• Feminism is “cute”: My take on misconceptions on the subject in India

    As a 17 year old in the year 2010, trying to find his footing in a highly socially aware college environment in New York, “feminism” meant to me whatever the women around me wanted it to mean to me. I had barely read about feminism, much less had a passionate discourse about it with American students who already knew enough to have their own opinions and narratives on the subject.

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    As time passed and as I heard more opinions from self-proclaimed feminists, mostly women, my confusion only heightened. There were groups and sub-groups of women with different approaches towards feminism, each championing her own cause, each cause seeming just as important as the other. But what struck me the most was the peculiarity of how fragmented feminism was. Liberal, radical, socialist cultural, black…Who was right? Were each of these tangents only advancing the rights of the women who subscribed to their ideology? Were radical feminists really the human incarnation of the monsters under our beds? Well at least that’s what I heard in passing from a guy who’s immediate next line was, “Man fuck those bitches”.

    While the male students in college in America are definitely more aware of the irrefutable existence of the feminist woman than my Indian counterparts, I sense a fear, annoyance, and a general “I really don’t need to listen to this bullshit” approach in their attitude towards feminists. But at the same time, America is engulfed in political correctness to an overwhelming degree which forces the male student to say anything he can to just come off as a feminist. Either to sound smart and sensitive in a group, or so that he can get in a woman’s pants. Which made me wonder how sensitive the average young male today was to the feminist’s cause. Does he truly understand where their struggle comes from? Does he make an effort to realize the means of oppression and the tools of manipulation especially the subtle ones, which so discretely led women down the path of patriarchy?

    But let’s come back East. The feminist movement in America has gained traction over a period of more than 50 years.  In India, women are still fighting for the most basic human privileges of simply being treated as equally valuable members of society. I assume most Indian women would find it amusing or blasphemous (depending on their worldview) when they see the campaigns which American feminists employ to empower their women. The “free the nipple” campaign for instance . Not having the freedom to let your nipples breathe and bask in their nakedness, seems almost trivial and gimmicky when you consider that a majority of our Indian female population still has inhibitions about wearing clothes of their choice.

    I returned to India a few months ago after spending 5 years in an environment that forced me to look at my privileges, accept them and make a conscious effort to question even my most subtle prejudices.  And I immediately realized what an unfortunate situation the young feminist woman finds herself in today.

    While equal rights and opportunities forms the very core of feminism, the young male perspective is probably the single most decisive factor in the victory of this movement in a country where the “establishment” is entirely male dominated- the corporations ,the government, and the lawmakers.  Some of these men scoff at feminism. Their impression of feminism is heavily influenced by some of the extreme principles which encompass radical feminism. Add to this a man’s irrational fears, and feminism quite literally signifies to him the subservience or complete nullification of the male species.

    Then you have another section of men who claim to support the liberal feminist perspective. But on this extreme, they find the demands of liberal feminism so simple and non-threatening to any of their own privileges, that their attitude towards feminism becomes highly patronizing. Simply saying that they support women’s rights has become a sort of charity. Feminism is a charity which men have afforded to the Indian woman. Feminism is “cute”.  Because at the end of the day, our men know that they will still be favored in most situations. When you have a guy say something as casually ignorant as, “Yaar, who bandi ko date mat kar. Feminist hai. Pakaa degi”, we have a serious problem. If men in their 20s and 30s aren’t willing to encourage our women and are relegating their experiences to the disgusting excuse of “she just needs something to chatter about”, we have a serious problem.

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    Finding myself in the midst of similar aged peers and colleagues who have a proclivity to dismiss and exclude feminism is scary. I don’t want to sound completely negative though, because then I will only be contributing to the impression of the futility of feminism which is so prevalent. For the first 17 years of my life, I lived with the entitlement which was afforded to me by our society, and I honestly didn’t need to think about how drastically skewed my experience of the world was relative to that of my female counterparts. If you think about it, the young Indian male today has to completely erase memories, moments, generalizations, and expectations which have been built into him and reinforced for the last 20 odd years of his life. I’m not justifying their reluctance to change. But I will say that it takes time. In the last 5 years, with social media campaigning and a sudden influx of bloggers, writers and activists, the feminist movement has been brought to the forefront. The traditional indian male whose brain now has to be rewired to accommodate these “revolutionary” ideas, is flummoxed. And so the pushback is expected. But after living in a country like the United States where young men are more enthusiastic to be involved in the discussions, debates and campaigns for women, I have no reason to doubt that our men will progress towards a more sincere view of feminism.

    The opinions in this piece are that of the author as is the veracity of this piece