Negotiating With Feminism

by | Dec 17, 2018

I became a feminist in 9th standard due to an inflamed comment by a misguided misogynistic boy named *Anand, and to this day, I harbor irrational detest for the name Anand. I was on my way back home from school and we were sharing the public roads. Since I was acquainted with his face, I decided to be polite and talk. Our conversation was slow and with pauses, as it tends to be when you know someone’s face but nothing else. I don’t quite recollect how we landed on this statement that eventually I am destined to cook rotis for men and families, no matter how much I study. My brain recoiled at this declarative confidence of this stupid boy and for the first time, I had cognizance of second-class status this boy seemed to view me with. He had declared me inferior, something I never thought of myself as before. I made no declarations that day. In her book Intercourse, Andrea Dworkin eloquently widened my definition of inferiority experienced by women.

“Inferiority is not banal or incidental even when it happens to women. It is not a petty affliction like bad skin or circles under the eyes. It is not a superficial flaw in an otherwise perfect picture. It is not a minor irritation, nor is it a trivial inconvenience, an occasional aggravation, or a regrettable but (frankly) harmless lapse in manners. It is not a “point of view” that some people with soft skins find “offensive.” It is the deep and destructive devaluing of a person in life, a shredding of dignity and self-respect, an imposed exile from human worth and human recognition, the forced alienation of a person from even the possibility of wholeness or internal integrity. Inferiority puts rightful self-love beyond reach, a dream fragmented by insult into a perpetually recurring nightmare; inferiority creates a person broken and humiliated inside.

The fragments—scattered pieces and sharp slivers of someone who can never be made whole—are then taken to be the standard of what is normal in her kind: women are like that. The insult that hurt her—inferiority as an assault, ongoing since birth—is seen as a consequence, not a cause, of her so-called nature, an inferior nature. It is likely to be her personal experience that she is insufficiently loved. Her subjectivity itself is second-class, her experiences and perceptions inferior in the world as she is inferior in the world. Her experience is recast into a psychologically pejorative judgment: she is never loved enough because she is needy, neurotic, the insufficiency of love she feels being in and of itself evidence of a deep-seated and natural dependency. Her personal experiences or perceptions are never credited as having a hard core of reality to them.”

In case you know feminists or are acquainted with our species, you know that we have the habit of nit-picking social behaviors for its hidden roots. We live our lives examined, explored, poked and prodded to our satisfaction. It probably would have been easier for me if I had just forgotten this incident and not given enough credit to Anand but I am not built that way. To me, this incident spurred insight and analysis as to the people he surrounds himself with, the thoughts his brain conjure, and what he has learnt from the world that is different from mine. His words were the symptoms of a pathetic world that supports inferiority on arbitrary aspects.

My version of feminism has never been male hating, to be fair. It’s just pro-woman. I am human and entitled to have preferences as well as vested interest in my gender’s progress. To me, it always felt rational and right. I find comfort in calling myself a feminist, and no, my feminism cannot be covert because it is a political ideology rather than a personal philosophy for me. I view feminism through the lens of my lived life and not just on words and rules of others (even feminists). Reading a point of view and accepting the kernels of truth even as I reject or churn over what I don’t, is part of that process.

This year, I have spent time gaining grounds on what other feminists build their ideas around, of an equal world, through  four books. Read something feminist before calling yourself one, before criticizing feminism or calling one Feminazi. Feminism is equally critical of women who perpetuate inequality even as it tries to understand the underlying currents that drive it. It is not angry; it is evaluative; it is a lens. We all wear one that comprises our experience, learning, understanding. It probably has a bias but hey, this is the bias I chose. You choose yours!

  1. Lookism
    While reading the second of four books, I was riding on the feminist high. Initially, the book dragged my ambition because Naomi Wolf seemed too obsessed with beauty magazines for my comfort. But, I persevered and I am glad as her writing was critical, humorous, scathing and felt like an acquired taste. In exploring the relationship of beauty and identity, she lays out bare the trap that is the The Beauty Myth and the nexus associated in creating, promoting and sustaining it.
  2. Pornography
    In talking about the objectification, Andrea writes, “The object, the woman, goes out into the world formed as men have formed her to be used as men wish to use her. She is then a provocation. The object provokes its use. It provokes its use because of its form, determined by the one who is provoked. The carpenter makes a chair, sits on it, then blames the chair because he is not standing. When the object complains about the use to which she is put, she is told, simply and firmly, not to provoke.”
    (Side note: When women in rural Kanpur inquire with other women about their marital sex life, it is done in euphemistic guise. They are amazing in their creativity to live and yet disregard the limits that are placed on them. Wow!)Andrea Dworkin attacks the subject of pornography with as much indelicacy as this industry probably deserves. ‘Sex sells’ is the thumb rule every advertisers swear by, but it sells so much more. My community radio project on sexual harassment introduced me to the subject and I have been intrigued ever since. The hushed taboo in conversation and yet, the overt onslaught everywhere else, creates the mixed reaction that we all seem to live with. The objectification of women is so persistent that there are hardly any products that are sold without the promiscuous sexuality of woman which is demeaned even as it is used. Double standards much, society?
  3. Intercourse
    Andrea Dworkin is a radical feminist who was so shaped because of her own experience with abuse which provokes her scathing analysis on the abuse that she views as inevitable in a patriarchal setup and she proves it. She upends the coercive nature and degradation on the text, laying it layer by layer for us to pick apart even as she has done it herself.

    I don’t believe rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we [women] are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.

  4. Femininity
    Femininity was the first feminist book I devoured. Since I had experienced Susan Brown Miller’s writing in Against Our Will, I was already primed to experience her writing in this feminine context and all the plethora of imagery, nuances and behavior it associated with. This book has initiated me into a pattern I have observed in the three feminist writers I read – they tend to quote other feminist writers. It explored aspects of a woman’s life that get controlled by femininity such as body, ambition, hair and others. It explores the limits that women experience due to conceptions and limits that femininity puts on them. It made me introspect if we, being women, were as we want to be or trying to live up to the standards of woman that we, as a society keep creating. An interesting remark she makes is, “Women are all female impersonators to some degree.”

Even as we are amidst the #MeToo movements of our times, I see women failing women and that is problematic. No, we can’t recreate the past to show strength that failed us. We can’t become better than we were. You do what you can do and any possibility or variable course of action is just that, a hypothetical. And men (especially on Quora), when you cry about the false complaints being registered by women under the guise of feminism, I feel sorry for you if you have been wronged but degrading an entire class of people is not the way to go. The sympathy disappears!

*Name changed to protect identity

Half Half None

Half Half None

The following blog has been co-written by co-fellows Daraab Saleem Abbasi and...

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