…gender equality is considered a ‘ladies’ problem.
Recently, I’ve been feeling positive about the state of the feminist movement. Unless you avoid the TV, newspapers or Facebook, you’ve probably noticed that feminism has hit mainstream. In his first Independence Day speech, Narendra Modi asked parents to raise their sons so that they do not grow up to become rapists. Elsewhere, British politicians have declared themselves feminists as a part of a campaign run by Elle UK (Unsurprisingly not the PM).
Corporates are tapping into public sentiment by releasing girl power ads and campaigns (For examples, see #VogueEmpower Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, Whisper’s Touch the Pickle, PC Jewellers Working Woman and Tanishq’s A Wedding to Remember). Emma Watson’s He for She speech at the UN was widely shared and discussed. Bollywood is speaking up and has released several women-centric films in 2014. Popstars, the embodiment of mainstream, are jumping and shouting about it too.
I’ve even been feeling complacent about this blog, thinking that what needs to be said is being said already. But as it turns out, an inconsequential argument on Facebook is all it took to get my mojo back. Summarising a FB conversation with a friend:
A friend posts: Just watched Happy New Year. Lame but fun movie
My comment: ‘Happy New Year considered the worst movie of the year for representation of women’. See: http://theladiesfinger.com/bechdel-testing-happy-new-year/
Friend: Wow, why would you dig out such a feminist article. That’s every female character in Bollywood
Friend: There’s no mention that the entire movie was run by Farah Khan and Gauri Khan
Me: Do you really think the women should get a free pass because it was produced and directed by women?
Friend: Well, if powerful women who can make a difference don’t stand up for women rights then making such comments doesn’t hold any value. Maybe the ladies should fix the ladies and then decide what they want.
Me: Most irresponsible and illogical response ever! Yes, it is pathetic that those powerful women haven’t made a difference but why is that stopping you from taking a stand? Also, this is not just a ‘ladies’ problem. I would have thought it would affect all men, at least indirectly through the women they know and love.
Lesson: While some values may feel pretty basic to the armchair feminist, it may take someone else leaps and bounds to get there. Repeat the mantra. Speak up clearly and often.
A discussion about speaking up is incomplete without talking about some common pitfalls. For example, every time I hear anti-feminist tropes, there’s an internal struggle between keeping shut and arguing for the cause.
Too often, they take the form of innocent comments like the one described above. You may come across them when bantering with family or family, tapping away in the sanctum of a Whatsapp group or in respectful conversations with Indian Uncles and Aunties.
Out comes the feminist police to shut down the party and you toe the line between good cop and bad cop. Too strict and you risk being slammed with stereotypes (‘those angry feminists!’), too nice and no one takes you seriously.
But if that misogynist joke is pooping your party, then I’d suggest speaking up as often as you can. If you want to soften the blow, here’s a post by the Indian Homemaker, where commenters have offered sensible and soothing advice on how to speak up and what to do if you aren’t being heard.