It was our class’ industrial visit. We were travelling by train. At night a few of us had gathered in a coach to share ghost stories. There were 8-10 girls and just one other boy besides me in the group. Somehow the discussion shifted from ghost stories to stories of sexual harassment. It was dark, the train was moving at a steady pace and the girls were surprisingly candid that night; probably because the group had developed a feeling of warmth and cosiness towards each other and there was an unspoken assurance of secrecy. We were talking all through the night and there wasn’t a single girl who didn’t have a story to tell. Actually, almost all of them had multiple stories.
I was shocked, truly shocked. These were girls raised in normal circumstances and protective environments, and in the space that I cohabited. And I still had no idea sexual harassment/abuse was so pervasive, so all around me. That night was a momentous event in my life. It changed the way I started looking at the world. I guess it was the night I became a feminist.
Yesterday I finished Roxane Gay’s most recent book, Bad Feminist. In the book, Gay successfully interweaves personal experiences with critical viewpoints to present an eloquent rhetoric. The book is not strictly about feminism. Gay touches upon diverse topics such as racism, her college life as a student and professor, Scrabble and well, feminism. But the underlying theme of all the essays is women’s issues.
The book did not offer me much as far as original ideas were concerned. But it gave the words to everything that I have been thinking about for the past couple of years as far as women’s issues are concerned. It also gave me the assurance that people who criticize feminism (not certain aspects of feminism but feminism as a whole) are so wrong.
I do not have first hand experience of all the problems that women face, because after all, I am not a woman. I do not know how it feels like to be constantly under gaze, to face sexual harassment and domestic abuse, constantly being told to perform the gender role, to be portrayed as sexual objects in media, so on and so forth. But I have seen, heard and read so many first hand stories I cannot help but feel deep concern for these issues.
Yesterday two young women in Rohtak committed suicide because they were being stalked and harassed. Their suicide notes are troubling. In the notes “the girls speak of fear and shame, of disrepute, of tongues wagging simply because young men had been following and harassing them” (Indian Express, August 27, 2014).
Everyday a new man would come and chase us. They would pass lewd remarks and offer us phone numbers. The people around us would stare as if we had done something wrong. You know how bad our colony is… how people will say we encouraged these men to follow us… even though we are innocent.
I guess it is only in the sexual crimes that a victim is scrutinized more than the accused. Men, on the other hand, enjoy the privilege of their gender, not just when they are perpetrators of crime but otherwise too. I understand my privilege as a man. Acknowledging one’s privilege doesn’t mean feeling guilty about it. I didn’t choose to be a man. I was simply born as one. It isn’t either my fault or achievement. But acknowledging the privilege that comes with it helps me develop empathy towards the ones who do not share the same privilege. It helps me understand their problems. I know if I came late at night, my parents would not be as concerned as, say, if my sister was late. If I were walking down a dark alley, alone, I would be far less scared than a woman would be. If I had a one night stand and people found out, I would not be stigmatized. I would not be called a slut. That’s privilege. I don’t have to act on my privilege but simply acknowledge it. Acknowledging one’s privilege, in whatever respect, goes a long way in understanding the injustice in the world.
The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Now imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer…to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations. Boys and girls are undeniably different biologically, but socialization exaggerates the differences and then it becomes a self-fulfilling process. — Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The feminist movement has gained momentum since the Delhi gang rape of December 2012. And a few tangible results can already be seen. Sexist and misogynist jokes are no longer cool. Politicians and other public figures can no more get away with their sexist comments. There is now a lot more scrutiny of media for its unflattering portrayal of women (see this and this, for example). It is heartening to see feminism get the attention it deserves, especially among the youngsters.
I would like to leave you with this brilliant talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in which she urges us all to be feminists.