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I am a feminist.

I wanted to start off by declaring this, in an effort to remove all the negative power that would have otherwise been given to this word had I tiptoed around it. I am a feminist and I wouldn’t want to lead up to this fact with an apologetic and explanatory preamble. Instead, this is where I would like to begin.

I admit, there was a time when I didn’t consider myself one because I didn’t hate all men and I didn’t see myself as someone with a chip on my shoulder and because that’s what I thought being a feminist meant. But over the years I’ve come to realize that ignoring it, brushing it aside as the rants of a potential bra-burning activist is doing more harm than good. The meaning of feminism has been lost along the way, suppressed by those who consider any “ism” an extreme point of view to have. I once was part of a discussion in which one of my male friends said “why are you fighting for rights that are technically yours?” It came from a good place – Utopia. A perfect world which imagined that the good fight was over and talking about equal rights now was just rehashing a problem that has already been dealt with successfully. A world where there don’t exist pockets of society that still practice female feticide and female infanticide and where women are sold to men in the name of marriage and dowry. My friend wanted us to tackle this issue with nonchalance because anything other than a casual approach would mean that our opinions would be considered extreme and therefore taken less seriously. It was said with good intentions and he also wanted to let us know in his own way that he very obviously believed in equal rights. I did appreciate it but it was ultimately a useless sentiment. And it is a symptom of a problem that has insidiously seeped into our social fabric – wilful inaction.

I surround myself with good people, both men and women. People who if questioned will say they are appalled by the injustices that the women in our society face. People who claim they applaud and appreciate strong women who have broken the mould. And they mean it too; it’s not just for show. And yet when the word feminism is brought up, most run for the hills. I once asked a friend why he wouldn’t consider himself a feminist if he believed in equal rights and he said to me “feminism is overrated.”

Overrated.

As if it’s a cultural phenomenon that’s become too mainstream to be taken seriously no matter how true or valid – like Ryan Gosling’s attractiveness or the notion that Meryl Streep could play the role of an omelet and still be delightful in it. As if it’s a flavor-of-the-month ice cream at Baskin Robbins that sold out too quickly. As if it’s a film that everyone loved but then too many people loved it and the rest began to look for flaws. We’re so scared of being pigeonholed by our ideas that we refuse to talk about those ideas at all. We ignore the everyday sexism that occurs. We ignore it because we don’t want to be “that guy” or “that girl.” The one that gets all riled up and makes impassioned speeches every time it is insinuated that women can’t drive. Every time a woman beats a man at a sport and it’s followed by mild shame masked by a joke about losing to a girl. Every time a woman loses to a man at a sport and it’s followed by a “you play really well though…for a girl.” Every time a woman declares she can’t cook and it’s followed by shock and sometimes awe because “good for her, she’s fighting stereotypes.” Every time a woman “rants” about feminism. Every time a woman is called “feisty” because standing up for one’s ideas and beliefs is a novelty trait in a woman and needs a new word to describe it. I’ve never heard a man being called feisty.

Not like men are any less victimized. We don’t even realize it. But it’s happening, each time you say “be a man” or “don’t throw like a girl” or the more graphic and slightly baffling “grow a pair.” It’s happening each time you tell your kid that boys don’t cry. It’s happening each time you choose to gender-police your kids instead of teaching them how to be a good human being.

Feminism has stemmed from this skewed view of the genders. The sexism that occurs on a minor scale is what becomes deep-seated in our mentality and leads to laws (judicial and social) that violate the equality that should have always existed. In a city she is paid less than a man in a similar role and in a village she is denied the basic right to education. Feminism is not just for the privileged few who can advocate change. Feminism is when the woman in that village understands that she has the right to exercise her will. She has the right to fight back if she is denied her freedom. It’s what politicians keep talking about (but seldom understand) when they say “women’s empowerment.”

Feminism is not a bad word. It is not something we should be ashamed of being. It is not a punch line to a sexist joke. It is not an idea wrapped in unreasonableness and extremist agendas. It is not exclusive to women. It is you and I believing that there exists a discrimination that defies logic. Feminism is good. It is not ideal; it is logical. It is the springboard from which we can jump into that utopia where the need for feminism would no longer exist.

Now, it is possible that I haven’t been very articulate with my thoughts or that I haven’t considered all the things that need to be considered. But the point I’m trying to make here is that we should be more open to discussing these thoughts in a healthy manner without the fear of being labeled or being wrong.

Our notions if left untouched will never evolve. Our perspectives if kept buried will never be useful. Our ideas if built on ignorance will never be powerful enough to affect change.

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2 thoughts on “The F word

  1. You are one of very few in this debate who acknowledge that male victimization and stereotyping also exists Nandini. Your definitions are well thought out and I think you should aim for better than Utopia which is, after all, only a dream. A clear, articulate and well-argued essay.

  2. i can’t claim to fully understand the gender bias from the other side of the fence but you said it best with “our notions if left untouched will never evolve”. That’s all it takes for people to realize how regressive gender roles are. They just need to think about it without being led astray by combustible egos.

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