“I hope you are not a Feminist?”, a male friend had asked, with disdain and disgust dripping from the last word. I was shocked to the core. I felt dirty, violated, and such is the power of words, that for a fraction of a second, I found myself debating whether to admit to my intransigence. But then my rational mind kicked me in my rhetorical ass and I straightened up, looked him in the eye, and said, “I am. And you should be, too.” He had laughed and said, “Men and feminists? How can men be feminists?” With an equally straight face, I had replied, “You clearly don’t know what Feminism is. Why can’t men be feminists?”
“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
― John Lewis
Feminism. The dirty F word.
What is it about this word that makes men snigger, give women dirty looks, and in general, brand them as contraband? Why the fear? The insecurity? The shame? What is Feminism? Feminism is about believing and actively incorporating women within every aspect of modern life. It is about positioning women within the fold of the society, equally, standing shoulder to shoulder with men. We are not better. We don’t aspire to be. We just need you to recognize that we exist. As equals. Not as objects of your lust, whom you can cat call, and tease, and emotionally and physically violate in public. As equals. Not as goddesses on a pedestal, whom you conveniently immerse in the waters after 10 days. As equals. Not as mothers, whom you find to be a burden when she becomes old. As equals. Not as sisters whose throat you have the right to slit when she falls in love with a boy, bringing “shame” to your family name. As equals. Not as wives, whose body is your property to abuse and rape as you please. As equals. Not as daughters-in-law who are not allowed to eat before the men in the family do, no matter how famished she may be after a hard day’s work. As equals. Not as daughters whose very birth makes you bow your head in shame because you have to start saving for her dowry. As equals. Not as a classmate, girlfriend, co-worker, maid, prostitute. But as another human being. An equal. With equal rights. That is why, Feminism. It is not a dirty word. You know what is? Words used as expletives with ‘mother’ and ‘sister’ in them. Let’s use this dirty F word more often, instead. Feminism. Feminism. Feminism. It stings, doesn’t it?
“What’s the worst possible thing you can call a woman? Don’t hold back, now.
You’re probably thinking of words like slut, whore, bitch, cunt (I told you not to hold back!), skank.
Okay, now, what are the worst things you can call a guy? Fag, girl, bitch, pussy. I’ve even heard the term “mangina.”
Notice anything? The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. Now tell me that’s not royally fucked up.”
— Jessica Valenti
But, why do we want equality?
Why should there be an International Women’s Day? It’s because, even in today’s day and age, an educated female friend asked me why I was not writing about men. “Isn’t there enough writing about men already, that we need more women to write about them, too?”, I’d retorted. It’s because, even in today’s day and age, an educated male friend asked me that if we are always focusing on women, then is it not reverse Feminism? In my head I thought ‘what the F is reverse Feminism?’, while telling him “No, because this is about countering the global patriarchy at work.” Talking about bringing the focus back to women, time and again, and again, and again, endlessly, tirelessly, continuously, is important because patriarchy needs to be turned on its head. Talking about men has become too normalized and the general mass has conveniently internalized this normalization. Feminism is about pointing out that this normalization needs to be questioned. Feminism is about calling out the perpetrators. And what is wrong with that? We, the mothers, the caregivers, the teachers, the grandparents, should take this as our primary responsibility — to raise the next generation to be feminists. When I asked my 6-year-old son why today is International Women’s Day, he replied, albeit unprompted, “because women do 1,000 things every day at the same time and men can’t. They can only do one thing at a time.” And we need to recognize that. I haven’t told him this in so many words. He has imbibed it and absorbed it during our discussion on International Women’s Day at Book Explorers; where we actively try to educate young minds about equality and empathy. So…may I ask…why can’t men be feminists?
“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”Bette Davis.
Men supporting women’s rights
Closer home, from the pages of Indian history, we find Raja Ram Mohan Roy raising his voice for the abolition of Sati, the abominable practice of forcing women to commit suicide by jumping in their husband’s funeral pyre. It was mass murder and nobody was convicted. It was finally criminalized and made illegal in 1829. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar championed the cause for the remarriage of widows. Widows in 19th century India, belonging particularly to the so-called higher castes, had no social status. They lived in appalling conditions, barely clothed, in semi-starvation, subjected to a life of hard labour, isolated from the household and marginalized and invisible in society. Vidyasagar worked relentlessly, facing brutal societal opposition, for the improvement of the lives of widows. In 1856, the remarriage of Hindu widows was legalized. Returning to the 21st century, we have men like Arunachalam Muruganantham, made popular by the Bollywood movie Pad Man. Shocked by the unhygienic and unhealthy conditions that rural women have to suffer monthly during their menstrual cycles due to lack of affordable sanitary napkins; he invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine. There are other, not so well-known men who are taking up arms in small but noticeable ways to stand in support of women. There is Satchit Puranik who gathered a group of 20 men who dressed as women and walked the streets of Mumbai as part of the public event ‘Walk like a Woman’, to sensitize people about issues women face in public spaces. So, why can’t men be feminists?
“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.”Sheng Wang.
Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, right?
So, what the hell are we doing on Earth? There has been too much talk about differences between men and women. Let’s talk about the sameness, for a change. Men and women are both human beings. Our minds may be hard-wired to do/not do certain things. But other than our anatomy, everything else about us is the same. When a child is born, it is completely unadulterated, pure, and pristine. We contaminate it with our views, prejudices, ignorance, and patriarchy. We dictate what the child should/should not be, do, think, feel. Who makes the public spaces safe/unsafe for children to play? Who decides that being an Egyptologist/Marine Biologist/Air Force Pilot are men’s jobs? So, essentially, who are the ones talking about the difference between men and women? It is all in the politics of the slash, as a friend of mine had once said. Men/women, self/other, black/white/coloured, homosexual/heterosexual, Hindu/Muslim, public/private, equality/inequality, upper caste/lower caste, rich/poor, ugly/beautiful, thin/fat, masculine/feminine. The list is endless. Who makes these differentiations? Why is it important to continue with this social segregation? Do you still think we don’t need to talk about women so much? Or do you still think we are talking about women too much? I think we are not talking about women enough. Why is it that a woman’s anger is different from a man’s anger? I say, “If you aren’t outraged, then you just aren’t paying enough attention — Lisa Borden”. So, why the F can’t men be feminists?
“Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.”George Carlin.
Why do we need an International Women’s Day?
International Women’s Day is about recognizing what women can do, are doing, have done, and are capable of doing whatever they want. It makes me sad to think that things have come to such a head that even in the 21st century, we need to drive this. Why isn’t this part of our normal life? What makes men think we are not their equal? Physical strength? Two words. Mary Kom. But let’s talk about the average woman. I can speak for myself and many other multi-tasking women out there when I say that I carry three bags of groceries, my laptop bag, my purse, and my sleeping 6-year old from the car (which I drive) to my apartment on at least 3 days of the week. Just the other day, I saw a mother picking up her daughter from school. She was carrying a big bag which held at least 20 green coconuts. Yes, please, talk to the hand! Intelligence, you say? Two words. Marie Curie. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win the Nobel Prize not once, but twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields – Physics and Chemistry. Sure, let’s talk about the everyday, the woman next door. I believe that the kitchen is nothing short of a chemistry laboratory. Aren’t we always trying to cook up something different from those same ingredients? Not intelligent enough for you?
I would try doing a dish 30 different ways.Heston Blumenthal.
Well, there isn’t one, is there? It is a process. An unavoidable process. A continuous, relentless process, and one which should be ‘essential reading’ in all educational institutions.
Instead, I’ll leave you with an incident and a question. My six-year-old is going through a phase where he likes everything Marvel, and especially Thor. He’d picked up a Thor’s hammer key chain. The inscription on it said “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” He looked perturbed. He came to me and said, “This is wrong.” I asked him why he thought so, all the while hoping that he had identified the discrepancy. He replied, “The sentence should be ‘if he or she be worthy’. Not just he. A woman can also pick it up.” Did I tell you he is six years old? So, remind me again. Why can’t men be feminists?