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We assume the opposite of love is hate and men and women are opposites. Feminism is conveniently synonymous with misandry, the gender opposite to misogyny.
I happened to read ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Adichie recently. It is a small book, perfectly suited to my lazy existence. More importantly, the writer calls out sexism prevailing in everyday life very well. The book is not about the bias that pervades the corridors of power, rather the small things that build up to this imbalance.
One of the most profound things I realised is that you never know when an innocent bystander can throw you under the hypothetical bus. Like that day, when starting a sentence landed me in a deep existential crisis.
“I wonder why women…” I casually began to make an observation to a co-worker after a conference call. He was new to the place, quickly judging the environment around him. To start with, the gentleman would not allow me to take the trouble to complete the sentence.
“Oh, so you are a feminist?” he helpfully pitched in. How did he come to that conclusion? Well, I wasn’t wearing huge soda-bottle glasses and a faded kurta over jeans, living up to the cinematic feminist trope in any way.
I wasn’t vehemently objecting and calling anyone names. (By the way, if you are a man, you can actually call women names and still not be called misogynist. If you have not done that yet, you can give it a try)
Coming back to the situation at hand, how did he know what I was going to speak about? World politics? Space expedition? SRK? Cooking? Shopping? Or was he offended simply by the fact that I had dared to wonder about something? Nevertheless, there it was, a question hanging in the air pervading us “Are you a feminist?”
Common courtesy demands you respond to questions posed by a co-worker. Integrity also demands you answer the question honestly and to the best of your knowledge. There is a third element. It is called Common Sense. In hindsight, I realize that is what I lacked in this particular situation.
So I armed myself with words to made things worse. “Yeah, you can say that!” I replied, careful to appear casual. Someone converted my insignificant observation into a large scale generalisation. One that could have far reaching consequences for me in a conservative circle. It was not going to stop there.
“So you hate men?” he said, more of a rhetorical question. Obviously he was fighting for the whole male species and there was no stopping him. The immediate urge was to contort my face in absolute disbelief. But then I had a bigger problem. The nearsightedness of his view, coupled with his gifted gab was likely to put me at a disadvantage in the grapevine.
Now should I say “Yes” and get further explanation on the misunderstood fact that I was wrong? Or should I risk saying “No, I don’t hate men”? It was a perfect Catch-22.
I was quite certain he would come to the grandiose conclusion that liking men is representative of a woman of dubious character. So I was basically talking to someone who thought normal women are Schrodinger’s cats. They don’t like men and they should not hate men.
Beyond that point, everything became a haze. I chose to tread the middle ground, sounding like one of those sappy Woman’s Day forwards. So I stood there like a jackass. Claiming the existence of men who are great friends, fathers and bosses and brothers, in a weak response to what I later learnt was classic mansplaining. Actually speaking, nothing of what I was going to say after ‘women’ mattered in that conversation.
The incident still riles me up, because this perspective came from a well-educated individual with a co-ed background. So when Adichie spoke about the gradual manner in which sexism builds up, I found myself agreeing with everything she said. It just goes to reiterate the fact that change begins at home.
To be honest, I have met men with lesser education and privilege treating me as an equal. Like the day the electrician told me “Madam, aaj ladka nahi aaya. Can you go to the hardware store and buy all these?” Or the mason who sent me shopping for tiles and cement and paint. In sharp contrast to situations where I get passed off in educated situations because women are not good with math.
This is the problem that comes with a black and white view of gender. We have assumed the opposite of love is hate and that men and women are opposites. And we have ignored the fluidity of the spectrum. Feminism has been conveniently coloured synonymous with misandry, the gender opposite to misogyny. It is not.
Maybe the privileged are more biased, because to view with equality would mean giving up a little of the privilege they enjoy? Or may be male bonds also draw from this privilege, unlike feminine bonds, where our concern is the lack of it?
A version of this was earlier published here.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Badla
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I write short stories and random blogs when I am not living my cubicle life.
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