What is Feminism?

It has been a tedious couple of weeks with the word ‘feminism’ being flung about like holi colours. The colours were mostly flung on the feminine Deepika Padukone, who till date had never really taken a stand on anything – at least nothing quite as memorable as her run-in with The Times of India. Short summary of the incident – TOI posted photos of her cleavage and she got pissed off. And her getting pissed off was apparently a feminist reaction.

Oh and there was Emma Watson and her UN speech that apparently led to some people threatening to leak nude photographs of her.

And then there were people who are holding up boards saying “I am a feminist” or “I am not a feminist” and citing reasons for the same. Naturally, there were people who decided to pick on that and make fun of those particular sentiments.

Feminism is an ugly word today. The generations of bra-burning feminists have gone by and they achieved so much that today I am able to sit here and have a voice. It might be hard for a lot of people to believe this… but feminism became a cause because it was required. The same way racism became a ’cause’. Because you cannot expect a percentage of the population to remain behind covers all the time.

A lot of people tend to make jokes about how men and women can never be equal, because – hey! women cannot take their shirts off in public and walk around. Because women can’t be roughed around like a guy. And I wonder are people so dumb that they think this is what feminism is about.

By making these jokes, people prove that our society hasn’t really grown much. A girl in a village who is working the fields because she needs to earn money so her brother can go to school does not know the meaning of feminism. A girl who is forced to marry off a guy five times her age to broker a deal her family made does not know the meaning of feminism. A man who is forced to take up a job he hates but that pays enough to marry off his uneducated sisters does not know the meaning of feminism.

It is an ugly word today because the women of today have made it so. Because the definition of feminism today is making a guy carry your bags, is standing by idly on the road while the guy sweats to change a tyre. It is “choosing” to idle at home and ‘make a pretty home’ while the guy brings in the dough. This is not feminism… because feminism was about ‘equality’ and these concepts enforce inequality again.

Am I a feminist? A few years ago, I would have said yes. But today, given the kind of women who are proud to declare themselves feminist, I would not want to be associated with that group. And somewhere down the line I realised that by tagging yourself as an ‘ist’ you limit yourself.

I am a woman of today and I would like to be accepted for what I am and what my skills are. I hate it when people tell me not to go out alone at night because I am a girl. I hate it when people tell me not to whistle or swear because I am a girl. I hate it when I am expected to behave a particular way because I am a girl. I hate it when my brother is expected to behave a particular way because he is a boy.

In the day-to-day life, particularly if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are intelligent, you do not face these issues. And simply because you are not facing these issues on a day-to-day life, it does not mean this is not a problem.

I would  not be able to pursue a career today that I love if someone, 50 years ago, had not stepped out of her house and started a revolution by simply stating that she would like to work. I would not be allowed to choose the person I want to spend the rest of my life with if someone had not begun that little resistance towards marriage a few decades ago.

Perhaps anything that I am doing today is not new. But to a little girl in a little village, seeing another woman walking around alone with a camera, taking photographs of random strangers will be an inspiration to step out and do more than just being a sister, a wife, a mother.

Being a sister, a wife and a mother are truly important definitions, as is being a father, a brother and a father. When the latter does not limit one section of a population in being mostly what they want, why should the former? And if we were truly equal, we can truly be a sister or a brother, a wife or a husband, a father or a mother. Because when you oppress one section of the community and limit their participation, the pressure grows more on the other section.

Sure, we can couch in terms like ‘be a man and suck it up’ but why should anyone have to suck it up? Why can’t a guy go out and be an artist instead of a software engineer?

Which is why I want to ask all those people mocking women / men holding up boards saying they are feminist – what is your problem? Can’t you accept a better world? Do you feel compelled to demean every little thing with redundant questions like – can a woman walk down a road without a shirt? We live in a world where a woman cannot walk down a road fully clothed and be safe, and jokes about rape are considered funny. And it’ll continue to be considered funny as long as using a woman’s sexuality as punishment continues to exist. We can never walk down a road, clothed or unclothed, as long as people make threats to reveal nude photos of a woman simply because she spoke out. As long as a woman is threatened with rape simply because she spoke up.

That is what the fight is about, after all.

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