Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Grappling with feminism

One of my most vivid memories from my school years is that of a teacher pulling me out a class. He was angry that I was found fighting with another boy. He told me that I was a girl and I should behave like one and girls simply do not beat up boys. I also remember that the boy in question (G Arvind, I still blame you for taking my pencil box) was not questioned or pulled up or lectured.

I grew up in a patriarchal world and never understood why my life was so incredibly different to my male counterparts and when I understood why, I became angry. It is just so unfair to live the world as it functions right now. The odds were stacked up against me even before I was born. Every year three million lives are lost due to female infanticide in India and I am lucky to be even alive. (Source: 3 million lives lost - The Hindu).

So yes. I am a feminist. I believe inherently that while men and women are not the same (no human being is the same), they are however equal. I believe that there need to be as many girls studying in engineering colleges as men. I believe that there need to many more female CEOs. I believe women deserve better representation in politics. I believe that when a girl is born, she should not be subjected to think that her place in life is to grow up and get married and that alone is her true worth. If someone chooses to be a stay at home mom or caretaker, then they should be applauded for their decision, but it should be their choice.

Accepting myself as a feminist is about the easiest decision I have ever had to make. Why will any woman think her place is below that of a man? In African and Middle East countries, female genital mutilation is still something that occurs (Source: WHO FGM stats). In India, even today women who accuse men of raping them are actually sometimes punished due to archaic mindsets (Rape victim punished). Living as a woman as part of this world and society, I don't see how I can't be affected.

However, the genesis of the "cool girl" means that when you take a stand on a specific issue, you are told that you come across too "aggressive" and then you get mocked for it (Source Buzzfeed: Jennifer Lawrence And The History Of Cool Girls). A lot of the times you are told to "Be chill and don’t be a downer, act like a dude but look like a supermodel."

In all fairness there are some fabulous men and women out there who are actively part of this conversation and are incredible about engaging with others on discussions about feminism. The numbers are increasing by the day and it is really heartening to experience. From what I had to face 10 years ago to the wonderful conversations I have had since with many men and women in the recent years, I have seen a clear shift in the mindsets of people that surround me. But that doesn't mean it still isn't an uphill battle at times.

You are told to be "chill" when you express your thoughts on feminism. An eye roll here, a shrug there, it sometimes can feel very alienating indeed. "Just let it go".

Here is the thing. I don't want to chill. I don't want to let go. I want to have the conversation right here and now. Even if it is about a bad joke, I want to talk about it. It took centuries of reinforcement to bring the world to its current state. The message that men were superior to women is something that has been passed down for generations. If we want to change the conversation, we need to be part of the conversation and not shrug it away as someone else's problem.

No. I don't find jokes degrading women funny. I don't like it when someone uses phrases that denote women somehow trap men. I don't like it. And I have as much a right and I believe a responsibility to speak up when some of these things happen. This isn't a joke to me. I am terrified of having to explain to future generations why my generation did not fight hard enough against blatant injustice meted out to human beings based on their gender and sexual orientation.

Feminism is not an angry concept. It just has been marketed that way. It is also not about bringing men down in order to prop up women.It is about freeing men and women from antiquated gender roles.  It is about ensuring all human beings are given a fair shot and are treated equally (however impossible and daunting that may be).

So, I am speaking up. Because if not me, then who? If not now, then when?