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Relating to that dreaded ‘F’ word (Hindu)

If the words ‘feminism’ and ‘feminist’ have a negative connotation, it is precisely because we are operating in a deeply patriarchal society

Being a feminist today is as bad as being a fan of Shah Rukh Khan in the year Ra.One was released. Constant mockery is replaced by exasperated sighs, followed by collective rolling of eyes. And finally people just pretend you’re invisible.

But the analogy ends right there. (Un)Funnily enough, Shah Rukh Khan recently said he doesn’t want to be considered “pro-feminist”. God forbid.

People steer clear of this label, not because they are Foucauldians but for two reasons. One, that they don’t seem to believe in gender equality, and two, because they are afraid of how people would react. About five years ago, during my college days as a coordinator of the women’s development cell, I had helped organise a ‘Reclaim the Night Walk’, and I am still called ‘Triple M’ (short for Mahila Mukti Morcha) by my cousins. One peep about how my cousin-sister should be treated as her brothers are, and I witness the verbal equivalent of a cloudburst. Ever so sadly, but not surprisingly, not one woman in the family supported my stance, including the cousin-sister in question.

It is a hard label to carry. Even after several PSAs (Public Service Announcements) that feminism means belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the genders, it hasn’t managed to shake its unfair negative connotation. Why is that? Why do even women bolt at frightening speed from the term feminism? Is it because it doesn’t fall within our inherent need to please people? We think the minute we claim to be feminists, suddenly we would seem to be too intense, someone who hates men with a fiery, self-fuelling passion, or someone who isn’t fun, or someone who is the ‘activist type’. And if you happen to be carrying a jhola, you’re a goner.

Usually when a man says he’s a feminist, everyone clamours up to give him demi-god status. Yet, even these men are hard to find. For many it may just be downright emasculating. Never should you threaten the masculinity of a man, it can be dark place to be for everyone involved.

Warren Buffet once said that he reached great peaks in his career because he was only competing with half the population. Since we as humans seek short-term gratification instead of long-term satisfaction, why would a man truly, madly, deeply support the cause of gender equality? So that the next generation’s mothers are more equipped to teach her boys?

Why would anyone who is busy reaping the benefits of a patriarchal society care? Why wouldn’t they be sexists? It is a ball for them. I don’t know if I am in a position to put the blame of perpetuating patriarchy on to their selfish shoulders. I don’t know if I would have rallied for change if I were in their position. Power can be blinding. But then, we forget that gender stereotypes have also negatively affected men who are afraid to speak up because of embedded notions of patriarchy of masculinity.

We are all so taken by the roles bestowed upon us from generations; questioning and challenging them takes time. In a country where there is extreme poverty, questioning gender roles becomes the “pastime” of the middle and upper classes of women, something that exists in theory but not in practice. Women perpetuate patriarchy. By shying away from the word ‘feminist’, or worse, not being one, shows the deep reaches of a male-dominated world over women.

The fear of the ‘F’ word is real. If the word ‘feminism’ or ‘feminist’ has a negative connotation, it is precisely because we’re operating in a deeply patriarchal society, it is the society (you and me) that makes it an ugly, shameful word to be associated with.

I am a feminist. Does that mean I am going to die a spinster surrounded by my many cats? That could be true, but only because being a feminist today is considered being something akin to a plague-bearing rat.

Feminism has been challenging societal norms, customs and rules for a long time now. It has gained popularity today, but has it gained any significant momentum? I am not too sure.

We are encouraged to keep ideas of ‘gender equality’ to ourselves lest we come across as someone who is too opinionated and causing moms all over India to exclaim, “Isse shaadi kaun karega?” This is exactly why we women need to speak up, and soon enough. We aren’t just supposed to be good wife material; we are supposed to be whoever we want to be.

Asking for a safe work environment isn’t asking for too much. Asking for a safe home environment isn’t asking for too much. Asking for a safe colony, safe city isn’t asking for too much. Asking us to adjust in such a world where we feel constantly unsafe is too much. Asking us to keep quiet and not create a ruckus is too much. And asking us to feel shame when we call ourselves feminists is too much indeed.

Except, sadly, we have given in. In some form or the other, in varying degrees, we have given them what they asked from us.

It may be time we stopped.

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