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Everybody talks about feminism. But how many of them are aware of its true meaning and what it actually stands for?
Do you take pride in the belief that you are a feminist? Do you take that extra effort in ensuring that the movement which started many years back but is still so easily and widely misunderstood, is looked at in the right spirit in your immediate circles?
A few months back, I was conducting a career counseling session for young girls and boys between the age of fifteen to eighteen years. These were the children of the migrant population in one of the underprivileged communities of Delhi. The parents were also invited as we felt that the process was incomplete without looping them into their children’s future options.
As usual, only a few of them had turned up. As with the children, in the parent cohort also, there were more females than males. There were various questions being asked and answered on the options that existed post class tenth, twelfth etc. The enthusiasm and questions were more from girls as compared to boys when I overheard some interactions.
So, one of the boys remarked “aaj kal to girls bahut feminist ho rahee hain” (the girls today are becoming big feminists) and this was followed by giggles among the boys’ group.
The unwelcomed remark didn’t agitate me, as we were discussing something important regarding their future. But it made me sad as to how the term and the movement were being misunderstood and connotations used just like that to anything.
I questioned boys, girls, and their parents, “Do you know what feminism is? Who is a feminist?” There was an apparent discomfort apart from feigning ignorance as if I had asked something which was a taboo.
Some girls said, “We aren’t feminists, we are good girls”. Boys said, “It is used for girls who are ambitious, aggressive and constantly fight with their community for fulfilling their aspirations”. Most of the parents didn’t seem to know or opted not to answer.
Though I had to digress from the career counseling to social and mindset counseling that day, yet at the end of the session, I felt extremely satisfied. For perhaps having changed and empowered a few minds around the strength of the movement and its importance.
The above was an experience with a section of the underprivileged community in a city like Delhi. But the mindset issue is still a big problem even among many privileged sections too, with men and women both being equally the victims. The movement is commonly misunderstood. This may not have to do much with age, class, economic strata, and gender but more with how deep a patriarchy an individual has been raised up and survived.
Take for example an episode that my close relative narrated. She decided to return back to work after a sabbatical of five years post two kids. Her expectation on how various members of the household would help in easing her decision to get back to work, by providing a support system, went flat. While the family was supportive to the extent of giving a nod to go ahead and join again, no one took the extra step to play an important role in building a support system at home.
On showing her displeasure with this, she was tagged as a new age Feminist by most of her family members creating an aura of an outcast around her. We may simply disown it or make it a hush-hush affair by quietening it. But a large percentage still look at Feminism with a lens of condemnation and threat. All this adds up to the sorry state of affairs making sincere efforts for a future gender just society futile.
Last month, as part of a candid conversation with Ms. Shabana Azmi ahead of Plan India Impact awards 2018, I asked her thoughts on Feminism and if it was misunderstood. She responded in such a simple and impactful manner by saying, “I find it very strange when women work so hard to say but I am not a feminist. My question to them is but why aren’t you a feminist? You should be a feminist and nothing else!“
She then went on – “Feminism is asking for equality between the two genders. Why can anyone have any issues with that? When women’s movement first started in order to be noticed, it had to take some very strident steps which were about bra burning, not wearing any makeup, it was about individual not family. But when you have to break through years of tradition and discrimination you have to do something which is very dramatic. And today where women’s movement is, I am very proud to be a feminist.
The change has to start at home. And here I may not be talking about anything drastic or severe, but something as simple as talking it over without the prejudice of seeing it as anything violent or drastic.
Let us take pride in calling ourselves a Feminist irrespective of the gender and age. Feminism isn’t a threat to anyone. It is a call for a society which believes in equal opportunities.
Clear the misconceptions and put the concept into actions at home as parents by encouraging conversations around opportunities as well as responsibilities irrespective of gender.
Shun the biases which have been deep-rooted around the roles. Fathers should cook and take care of kids and mothers free and empowered to go out and work and vice versa. Why a tag based on the gender. Why not a mutual understanding and respect as to who takes which role at that stage of the family?
At work too, being an equal opportunity employer – There is a widespread prejudice that females won’t be able to contribute long hours and engage in an intensive work needed. But shouldn’t equal competency lead to equal opportunities. And if long hours are needed and the female is willing to put in that effort, what should stop an employer in assigning same responsibility?
Let’s own the movement and its spirit without clouding it with unnecessary biases. I guess this much we owe to the future generations and a gender just society for our children.
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Present - North India Lead - Education, Charter for Compassion, Co-Author - Escape Velocity, Writer & Social
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