The current socio-political (re)awakening nationwide encouraged me to share this piece that I had penned sometime back.
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I do not recall when and where I first heard the word feminist. But I am certain that it is essential to remember some of the positive contributions that feminism has made to women and society overall. These include the securing of voting rights for women, the right to work outside home, inclusion in anti-discrimination laws, et al. All this was achieved through the relentless and determined efforts of many courageous and committed women and some men, amidst much opposition. And the women’s movement continues to evolve despite divisions based on race, faith, class, disabilities, gender and other factors.
Past and present
But what does feminism mean to people now? I spoke to a cross section of Bangaloreans to understand their views.
"Feminism is and always has been relevant. It’s not feminism’s fault that its meaning is misinterpreted by so many" said C K Meena, a popular city based columnist and novelist, when asked about the current state of feminism. On the other hand, poet and author A. Revathi, a hijra (transsexual woman) in her mid-40’s who was involved in many gender rights campaigns, revealed, "I do not believe in feminism any more even though it may provide a sense of security. In my experience, it is a mere term that has given me more pain than satisfaction. But I continue to enjoy and respect womanhood and will keep doing my best to protect the rights and freedom of women, girls and sexual minorities, as an individual".
At a discussion held in mid 2010 about Missing Half the Story: Journalism As If Gender Matters, a book highlighting the under representation of women in and by the news media, a man in the audience, aged over 40, remarked, "It has become fashionable to highlight women’s issues or state that they are ignored. This is one of the problems with feminism". An older lady countered him with the words, "Do crimes against women not exceed those on men greatly? It is common knowledge that men often perpetrate these inhuman acts. We need feminism until we have an egalitarian society".
More recently, to a question on what feminism means, a young author and co-founder of the art magazine Urban Confustions, Rheea Mukherjee, responded, "Feminism to me is embracing what women are capable of, and pushing for a society that does not limit the imagination of humanity as a whole. Our communities must continue the process of learning how important it is to acknowledge gender inequality and embrace individuals based on their unique personalities and contributions". Contrastingly, Jatin Prabhu, a Bangalorean limerick writer in his 30’s mentioned, "Having a mother who is a staunch feminist and a flurry of former female bosses, I am predisposed to a prejudice against feminism. But I believe the concept and the movement are important".
Although the word feminism may evoke some discomfort, its significance is likely to remain for long. Gauri Sanghi, a student of the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Yelahanka, shared, "Feminism is a way of looking at oneself, wanting to live the way you chose. Of course a lot of baggage comes with the word. It has its history and means much bigger things but for me at least at this point, it is a lot about how i connect to myself, my body and my choices". Azhar Khan, doing his post-graduate degree in Political Science from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore, added, "Feminists brought focus to the issue of women being being denied equal social status under the patriarchal system which thrives still. We must create a balance in rights and entitlements for women and men and address challenges of all genders, collectively."
Interestingly, 43-year old Shanti, a barely literate domestic worker cum tailor, is not necessarily a feminist. But she believes that women require education, economic independence and pragmatism in marriage. And she is ensuring that for her 2 daughters Sirisha (an employed graduate aged 24) and Soni (a studious and sprightly school going twelve year old). This is probably a silent version of modern feminism in practice.
True and false
In the issues that sparkle today’s prism
What shines through is feminism
Men dare not tussle
‘Cause women have the muscle
To rename it "Masculinism"
– Limerick by Bangalore artist Jatin Prabhu