun. “It’s one of my specialities,” he said.
I continued talking to him against my sensibilities, the way he glossed over what happened convinced me that this was simply all in my head. Surely, he was joking, why did it matter that I had to go to the hospital after that? We would discuss many things and he would make it a point to bring up his leftist study circles now and then, all while asserting his ‘feminist,’ identity to me. It didn’t help that he spent a large chunk of our meeting talking to me about unreleased Kanye.
After the incident, his ex reached out to me asking me to be wary of him, we grew to be close friends and it was after that I found out that this wasn’t an isolated incident. It was months after I had cut him out that I found out that he had a history of being highly inappropriate with women, hurting them even. It wasn’t a freak accident.
The dust settled, clarity had made some room for itself – misogyny isn’t the domain of the right, it belongs to all men, regardless of their political leaning.
Do you want to go to a protest date at Freedom Park?
Dealing with misogyny in left spaces online and in real life has turned out to be a strenuous task. They all tend to belong to one or the other pattern. They all have a social cause in their bio they like to support, there’s the kurta and the tote bag, the hammer and sickle in the username and an abundance of condescension to offer to women in left spaces.
A fair amount of time on the dating apps revealed to me that these supposedly leftist men would leap at the chance of attending a protest with you. What better place for romance than the obstruction of rights and justice? The terms of agreements on dating apps, had you read them, will tell you that every time you swipe left on a man who wants to seize the means of production with you, an angel dies.
It’s either that, or you have the new jaded leftist man you are bound to find in elite liberal universities, they listen to experimental music, compare sex work to flipping a burger at McDonald’s and will from time to time engage in some ‘Ironic,’ misogyny as an extracurricular.
‘Ironic misogyny,’ was a trend that sparked up on Twitter where misogyny was now ‘ironic,’ I had my first real-time brush with this on campus where leftist men would formulate their personality around this ironic kind of misogyny – their intellectual bandwidth of humour couldn’t seem to expand beyond the category of ‘women am I right?’ jokes.
I expressed my disconcertment with this, they argued that this was just good old misogyny but with a twist! Of not meaning it. It didn’t seem to occur to them that there was nothing ironic about misogyny coming from men – that’s just a regular Tuesday.
It didn’t come as a surprise when a majority of the men from this ironic misogyny club turned out to be emotionally abusive and misogynistic. It’s almost as if this new brand of misogyny is repackaged from the old conservative predecessor. I have seen enough men on campus who employ their political stances as a way of getting women into bed with them; it would feel no different than bonding over similar tastes in music and literature if the ‘taste,’ in question wasn’t about emancipatory politics and rights.
It’s particularly amusing when the contention of your rights as a Muslim woman is appropriated and exploited by the scores of leftist men with Faiz’s hum dekhenge tattooed on their arms.
There’s the other type of leftist man, who sports Kantian theory, murmurs to himself ‘What is the category of the woman,’ from time to time and has an obscure music taste he will not forget to casually mention. I once walked into a couple of these leftist men talking about Nancy Reagan and her ‘sexual prowess.’ Albeit the words they were using were far more crude and far less academic than the left academia they consumed on a daily – Were these men only leftist from the waist up?
The Bilal Bagh protests at Bengaluru were akin to the Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi, the city erupted in solidarity as students and protesters spent the day from dawn to dusk protesting CAA-NRC. With the increase in solidarity, I noticed a sharp increase in men wanting to engage in recreational drugs and sex with you after – while it is only natural to want to align with people who share your political interests, there is something insidious about men who use theory and political struggle as a cheery extension, an extracurricular activity that allowed them an entry into leftist spaces.
It’s almost as if the prerequisite to dating app profiles is that you must invite a woman to ‘smash the patriarchy,’ with you – The golden retriever Taylor Swift feminist ally has become a running gag on the internet, after all.
I wonder if this complicated the feminist position for other women, as it did for me – I was torn between reconciling my feminism with the misogyny on the left, after all, weren’t these the comrades I was supposed to work alongside with?
It is rather easy to buy into the Emma Watson school of thought that if you believe in the equality of men and women, you are a feminist! But that’s far from the truth. It becomes easy to claim a label all while only using it as a means to an end, without asserting any real political action. There has been a long-drawn history of leftist parties employing attractive men to ‘seduce,’ women into joining.
If anything, identifying as a feminist for me has been a work in progress, it is the process of becoming one (a lifelong pursuit) and engaging in feminist praxis, and much to the dismay of some men on the left, feminist praxis doesn’t mean asking women if they’re interested in overthrowing capitalism with them and practising polyamory as anti-capitalist ethos.
The feminist school of thought I have learned from and adopted has been one of Kollontai, Anuradha Ghandy, and Shulamith Firestone – a feminist framework that relies on understanding the exploitation of women and extraction of women’s labour both domestic and economic, through and under capitalism. And yet, I have been wary of joining certain organisations for the longest time. I have friends and acquaintances who have asked me time and time again why I don’t officially join these spaces.
Despite my ideological gripes with some of these organisations and spaces, one of the growing concerns I along with women who echo the same concern yield the misogyny that goes unchecked in these left spaces. Recently, a friend commented on the same about how male communists tend to have the final say in what women say and do in these organisations. ‘Men in these organisations declare that the working class will be uncomfortable with women showing up,’ this happens to be just the tip of the iceberg that is horrifying accounts of misogyny within the left.
There isn’t a shortage of leftist men waiting on you to ask them why feminism is a bourgeois tendency (they will tell you even if you don’t ask.) If we seek true solidarity, we must look at our predecessors who’ve had women at the forefront, from the Black Panthers to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Only recently, I received certain backlash on a piece I had written, there were scores of comments addressing how the topic wasn’t relevant to women in India. It was only ironic that a lot of these comments happened to come from men.
“You’re a Marxist, you should know this,” a man told me in my inbox, further delivering what could be constituted as a seminar on Indian beauty standards, class divides and a feudal state. “I hope you understand what I am trying to say,” he concluded. While I am not a fan of the term ‘mansplaining,’ – the supercilious tone of the texts didn’t go unnoticed by the naked eye.
‘It simply isn’t relevant to women in India,’ was the common consensus, I will not be arguing about the details of it, whether the piece is relevant to women or not is an altogether different contention, but it’s rather ironic how male leftists find themselves to be arbiters of what is and what isn’t relevant to women today.
‘This is useless, Thank you for wasting my time,’ another man said, has the patriarchy convinced men to believe that the written word is by default, curated for them, and therefore must primarily appeal to them?
This is an ever-pervasive element in academic spaces, I have from time and time again felt my thoughts to be censored and inhibited even in my internal monologue due to the domineering role of men in academia. It didn’t then come as a surprise to me when the left study circle in my first year of university was predominantly led by men.
Leftist spaces seem to be condensed with subconscious undertones of rampant misogyny, the subaltern can’t speak, they can only be spoken for. More often so, it is bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie men who are making such claims on behalf of the working class.
This becomes rather alienating for women like me, who are torn between reconciling their feminist politics with anti-capitalist spaces, and unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated concern, women in left spaces have time and again dealt with the agonising trouble of their position in the left, the growing alienation that comes from men who are supposed to be our allies, only further complicates our imminent course of action.
I am far from ever condoning the rise of identity politics, but the general attitude leftist men have had is one of dismissing any feminist critique as ‘identity politics,’ this becomes reductive and a bad faith argument when more and more women seem to be coming out with their accounts of abuse and misogyny faced at the hands of alleged leftist figures. The sheer volume of left-inclined men who have been outed under #MeToo is a testament to that, and I have testified to the same.
I have had conversations at length with female friends who report similar incidents, “he thinks I have no idea what he is talking about,” “Organising spaces are so hostile to women,” and so on. I have witnessed this first-hand when I grappled with growing nihilism on campus, the men around me, despite sharing political beliefs with me, shared no real regard for the feminist cause of liberation.
The same sentiment is echoed by many leftist men, the backlash on my previous piece gave rise to online posts that said ‘The reason why Andrew Tate and other alpha men are famous is not that they’re cool, it’s because young adolescent men are vilified to an extent by the loud minority of feminists,’- there is explicit misogyny like this that displaces the onus of violent sex trafficking onto an already oppressed class and there is the quiet misogyny of the Ghalib quoting protest enthusiastic ‘allies.’ One louder than the other, but both equally harmful.
The eradication of patriarchy cannot be an ‘afterthought.’ More so, patriarchy cannot be divorced from the governing structures of imperialism and colonialism. While the right wants to play into the male saviour complex, the left wants to sit women down and patronisingly explain to us what liberation should and shouldn’t entail.
I have had to dwell in the ambivalent space of time questioning the reconciliation between the two causes but there is no shying away from the truth that there is no reconciliation between women’s liberation and a socialist order, for they are the same.
There cannot be a revolution without women at the forefront, women shouldn’t have to choose between the two. There is no reason as to why socialist women should be denied the rights that women who have come before us have fought for and attained. The need of the hour is accountability and liability. The left itself cannot be recalcitrant and ambivalent to the bare minimum needs of women.
I am in no way suggesting that women need to stop associating with these spaces and organisations. Women have the same inalienable right that men do in working against a fascist settler regime, my feminist framework after all is derived from the likes of Leila Khaled, the poster girl of Palestinian resistance – an icon of the Palestinian cause for liberation, she was a member of the Popular Front for The Liberation of Palestine and believed in the Palestinians right to defend themselves through armed struggle.
There is much cause to believe and view women not as mere pawns of damage in war but as active forces that make history, Leila Khaled’s actions loom over the landscape of liberation tactics and the place of women in war, she defied and subverted the oriental conceptualisation of Arab women as baby incubators in the Middle East. This is more the reason than ever for women to be active participants in the cause of liberation.
I’m also writing this because in the chokehold of regression, ignorance and callousness, some men posturing as revolutionaries replicate the very system they are standing to fight. Misogyny cannot proceed to go unchecked in leftist spaces anymore, and men are no less exempt from scrutiny simply by virtue of being leftists.
As for me, I refuse to disengage from the leftist cause because it is as much mine as anybody else’s – after all, women do hold up half of the sky.