Over the last few weeks I’ve seen many powerful women across the world reject feminism. They assert, “I’m not a feminist”, with their heads held high. The list of women who have rejected feminism includes Hollywood goddesses like Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon, who find the feminist label ‘alienating’ and ‘divisive’. They prefer being called ‘humanists’.
Closer home we have Twinkle Khanna claiming that women are ‘superior’ to men and that she loves her lingerie too much to be a feminist. Even the bright and chirpy Parineeti Chopra and Katrina Kaif insist that they aren’t feminists, though they believe in women’s right to education and individuality. Now, I’m a shameless and unapologetic feminist, but I’m not a judgmental douche. So I’m going to try and understand the point of view of all these women, and then try to explain why feminism is not a bad idea.
What Does ‘Feminism’ Mean?
Let’s first examine the textbook definition of feminism.
Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of equality of the sexes.
So if you believe men and women were created equal and therefore deserve equal rights, your ideas are aligned with feminism. This conversation between Lena Dunham and Hillary Clinton about feminism will give you some more perspective-
Feminists and the Feminazi
Now let’s examine how feminism began to be viewed as a quasi militant movement and why feminists are often called feminazi. You have probably heard the term ‘bra burning feminist’. This is a part of a myth around feminism and I’d like to debunk it. So, here’s the real story.
In 1968, a group of feminists were protesting against the objectification of women in the Miss America beauty pageant. To mark their protest, they decided to burn a girdle, a mop and an issue of Playboy magazine – things they claimed were instruments of female torture.
But just as they put these things into a bin and were about to set fire to it, the police arrived and reminded them that they could not burn anything on the street. So eventually NOTHING was set on fire. But members of a feminist group called New York Radical Women sneaked into the beauty pageant venue and shouted slogans about women’s liberation. The newspapers lapped up the story of ‘bra-burning women’s libbers’ and thus was born one of the most toxic myths about a movement that merely wanted women to be treated as intellectuals and social equals of men.
The myth has continued to this day. Truth is, it was never about bras. The offensive piece of lingerie they wanted to burn was a girdle… something you can still get your hands on. They call it ‘corset’ or body-shaper and it’s something that ‘corrects’ the shape of a woman’s body to make it more flattering. You see, women are apparently shaped like fruit…Apple, Pear and Bananas. And we love shaming our women for having the wrong body types…shame on you if you are ‘flat-chested’, ‘big-bummed’ or ‘podgy in the middle’. Feminists believe body shaming is wrong.
India Needs Feminism
Now let’s take a look at Twinkle Khanna’s arguments about female fetuses being stronger than male ones, and therefore likelier to be born alive. Here’s the thing Mrs Funny Bones. While you have your science right, our country still has social evils like female feticide and infanticide. You say women tend to live longer than men. True. But that’s only if they are not burned for dowry or killed in the name of ‘honour’. I understand you are all empowered women, but please recognize the fact that most girls are deprived of education, proper nutrition and equal wages in our country, this despite legal recourse. It isn’t just poor and uneducated women who need feminism. Highly educated women from privileged sections of society also need feminism in India.
Women like multiple award winning actress Vidya Balan, a post graduate in Sociology. Vidya has been campaigning for equal wages for male and female actors. Tell me why should a woman with equal screen time and an equally important role in a film be paid a fraction of what the hero gets? India needs feminism because society still doesn’t view men and women as equals. We really don’t. Even a highly educated woman is asked about her marital status and how she will balance her work and domestic responsibilities in a job interview. Men are never asked such questions.
I’m a man and I’m a feminist. Feminism isn’t just for women. Also, my feminism has space for my sisters who were once my brothers and brothers who were once sisters. As long as you are, or have been, or intend to be a woman at some point of time in your life, it should be included in feminism. Feminism is not defined by anatomy, it is defined by the thought of equality. Feminism is calm and composed and balanced. Feminism is not terrorism. Feminism isn’t a militant or facist movement. Please read up on Nazism before you club it with feminism.
It’s cool to be a ‘humanist’, or even a ‘man-ist’. Tell me are you opposed to ‘plantists’ and ‘animalists’? Now, some of you may point out that I like calling myself an ‘Equal Rights’ activist. But that isn’t because I’m shying away from feminism. It’s because, I campaign for the rights of women, children, LGBTQIA community as well as animals (everything that walks, crawls, swims or flies). I’m an ‘Equal Rights’ activist. I’m also a feminist. These identities are not mutually exclusive.
It’s OK if you don’t want a label. All I’m saying is that in a bid to dissociate yourself from feminism, please don’t deride the decades of work women’s rights activists have put in to get basic rights, like the right to vote, the right to a share in ancestral property, the right to have a credit card without seeking you father or husband’s permission, and so on. This may not seem like a big deal to some, who have always taken these rights for granted. But thousands of women have had to engage in large scale social advocacy for us to be born in a world where we have all these rights. It’s OK to not be a feminist. But it’s not OK to be ignorant and hateful. Feminists aren’t a bunch of ugly women who can’t get laid. Feminists aren’t mad raving lunatics who cannot and will not find happiness. Feminists aren’t male-bashing murderous psychopaths. Feminists are nice, polite, happy people who believe women have as much right to be happy as anybody else. So, if you can’t stop hating feminists, at least stop insulting them.
I leave you with this inspirational feminist monologue by my friend, the lovely Kalki Koechlin.