The other day one of my friends asked me an offensive question — “Don’t you think you have become too much of a feminist lately?” Now, the question was offensive not because she thought of me as a feminist, which I am, but because it felt as if she thought being a feminist was something to look down upon.
“I was always this way,” I answered. Then I thought whether “feminist” was really such a bad thing that someone would question me on being one. After all, it’s not that I have become ‘too much of a child abuser or a serial killer lately?’ I wondered why being a feminist was a bad thing. How come labels such as “playboy” or “casanova” are cool, but “feminist” is vulgar?
That conversation with my friend reminded me of a huge mistake that I made some time ago. In a column that I wrote for Jamia Journal in 2011, I had said “I am not a feminist, but….” Ah, I wish I could take those words back. Back in 2011, I must have thought of feminism as something too extreme for me. I mean I could not burn bras, or hate men. But who said feminism was about hating men or bashing men? I never saw it that way. Then why did I have to say “I am not a feminist, but…” Back then, I gave in to how people commonly perceived a feminist as somebody who hates men, makes a big deal out of things, and doesn’t know how to take a joke as a joke.
If I could have it my way, I would do away with labels. Labels cage people into a certain ideology and personality. Labels become less about us, and more about how others see us. But today if I had to live with labels, “feminist” would be one of them. While reading “Feminism Unmodified” by Catharine A. Mackinnon, I learnt that if you were to fight for something or speak for a cause, then it’s better to define it your own way. Otherwise, other people would define it for you.
So I chose to call myself a feminist and define feminism my way. To me, feminism is a movement for the equal rights of women; it is the eye to tell a funny joke from a sexist joke; it is the force that empowers me to question patriarchy; it is the conscience that doesn’t allow me to put up with gender discrimination preached by religions; it is the wisdom that tells me why I cannot accept misogyny (hatred of women) and misandry (hatred of men); it is that divinity that fought for the rights of 51 per cent of the world population (women). Those women who fought for the women’s rights didn’t need to fight if things weren’t bad and unfair. And I won’t shy away from calling myself a feminist, for it is feminism that fought for the things that should have been given to women without any fight.
Today, I loathe my ignorance; my choice to not call myself a feminist two years ago. Now when I come across people saying — “I am not a feminist, but I am against treating women badly,” I want to ask them what else do they think feminism is about. And there are people who say “I am not a feminist; I am a humanist.” And I think — wow! I hope now you feel you are more inclusive. I hope now you don’t feel guilty about not including all humanity. Because as if calling yourself a feminist means you are against every other living creature on the planet, and want women as cruel dictators of the entire world. If you think the feminist label restricts your passion for kindness for the entire humanity, then you should stop calling yourself a Hindu or a Muslim; an Indian or a British, which again limits your reach to the entire humanity.
How is it that people could say the other F-word very easily, but run away from feminism?
I have had my share of struggles with labels. People would call me a Hindu when I did not want them to call me so. People would call me a “south Indian,” but would be surprised if I called them a “north Indian” and then would tell me there’s no such thing as a “north Indian.” What I have learnt is that fighting over labels is a waste of time. I would rather embrace the labels I like and define them for myself.
I am a feminist. I love bras. And no, I don’t hate all men. But yes, I hate it when guys think I cannot play sports even before they have seen me play. Yes, I hate Honey Singh’s songs. And I hate slut shaming and victim blaming. Sexist comments are another thing on my hate list. And I will make a big deal about rape jokes just as the society makes a big deal about a girl’s virginity.
I am a feminist because the term ‘eve teasing’ comes nowhere close to what it actually is. I am a feminist because I don’t believe I am my father’s or my future husband’s property. I am a feminist because every time we make a law that gives women even the slightest degree of power, the men feel threatened and fear misuse of that law. I am a feminist because I think raising your voice against every single act of sexual assault is important instead of waiting for a brutal gang-rape to happen on a city bus.
I find it stupid that somebody in the 21st century would ask me if I were a feminist. Because my answer is “Are you not one?”
I am a feminist. And it isn’t a bad word.