Lisa Hayden, an Indian model/actress recently expressed her views on feminism in an interview and sparked another debate on the term and its meaning. Many celebrities don’t want to associate with the word and almost run away from the “controversial label” while some embrace it like comic Aziz Ansari. But the understanding of the term and its usage still remains vague for many. Why is it so hard to explain feminism even though we hear the term all the time?
Civil society organisations, academics, students, policy makers whose work is entrenched in feminist thought have been working for years on the issue and yet the myths around Feminism remain intact in popular discourse. Why is there such a gap? Are we preaching to the choir? Or is breaking down feminism actually quite hard?
I used to think like Lisa Hayden as well at some point. It’s something like in that movie The Matrix, where the Matrix is all around us, we are born into it but like Neo I knew something wasn’t right and like he had to find out, I did too. To me Feminism was the blue pill. I’m glad I took it. (If you have not seen The Matrix, this paragraph is irrelevant #MustWatchMatrixforFeminism).
Patriarchy is The Matrix, we cannot escape it. It is all around us, it governs our day to day life. To reverse it is cathartic and takes time. It does not mean men are at fault, it is a system which puts men in a power position as opposed to women. The burden of masculinity is just as hard as being oppressed. The social system is flawed, not the people trapped in it. It is hard to zoom out and look at a system you inhabit, and that bird’s eye view is what feminism is to me.
We are raised as male and female and assigned gender roles. We do not realise we are trying to fit into our roles. Just like potty-training it is an intrinsic part of our socialisation. Then we grow up and have discussions like these:
Someone: You don’t have equal rights
Me: Equal to whom?
Me: But we are different
Our differences become so prominent that a discussion on equality becomes a debate on men versus women. Pitting the two genders against each other when the question of equality is raised is so subtle and well worded that demands like equal pay for equal work remain only on paper. In life it translates to men commanding meetings, women being passive followers remaining in the gender roles we have been grooming into all our lives. When a woman becomes authoritative or a man docile, the shift in roles meets with a clash which manifests in comments where that woman is called bossy and the man sissy. These subtle pressures push us back into our assigned roles which may not be our natural state.
When Lisa Hayden says, “Feminism is just an overused term and people make too much noise about it for no reason. Women have been given these bodies to produce children, and the spirit and tenderness to take care of people around us. It’s fine to be an outspoken and working woman. I don’t want to be a man. One day I look forward to making dinner for my husband and children. I don’t want to be a career feminist,” she is also associating career driven and outspoken with being a man and caring and nurturing with being a woman. Which is okay, just as long as the reverse is not considered an anomaly.
Asking simple questions can help. Like is this sexist joke actually funny? Isn’t this detergent advertisement promoting the stereotype that women belong at home? Am I hesitant to speak up in this meeting because I’m surrounded by men? Is my house help stuck in her abusive marriage because of poverty or is life without a man seemingly more dangerous to her?
I started understanding my behaviours, reactions, hesitations by observing and asking myself why I think the way I think. That’s how I began my journey as a feminist. And it is an everyday process.
I leave you with Kamla Bhasin’s thoughts on rape and honour. If you already think like that, great, if not, this is worth thinking about: