Ask a Feminist | Ch. 2 Feminism Myth Busting

mis 1.png

Ask a Feminist is your guide to becoming a better human being. In chapter 2, Priyanka Sutaria gives you a feminism 101 class, and disproves some myths about the movement. 

 

For too long, the word ‘feminism’ has been subverted to stand for man-hating, and its principles hijacked by those who don’t understand its context and power. Here’s what feminism means, and why you need to be one if you want to call yourself a good person.

Feminism is the advocacy of rights of genders other than male on the ground of the equality of the sexes. In short—and really, there’s no other way to say this—you cannot be a good human being, conscious of gender disparity without being a feminist. But if you still have doubts about the movement and why genders other than male should have the right to basic autonomy and human dignity (duh!), we answer the most common criticisms about feminism.

 

Feminism is only for women

Actually, feminism is all about equality and freedom for all genders. So when men are told not to cry or wear pink (!) because it’s not ‘manly’, feminism tells them that it’s okay to be their real, authentic selves. Bound by gender constructs, when men are discouraged from pursuing ‘girly’ interests and activities such as sewing, they remain unable to fulfil their full potential. Feminism tells them (and the world) that men needn’t be boxed in by gender roles. Forced into the role of breadwinners, men often lack the chance to explore their interests or do what they might really make them happy. All of this contributes to a lack of life skills; an inability to cultivate empathy, and the crushing reality of a life lived unfulfilled—all of which feminism fights against. It is, therefore, instrumental in making men better, happier humans.

 

Feminism should benefit males

So we have established that feminism benefits men, but here’s the thing—it doesn’t need to do that in order to be considered a social movement worth its while. Anybody who isn’t a cis male is at the receiving end of patriarchy. Males already have benefits, and it is they who have historically retained these benefits by disallowing others access to them. So it isn’t really out of place if feminism doesn’t focus on them.

 

Feminism is about men versus women

No, feminism not about men versus women and neither is it about male-bashing (that’s misandry). Feminism is the battle for human rights over patriarchy. Men can be feminists, just as women can be indoctrinated into patriarchal ideologies. Feminism is about correcting the wrongs of patriarchy, and the historical oppression of non-male genders.

 

Feminism wants women to be more powerful than men

No, not at all. In fact, one of the core values of feminism is the belief that all genders deserve equal civil and social rights, while their differences are respected and celebrated. If you admit that men have been accorded given a higher status socially, historically and culturally, then don’t other genders deserve a chance to achieve the same status? Striving to occupy the same spaces of power which males have occupied for centuries—from corporate boardrooms to sporting arenas—is not ‘becoming more powerful than men’. It is about claiming bastions hitherto disallowed to people just because they weren’t males.

 

Feminists need to take a chill pill

Would you take a chill pill if you were denied admission to school on the basis of the colour of your skin? So why must non cis males ‘relax’ when they are treated as less by virtue of their gender? Be ‘logical’, not ‘emotional’, we’re told. Except that notions of logic and rationality thus far have been defined by men. News flash: logic can be feminist, and feminist logic can accommodate emotions. Imagine being upset about the fact that you are oppressed by a system only to be told that you need to adhere to rules made by that system in order to fight it. Does that sound ‘logical’ to you?

 

Feminists need to make males ‘feel welcome’ in the movement

Actually, males need to stop expecting feminists to make the movement ‘hospitable’ for them. Our lives on this planet have been pretty bad so far and we have no time to soothe fragile egos; we’re too busy fighting for our rights. Feminists don’t need be less aggressive and more accommodating—we’ve been forced to do that for centuries already. This does not mean males cannot be feminist, or that men are not welcome to the movement. It means they need to be good allies, and use the benefits of their male privilege to empower those without it. “Men who want to be feminists do not need to be given a space in feminism. They need to take the space they have in society and make it feminist,” said Kelley Temple, and we’d encourage you to reflect on that.

 

Feminism is only about equality

Yes, and also about equity. It is about correcting the historical wrongdoings committed at the behest of the patriarchy against all genders which are not male. It is about rectifying the imbalance to allow non-males into spaces where they were previously disallowed or offered restricted access on the basis of their gender. Feminism is about intersectionality, which means recognising that existing power structures (race, caste, class, etc) are interconnected. Equality of the genders is not really possible without accounting for all systems of oppression. 

To quote Tara* Kaushal, the founder of Why Indian Men Rape: "Truth is, not being a feminist today is an unconscionable stand. You either don’t see the historic privileges accorded to the male gender, or you don’t think other genders deserve those privileges. Which makes you either ignorant or arrogant… or both."

Have a question that's burning your bras? Ask a Feminist is your makeshift guide to the feminist way of life. Drop us a message on Facebook or tweet us, or email us at contact@whyindianmenrape.com, and we will try to answer your questions as best we can. Follow the hashtag #askafeminist to keep up!

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.

Ask a Feminist | Q. 4 What should I do with mistletoe at an office Christmas party?

askafem.jpg

Have a question that's burning your bras? Ask a Feminist is your makeshift guide to the feminist way of life. Drop us a message on Facebook or tweet us, or email us at contact@whyindianmenrape.com, and we will try to answer your questions as best we can. Follow the hashtag #askafeminist to keep up!

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.

Ask a Feminist | Ch. 1 Eight Words a Male Feminist Should Stop Using

8 abuses not to use.png

Ask a Feminist is your guide to becoming a better human being. In chapter 1, Priyanka Sutaria tells you how to rid your language of sexist slurs. 

 

So you believe in the full equality of men and women—congratulations, you’re a feminist, regardless of your gender. And here's a PSA: words matter. Part of being a feminist—which, as a male, means being a good ally—is recognising that language contains deep-seated sexist microagressions. Take the way pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ are used to refer to the larger sweep of humanity; HIStory, which erases the very stories of those who aren’t male.

Ridding our vocabulary of misogynistic overtones won’t happen overnight, but we can start somewhere. Here, we discuss why and how you must purge your speech of certain terms. And for those who argue free speech, know that that isn’t really a good excuse when those at the receiving end of these slurs are oppressed by them.

The rules are slightly different for men and women here. Just as blacks are the only ones allowed to use—and reclaim—the N word, ‘woke’ women too have the privilege of reclaiming some words of abuse. If you’re not female, you shouldn’t be using any of the following expressions. Plain and simple.

1.png

Behenchod/Madarchod
Fondly shortened to BC/MC, they translate to sister-/mother-fucker

Why you shouldn’t use them: They perpetuate the religio-cultural notion that the ‘honour’ of a family unit, or a household, lies in the chastity of the sister and the purity of the mother. They imply that the ‘rape’ of the sister or the mother is the ultimate way to attack a man’s honour. If you don’t believe us, just read Urvashi Butalia’s accounts of the Partition.


2.png

Bitch
Deemed benign, but it's really not, as its history lies in oppressing women

Why you shouldn’t use it: The word has been directed towards women, as well as femme/effeminate individuals, usually in positions of power, or willing to fight for their place in society. Female boss cancelled your leave? Bitch. Hillary Clinton is unlikeable? Bitch. On the other hand, it is a word which can be reclaimed by women and femmes to represent themselves as powerful.


3.png

Cunt
Around since the 11th C, it is perhaps Europe's oldest word for the vagina

Why you shouldn’t use it: Grose’s Dictionary of The Vulgar Tongue refers to the cunt as a ‘nasty word for a nasty thing’, identifying the vagina as something foul. While we’re at it, ‘pussy’ isn’t an acceptable alternative either. Used deleteriously to imply weakness (‘Don’t be a pussy, stand up to your boss’), it enforces what the ever-misogynist Freud referred to as the ‘negative space’ of a vagina, which, by virtue of not being a penis, is powerless. Ironic, considering it’s the vagina that expands to, you know, give birth—one of the most powerful (not to mention painful) acts in the world.


4.png

Slut
Used prior to the colonial project to refer to a dirty or untidy woman

Why you shouldn’t use it: The word is used to shame women who are sexually active, usually with multiple partners, because of the value placed on a woman’s virginity. Males have always been offered the consummate privilege of sexuality, while women have been historically denied that same. To refer to someone as a ‘slut’ is oppressive and reeks of the need to impose patriarchal power on them. Like ‘bitch’, however, it is also a word women can use to assert and reclaim their sexual agency .


5.png

Bossy
A tool to control a woman asserting herself, especially in the workplace

Why you shouldn’t use it: Since time immemorial, it has been assumed and expected that men will occupy outside spaces while women quiver indoors. So when women began venturing and conquering all the spaces they were previously denied entry into, the ‘intellectual aggression’ that was offered to males became a way to shame women when they rightly asserted themselves.

Women/femmes have every right to have ambitions and to assert their authority—exactly the qualities that are praised in men. The use of such a misogynistic term only shows how they are viewed in the workplace. Besides, it’s like Beyonce says—"I'm not bossy, I'm the boss."


6.png

Nag/Shrill
Why judge women's emphatic energy and voices so harshly?

Why you shouldn’t use it: Lower baritones are often associated with masculinity, and therefore conveniently considered ‘better’ than the higher-pitched sounds associated with femininity. Neither do all men speak in low, calm voices and nor do all women use ‘nagging’ tones, but women/femmes are more likely to be labelled negatively than males—­especially in the media. Conversely, effeminate males with higher pitched voices are also ridiculed. When women/femmes express themselves, they are not ‘nagging’; the phrase is often used simply to shut them down. In other words, ~*sexism*~.


7.png

Ballsy
Yeah, because a male organ is the very paragon of strength and vitality...

Why you shouldn’t use it: No one needs testicles to be courageous, and they are most certainly not a measure of strength. Someone who ‘doesn’t have balls’ is just as likely to be brave, and someone who doesn’t is just as likely to not be. No part of feminine anatomy is ever equated with strength… but, as that famous quote goes: ‘Why do people say "grow some balls"? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.’


8.png

Got Raped
We shouldn’t have to explain this one

Why you shouldn’t use it: If you’ve been using the phrase to discuss how your sports team took a beating over the weekend, you are contributing to rape culture in one of its most unconsidered forms. The word ‘rape’ is defined by the structure within which the body is used as a medium to enforce one’s power over another individual, which basically implies the desire of the rapist to demean, degrade and defile the victim.

When you use the word ‘rape’ casually, you normalise the act (by normalising the linguistic category). The attempt to justify your use of language in the face of a global rape culture is a pathetic excuse to maintain the last vestige of power one can without actually imagining or committing the act itself. Why is rape equated to victory in sports and war? Because it justifies the need to impose power on others.


To be feminist is to change the way we think, act, talk and behave. It is active recognition of the patriarchal constructs which are ingrained into our behaviour. Just because these words seemingly hold lesser and lesser significance to those who use them, they continue to cause a great deal of disempowerment to marginalised communities. To call oneself a feminist, one actually has to BE feminist.

 

Have a question that's burning your bras? Ask a Feminist is your makeshift guide to the feminist way of life. Drop us a message on Facebook or tweet us, or email us at contact@whyindianmenrape.com, and we will try to answer your questions as best we can. Follow the hashtag #askafeminist to keep up!

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.

Ask a Feminist | Q. 3 What is the difference between feminism in theory and in practice?

askafem 3 crop.png

Have a question that's burning your bras? Ask a Feminist is your makeshift guide to the feminist way of life. Drop us a message on Facebook or tweet us, or email us at contact@whyindianmenrape.com, and we will try to answer your questions as best we can. Follow the hashtag #askafeminist to keep up!

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.

Ask a Feminist | Q. 2 What is 'savarna' feminism?

askafem 2 crop.png

Have a question that's burning your bras? Ask a Feminist is your makeshift guide to the feminist way of life. Drop us a message on Facebook or tweet us, or email us at contact@whyindianmenrape.com, and we will try to answer your questions as best we can. Follow the hashtag #askafeminist to keep up!

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.

Ask a Feminist | Q. 1 Why do some feminists hate men?

askafem 1.png

Have a question that's burning your bras? Ask a Feminist is your makeshift guide to the feminist way of life. Drop us a message on Facebook or tweet us, or email us at contact@whyindianmenrape.com, and we will try to answer your questions as best we can. Follow the hashtag #askafeminist to keep up!

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.

The Occupation | Ch. 3 Girl, and Going Solo

IMG_2945.JPG

The Occupation is a campaign designed to promote the occupation of ideas and spaces by women. In chapter 3, Priyanka Sutaria talks about how travelling solo as women is a journey within and without.

 

Some of you may notice the reference to Roald Dahl’s autobiography-in-two-parts, Boy and Going Solo in my title. I have always hoped to live a life as colourful as Dahl’s, but some days, being a ‘woman’ or being taught how to be a ‘woman’, comes in the way of this lifelong fantasy. The two book titles are accidental linguistic markers of what it means to be a girl and what it means to be alone (or as they call it these days, ‘single’). Boy had a fantastic life, and when boy became ‘man’, he most certainly had a chance to go solo. Us girls? Not so much…

I love being outside. I don’t remember when this love affair started, but I do remember a time when I hated going out. A homebody, I buried my nose in book after book, ignoring not only the reality of what was around me, but even that which lay beyond my front door. This was when I was a child, before my measured existence as a woman began. When I was a child, I was not taught ‘how to be a girl’ beyond the usual instructions to never sit with my legs apart, or the (genuinely weird, in retrospect) murmurs about how my father needed to start saving for my marriage. But as I grew up I learnt that it isn’t so easy when a girl grows into ‘woman’, for she has to allow for the skin of her girlhood to moult; she no longer has the luxury of simply being.

(I write ‘woman’ with quotation marks because the very idea of ‘womanhood’ is a not-real social construct. When I say woman without the quotation marks, I mean woman who is “not born, but rather becomes”, in the words of Simone de Beauvoir.)

In my case, a hilarious anti-climax of sorts, the more I shed the skin of my girlhood, the less ‘woman’ I became. I do not think my extended family was prepared for my becoming, or my woman, because she sits with her legs apart. She is probably not going to be get married. This woman and her father chuckle over midnight coffee at all the family members who bide their time in the hope that one day, I will become ‘woman’. Most important of all though, is that my woman is no longer indifferent towards the outside. She likes occupying space.

When Ishita first took off on her solo trip, she was worried about what might happen. In the end, she emerged empowered and able.

When Ishita first took off on her solo trip, she was worried about what might happen. In the end, she emerged empowered and able.

I think being outside is just about my favourite rebellion against ‘woman’ now; I usually do it at night and by myself—my own private reclamation of time I did not know I could occupy, a quiet existence in space I was always too hesitant to acknowledge. At least, not without measuring myself against standards of gender imbalance. It is exciting, this newfound love—of being, of the outside, past hours titled decent, eschewing the title of decency myself. And yet, despite this urge to break the rules of what it means to be ‘woman’, I have not travelled much, and I certainly have never travelled solo. I often gaze enviously (and proudly!) at the solo exploits of women around me.

So, how do women experience solo travel? What are they becoming when they step out of home and hearth? Says Ishita Chakraborty (27), “For me, solo travel was a road to empowerment. It opened up the blocks to my passion, my love. It gave me a sense of clarity and helped me in understanding myself.” Priyanka Dalal (33) answers more definitively, “I travel because I want to, not to reclaim the world. The world is already mine.” She elaborates that it wasn’t always like this. “[Once, I wanted] to go to the bathroom at a 3AM tea break in the middle of nowhere… I walked 200 metres to the bathroom, switched on the light and peed. And this was for me, a defining moment. Because if I hadn't solo travelled, I would not think such a thing was possible safely in India.”

A lot of people call Antara "brave" for travelling solo, but for her it is just something that happened to be, rather than something she does to prove a point.

A lot of people call Antara "brave" for travelling solo, but for her it is just something that happened to be, rather than something she does to prove a point.

Hearing these women talk, it seems to me that if women are told enough times that something will go wrong, they are bound to be conditioned into truly believing it. When it is proved otherwise, however, they emerge empowered—from bathrooms, from tapris (ever heard of Girls at Dhabas?), from entire excursions made in solitude. And simply by listening, I feel the seams of my conditioning unravelling; the little girl in me who avoided to outside to find solitude within four walls starts to realise that solitude has nothing to do with where you are and everything to do with who you are.

Antara Telang (25) made her first solo trip at the age of 21, and she tells me that there is a sense of judgement from people when she’s travelling alone. “Even though I'm from a big city like Mumbai, people here ask me why I'm taking the ‘risk’ of travelling alone, especially since I'm also disabled.” She compares it to the experiences of men who travel solo, highlighting the bias which society often slips into comfortably when confronted with an empowered single woman. “I've been asked questions by cops, bus drivers about where I'm going, where I'm from, etc, which I don't see happening to men around me.”

When women are taught to be ‘women’, they are also taught to be afraid, especially of the outside world. In a patriarchal world, a woman’s body (and therefore, by extension, her thoughts) are governed constantly by safety. The measured existence often interrupts solo excursions when concerns about one’s physical wellbeing weigh heavily on a woman’s mind as she steps outside. Sahana Rao (22) says that when she first set out, she was not entirely prepared for this reality. “I definitely was not equipped to deal with it; I hadn't thought of safety; I didn't carry my pepper spray…” Learning from past mistakes, she carried her pepper spray to Delhi when she went there recently: “I still got molested though.” Safety is also the reason travel writer Supriya Sehgal crowdsourced this handy list of safe cabbies across the country.

"You're just a piece of meat in their eyes. But none of this deters me from wanting to travel again," says Sahana determinedly, despite facing sexual violence multiple times on her trips.

"You're just a piece of meat in their eyes. But none of this deters me from wanting to travel again," says Sahana determinedly, despite facing sexual violence multiple times on her trips.

Most of the women I interviewed bring up the exhaustion caused when the desire to travel alone clashes with the culture which they are ‘questioning’ when they express this desire. From concerns raised by family to unsolicited advice to having to constantly be acutely aware of their surroundings and not let loose even if they wish to do so—these women have faced it all. They speak about the annoyance with having to dress a certain way and not do certain things in certain places, because people are “ready to pass moral judgements”, as Sahana puts it.

Amla Pisharody (22) has spent a lot of time examining her experiences as a solo traveller who happens to be female. She says, “Travelling in India has been both liberating, and a strong reminder my place in the world as a woman. It has allowed me to occupy spaces that women rarely occupy… and also made me very conscious of my being, as a woman, because of how my story of travelling became inspirational porn.” So what motivates her to travel? “I travel alone to reclaim my right to spaces, to challenge limits that have been put on my rights to mobility.”

And the same taste of empowerment motivates these women to keep travelling. Priyanka D. talks of her hesitations, saying, “I cannot sit in the house and go about normally in my life thinking that if I do this I will be raped. I just cannot take that. So I do have to face that fear.” Sahana too speaks in the same vein, “None of this [fear of violence] deters me from wanting to travel again. Anyway, nothing you expect is going to happen: it's not possible to account for every situation. But you just revel in the simple joys of every unique experience.”

Many people label Amla's solo travels as either brave or stupid. For her, it is just being an independent adult who is taking a holiday because they can and wish to.

Many people label Amla's solo travels as either brave or stupid. For her, it is just being an independent adult who is taking a holiday because they can and wish to.

What most women want is to learn; learn about the world and all it has to offer. They are often shut down, or have no role models when it comes to this task of learning. But through speaking to just these few women, I have learnt (and unlearnt!) what it means to be a woman who does not let that hold her back. Now, when I am outside, when I am travelling, when I am alone and walking around in clothes I want to wear, doing things I love doing (reading books and getting out of my house), I am doing it with the hope of little girls watching me. I hope they are looking, and I hope that just my very existence on the outside, with complete agency and in absolute control of my own actions and choices, will encourage just one little girl to do so as well.

I wear this both as a responsibility, and as a badge of honour; nothing matters more to little girls than representation. And representation doesn’t always come on TV screens and in books—both usually inside stuff anyway. It comes from women who break barriers and stereotypes just by doing what they love. They are here to represent us, girls and women, and so am I. We are here to just be, to just become, to be women and not ‘women’. Too much time has been wasted sitting inside; I (along with my books) are off on an adventure.

 

Want to contribute to The Occupation? If you have any photographs of women reclaiming public spaces, share them with us on Facebook or tweet us at @whyindmenrape with the hashtag #womenexisting; or email us at contact@whyindianmenrape.com for stories, ideas and everything else.

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.

The Occupation | Ch. 2 Across the Threshold

Screenshot_2.png

The Occupation is a campaign designed to promote the occupation of ideas and spaces by women. 

In chapter 2, we profile some awesome path-breaking Indian women who have carved a space for themselves and women who followed by, literally, venturing where no woman had ventured before.

It’s easy to forget the how far we’ve come in our quest for human rights and the journey from the kitchen to the outside world. And also that all the freedoms we now take for granted—the clothes we wear, careers we choose, solo travel—were hard-won victories by feminist foremothers before us. Like Kathrine Switzer, who ran the all-male Boston Marathon in 1967, and Rosa Parks, who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the American Civil Rights Movement when she refused to give up her seat in the ‘colored section’ to a white passenger in 1955.

Here’s a list of some of our Indian trailblazers.

Want to contribute to The Occupation? If you have any photographs of women reclaiming public spaces, share them with us on Facebook or tweet us at @whyindmenrape with the hashtag #womenexisting; or email us at contact@whyindianmenrape.com for stories, ideas and everything else.

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.

The Occupation | Ch 1. Women, existing

The Occupation is a campaign designed to promote the occupation of ideas and spaces by women. 

In chapter 1, Nivedita Nair (filmmaker-in-making) and Priyanka Sutaria (Research Assistant, Why Indian Men Rape) have conceptualised this photo + poetry series titled Women, existing aimed at reclaiming the space women deserve to occupy in society. 

We watch the women around us measuring themselves everyday; the tucking in of the odd bra strap, sanitary napkins folded into black plastic bags of oblivion, a skirt tugged down in a constant of motion of self-consciousness, the shifting gaze which keeps a watch on the time as it gets darker outside. Our eyes are always watching out for people who might disapprove, training we received as heirlooms from our own mothers and grandmothers.

To contradict this idea of measurement, of legacies we did not choose to inherit, Nivedita and Priyanka created this series of women simply occupying space. These images, shot in early July as dusk recedes into the night, reveal the lives of women who cannot and will not measure their lives against manmade standards drawn roughly against their bodies and minds.

These are women, just existing; nothing less, nothing more.

WE_4.png
WE_7.png
WE_1.png

Want to contribute to The Occupation? If you have any photographs of women reclaiming public spaces, share them with us on Facebook or tweet us at @whyindmenrape with the hashtag #womenexisting; or email us at contact@whyindianmenrape.com for stories, ideas and everything else.

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.

ACTivism

With our online+offline ACTivism campaigns, we strive to make real gender-positive changes in the immediate world around us.

Patriarchy is all-pervasive, and marginalised genders, communities and people face overt discrimination as well as microaggessions. With your help, we seek out these injustices, investigate their causes and pave the path to getting them fixed, catalysing vital societal change. As a strong community, we use our passion, privilege and platform to fight issues relevant to our stand against sexual violence and our broader feminist agenda.

Because, sometimes all it needs is a little push to make the world we dream of a reality. Join and follow our campaigns. Get in on the action. Be the change. Be a changemaker.

Want to contribute to one of our ongoing campaigns? Want to do more? Reach out at contact@whyindianmenrape.com.

To show your support for what we do, please CONTRIBUTE and/or PRE-ORDER the books here.