In Kool Kanya’s theme of the month ﹘ Feminist In Progress ﹘ we decode the nitty-gritties of practising feminism laden with imperfections.
It all started one morning in school…
We had a teacher who would give us a sharp smack on the palms every time we did something wrong. Mind you, the definition of ‘wrong’ was purely subjective. One day it’d be about turning in homework late, and on some days it was about asking for a bathroom break in between class.
After a few months of this, some students tried to complain, but there was never any accountability taken. In fact, the teacher’s behaviour only got worse. Frustrated with this treatment, I merely refused to hold my palm out one time. After all, what would he do? Or so I thought, until I was made to run outside on the field under the harsh midday sun.
While I persisted in silence, the teacher tried other forms of punishment: my homework wasn’t accepted; I was made to stand outside the classroom; and once, a truly crass metaphor was thrown at me, comparing the jet black colour of my hair to that of a crow.
At 26 years now, with quite a few white strands of hair adorning my head, I sort of wish that metaphor still applied.
A month later, the beating stopped for everyone in class. I like to think my resistance helped; that every time he asked a student to hold out their palm, he’d remember me. And that helped me sleep soundly at night.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with feminism. It doesn’t. But it has a lot to do with my personality. I don’t like raising my voice unless absolutely needed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I shy away from creating change.
Feminism in the social media age
At my core, I believe in kindness and equality ﹘ the two things that embody feminism. Thanks to my Masters degree in English, as I read books upon books of feminist literature written during each wave of the movement, what struck me was how passionately these women fought. I wondered, ‘What was the last straw that broke the camel’s back?’ , ‘What were the characteristics of a feminist?’ At that point, I knew resistance came in many forms.
As I grew older, many of my feminist friends would have candid conversations about their experiences with misogyny, and how they spoke up. It was heartwarming to see them turn a bad experience on its head and persevere. Being in a group allowed for the exchange of ideas and stories. We could talk openly and analyse ways to bring about change.
Eventually, we all joined social media, and things took a sharp turn. Candid conversations in cafes were replaced with long rants on Instagram about men, where the anger and frustration were palpable. Add heated emotions to the misogynistic trolls one deals with online, and you have blood pressures running high on all fronts. Slowly but steadily, watching the mistreatment of women across the globe and stratas of society got to everyone, but it hit each person differently.
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Social media doesn’t allow for accountability, meaning people can post what they want, when they want. This holds especially true for online trolls (for more info, read the comments under any famous celebrity’s picture).
Reading about the injustices happening in the world today can rile up the most peaceful of women, and the internet provides easy access to vent.
The rants now demanded attention and responses, almost in a ‘my way or the highway’ fashion. There was no scope for reason, let alone free thought. Being sensitive by nature, I could feel the frustration behind their words. And even though I felt it, I didn’t share it. Until I was called out for being a ‘fake feminist’ on the internet.
At this moment, my strong resolve faltered. Looking at their very public efforts ﹘ while I did practically nothing in their eyes ﹘ hit hard. I was quiet, and I had never felt less like a woman. It didn’t matter what I did in my personal life, because my social media handles didn’t portray me as a ‘real feminist’. And that was all the evidence needed to prove I wasn’t doing enough.
What feminism means to me
The Oxford Dictionary defines feminism as ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.’ This definition doesn’t specify location, platform, or assertiveness. Feminism isn’t a destination – there’s no peak of enlightenment. Feminism is about the journey.
There are no rules to being a feminist. Your personality and experiences define how you choose to assert yourself. Some use social media to vent and bring change, while others – knowingly or unknowingly – translate that change offline. Can we really say either of them is wrong?
To me, feminism begins at home, much like it did in school. It lies in urging my house help to send her granddaughters to school; it lies in counselling a friend who was trapped in an abusive relationship. For me, feminism means working at an NGO that offers scholarships to school girls. And every day, it includes logically explaining to my male friends why the words ‘femi-nazi’ and ‘man-hater’ are problematic.
There’s no right and wrong in practising feminism. It’s about taking the concept, defining feminism in your own words, and creating your own rules.
As an introvert, being loudly passionate about important things doesn’t come naturally to me, and surprisingly, many others as well. Not every loud voice needs to be challenged with a louder one. So, why should we change the very essence of our being to support a cause that never demanded it in the first place?
Social media rewards eye-catching content with views. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and lose track of what you’re fighting for, which is why I don’t blame the feminists that forced me to speak up when I didn’t want to. They were on their journey; as was I. It took me years to come to terms with how I chose to practice feminism, but seeing the result of my efforts was assurance enough that I was doing something right.
I’ll stand at the back during protests, but I always show up. My voice may not have an impact, but my words will. And for me, that’s enough!
I’m a quiet feminist, but I’m still a good one.
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