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The author feels that being angry about things doesn’t work, because those we need to change stop listening. Being a rare feminist who feels this, she speaks of an identity crisis.
I’m exhausted by feminism. There I said it.
In the last days, I’ve been feeling a lot of internal conflict about this very thing.
To be truthful, it is not being a feminist that I’m exhausted by, but what feminism is becoming. I am tired of being angry all the time, I’m tired of outrage, I’m tired of condemning, and hearing heartbreaking stories, and of needing to take a stand on things. I’m also acutely aware of a certain degree of privilege I enjoy, and maybe that is why I feel so – but these are my feelings, regardless, and I’d like to put them down here.
My Facebook feed is filled with things I’m supposed to jump on the bandwagon and hate on. Not that the hate is not warranted, but there are just so many things.
Please understand, I do agree that there are major issues in our society, acutely within our own country but also outside of it. I do not excuse the patriarchy or feel any less strongly about equality, or feel any less heartbreak by people who are trampled by our system.
The problem of the patriarchy is that it exists at so many levels. There is the level of the Delhi gang rape of 2012, or even more disturbingly, children who have fallen prey to its disgusting more animal side. Apparently just recently, some disgusting people gang-raped a dog. I think we’ve honestly seen everything by now.
Then there is the everyday patriarchy, that ranges from infanticide and dowry demands to people making lewd remarks at the workplace, and everything, literally everything in between. The number of things I have to be angry about just grows longer everyday.
And so, there are many different things that need to be addressed. Random acts of gang rape and brutality need to be addressed differently from the conversations we have about workplace sexual harassment, and different still than what we talk about with films like Kabir Singh and Arjun Reddy.
With the more vile of crimes, the conversation needs to revolve around nipping these social ills in the bud. For this, there are deep-seated changes that have to happen at all levels of our society, in terms of education, our legal system, and perhaps, our attitudes and acceptance of others.
Some of these go way beyond the range of gender – for example in the case of Asifa, where what happened to her was a punishment for her community. She was just an easy target.
When we get into the arena of the Kabir Singhs and Zaira Wasims, we get into murkier territory. I am not endorsing either, neither am I criticising. The point is not these phenomena in themselves but in our reaction.
We are condemning and becoming outraged and shouting to be heard.
Guess what? The people that need to hear us? They aren’t listening. They’re getting defensive.
You may say yes, well it’s deserved. After so many years of us putting up with this shit, it’s about time.
There is a difference, however, between us feeling vindicated, and us creating real change. Justice and efficiency are two very different things.
We have every right to be angry, and we have every right to feel the way we feel. There is so much wrong with our broken system, and till very recently, nobody’s bothered to fix much.
However, I’ve noticed how my male friends shrink from these conversations. Perhaps many of them may have gone too far at a party or two, or inadvertently made someone feel uncomfortable. This is wrong no matter why they did it, but vilifying them does not solve the problem.
There are two problems here. One, as I’ve written before, we have the same word (rape) to describe what happened on that bus in Delhi in 2012, and what happens when a friend, acquaintance or date pushes past the line of consent, putting the other person in a vulnerable position. Neither of these acts is right, but they are very different, and require different solutions.
And so when you talk about rape or sexual harassment, people’s minds go to the worst case scenario, and they reject it, because it makes them feel that they are being compared to someone who brutalises someone’s body in the way Nirbhaya was brutalised.
They don’t want to compare themselves to the animal-like actions of some of the most famous rape cases, and this just puts them on the defensive. And so they stop listening, which only hurts our cause.
With these people, the ones who feel we are overreacting, because it has touched a nerve somewhere deep within their socialisation, it is better to make them understand, than to point fingers. It is not about what is deserved, it is about what will make them listen.
Few of them have been groped or touched inappropriately and understand how violating it is, even if it doesn’t go beyond that, or felt their heartbeat raise when going home along late at night.
Many have never felt the discomfort of someone who doesn’t take no for an answer, and have had to block, threaten police action, or feel that sinking feeling when that person continues to try to push you into a space you do not want to go.
Even if they have, the defensiveness takes over and deafens them to putting themselves in our shoes.
In any communications class, they teach you that it is always a two-way street – what matters is not as much the message you are sending, so much as how it will be received. What your point is counts less than whether or not the other person understands it like you.
As human beings we love black and white scenarios. We want to direct our justified anger somewhere.
But the fact is, we can, and should help them empathise rather than attacking them. Making them feel like monsters will not work. Again this is not about what is deserved, but about what we can do to create change.
With Zaira Wasim, we enter another realm of trouble. While she is reinforcing a standard that many of us may disagree with, it is also her right as a woman to decide to remain true to her tradition.
Now whether she is forced by her religion, or by some misguided element, or by her family, is definitely a concern. But in a way, we are also saying that, she could only be doing this if she were misguided, which is in a way insulting to her agency as a woman.
We do not trust that anyone who makes such a choice would be doing so because they actually believed it, and because we are not comfortable with what it means (myself included) we criticise it.
Are we truly being feminists then? Does feminism mean we cannot choose to be traditional if it makes us happier? Do we have to reject tradition? Are we not slaves of another kind then?
I am basically all but atheist, so I definitely do not understand or endorse her choice. But it is her choice and within her right to do what she wants, and yes perhaps she didn’t need to put it on Instagram, but she did. Yes, she may be a role model to many girls, but she is also a human.
As another woman, I do not want to take away her agency to make that decision, or force her to justify it. I did not say anything when two very friends of mine walked away from promising careers to take care of their children, and so I’m not going to say anything about a complete stranger.
But I am alone, it seems, on many of these viewpoints, and so I struggle with my identity as a feminist.
Do I need to condemn so many things? Am I wrong in feeling that conversations will go a lot further than accusations? Is the fact that I see more shades of grey, a hindrance? I don’t know the answer to these.
And so I just find myself exhausted and empty, and wondering whether I should just quit while I’m ahead. I don’t want to be angry anymore, I just want want to fix it.
Image source: a still from the movie Aamhi Doghi
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Mira Saraf was born in Canada, grew up in New Delhi, and went to a
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