By Meghna Pant
A full house, a fierce and fearless conversation. The June edition of Feminist Rani focussed on the ‘Changing Dialogue on Feminism in India’ with two stellar panelists, journalist Gayatri Jayaraman and stylist-activist Sapna Bhavnani.
Gayatri is a writer who coined the term ‘urban poor’ in a recent Buzzfeed article. She is also a single mother who has brought up her son from when she was 25 and he was one. Despite fights with patriarchy she’s pretty much lived and worked on her own terms. So, despite being a feminist, she believes that the Indian system works more than the Western one in supporting and protecting a woman in difficult circumstances.
In her forthcoming book on Feminism, Gayatri argues that that our Indian traditions do not necessarily exclude feminism, despite the fact that our traditions are the very carriers of deeply entrenched patriarchy and misogyny, and are widely blamed for everything that is wrong with a woman’s place in society today.
“Draupadi was fierce,” she said. “Go back to original literature to know the real stories.” She also made an interesting point that “I wish instead of fairytales, women were taught the importance of saving and being independent as kids.”
Sapna has spoken out about the various issues she’s faced from being called a whore to physical abuse. On top of that, of all the world’s most horrific crimes, Sapna was gang-raped. For most of us who are shaken after being molested, she said she regained her sense of self, her dignity and her life by letting her mind forget the incident and not calling for the punishment of her perpetrators.
During the talk she was vociferous that women need not be pressured into speaking out about their problems, but some of the strongest women are the ones who keep silent and tolerate the many issues inflicted upon them via patriarchy.
“Speaking out, or not, is a personal choice that does not make a woman less of a feminist,” she said.
Sapna is someone who has gone through three failed marriages, and fought back with a fun-filled and irreverent theme of being married multiple times to different things: like herself, her cat, her fan etc. In a country like India where the agency of women is defined as beginning and ending in marriage––as forward-thinking as we may claim to be––Sapna said that she has delineated herself from the institution.
“People look at me as a 45-year-old single older woman with no husband or a child, and call me a bechari. Such terms need to go. Call me a krantikari instead!” she said to resounding applause.
When Gayatri used the word ‘urban poor’ it unleashed a scribe war on whether the correct usage was ‘urban broke’ but what really caught my attention was the viciousness that she faced online. She then tweeted that ‘half of all misogynistic tweets posted on Twitter come from women’, mentioning a BBC-published study. She does think that women are not always accorded due respect and civility on social or offline media streams, but that she has learnt to take it in her stride.
“When I was little, every time I lost my temper, people said I’m turning into Indira Gandhi like it’s a bad thing,” she explained on the causal effect of emotion versus rationality as considered in women.
Many of our so-called role models, Bollywood actresses like Lisa Haydon, Parineeti Chopra and Madhuri Dixit shy away from identifying as feminists or ascribe reductionist definitions to it. Sapna reiterated, “We should not use Bollywood as our role models and instead find new role models who inspire us to bring about change.”
The incredibly popular session ended with two audience members getting into a heated argument about women versus men, but to witness that in real-time, please join us for the next edition of Feminist Rani in July.
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