Friday, June 9, 2017

FAQs with an Intersectional Feminist

“By the time I was your age, my younger child was in the fifth standard.”

“That’s great. Did you aspire to marry?”

“Ya, what else? Now you also should get married…”

“I have different aspirations and I’ve worked towards them. I’m perfectly happy where I am, and will marry if and when I think I am ready and want to.”

“If you stop all this feminism-veminism and all, you’ll get married soon.”

“What makes you think feminism is exclusive of marriage? I know plenty of amazing feminists who are happily married.”

“How? Feminism tells you to hate men.”

“Nope. To the contrary. Feminism advocates equality.”

“That’s ridiculous. If it’s equality, why should we call it feminism?”

“One reason is ignorance like yours. It is called Feminism because women need to be put back in to the equation of equality and restore the balance.”

“But women are already doing so much, they are not poorly off. Women are going to school, going to work and all that. So many women leaders also you see!”

“That’s only a fraction. Did you know that many times more than this number of women face violence every day?”

“Hey come on, that’s all because these girls dress so badly these days and go running to clubs and pubs. They shouldn’t be staying late.”

“That, right there, is why we need feminism. Your mentality is reflective of something called patriarchy, which is a form of structural violence. Patriarchy thinks that men have a right of dominance and power over women and their bodies. And this is so deeply ingrained in our society, that it affects how we think, how we interact, speak and behave, and affects our systems.”

“But tell me, isn’t it right? If you have a watch worth millions of dollars, will you keep it on the street?”

“Your choice of likening the body of a woman or a girl is precisely what is structural violence. By likening her to an object, aren’t you detaching the personal agency of a woman from her? Aren’t you reducing her to a certain value you ascribe to her, and then think she is nothing more than property.”


“When you look at a woman through such a lens, you are creating a space for the assumption of her inferiority, and you constantly encourage the perception of her mind and body in this way. Since you think of her as an object, you don’t think that her consent matters, that her choice matters, that her freedom matters, that her safety matters. It is this mentality that puts the honour of a whole family or a society into the woman’s vagina. But it’s truly her body and her choice, she cannot be forced to carry the honour of her family!”

“But tell me, if a girl is raped or molested, isn’t her family reputation defiled? Who will marry her?”

“Let’s unpack that a bit. Why should her family reputation be defiled when she did nothing wrong? Tell me, do you punish the murderer or the murdered? Do you punish the bully or the bullied? We punish the perpetrator, right? Similarly, the molester or the rapist or the one causing the assault is the wrongdoer here. Now the second part – again, why are we saying that a woman must only aspire to marriage? She can be so much more – if she wants to marry, she will marry someone of her choice, who she is happy with. By wondering who would marry her and giving that more importance over helping her heal from her trauma, you are again reasserting that she is property without personal agency.”

“So you are saying all this is because of patriarchy?”

“Correct. When patriarchy subverted equality, the male was dominant, and the female was subjugated. But gender, you see, is fluid. This fluidity allows for one who may identify as male to also identify with certain aspects of female, or, for one born as male to identify as a female. This fluidity was seen as anomalous – for it was not considered “normal” or “acceptable” for the dominant to identify as the subjugated. So – feminising the rhetoric by putting women back into the dialogue will lead to creating an equal space where none is seen as the dominant or the subjugated, and therefore, fluidity will not be an anomaly.”

“Fluid? What do you mean fluid? Gender, sex, all the same. Man or woman. That’s all.”

“Ah, my friend. Neither gender nor sex is binary or confined to male and female or man and woman. Sex is what you are born with – your anatomy. This means that someone looks at your body parts and says you are a boy or a girl, at birth, and then they bring you up that way. But, sex is more than that: you can be born with boy parts or girl parts, or even be born intersex. Doctors and parents try to “correct” intersex bodies – which is actually unfair because unless it is a medical hazard, such correction surgeries encroach bodies by making perfectly normal bodies come across as abnormal. Now gender, on the other hand, is a social construct and a question of personal identity. It is what I want to identify as, and so I can be anything from male to female, to fluid, to a-gender, to questioning, to queer, or even transgender.”

“Wait, wait. If it is so personal and it is one’s choice of identity, why does this even matter?”

“It matters because gender identity has been turned on its head to create hatred and discrimination on the basis of gender. People are forced to conform to what some people consider to be normal – when in reality, nature has never defined a normal. It’s just mankind and its inherent insecurities that sought to assert something as the acceptable norm, to exclude those that they didn’t want to include.”

“Right. So then we’re still not so badly in need of feminism, right? We have so many schemes and laws for women. We can just create more.”

“That’s a bit of an oversimplification that does no one any good. This has two components. First, you can’t just make laws and schemes, you need to implement them. Second, when you implement them, you should be aware of the many dimensions involved in the way they manifest when implemented. It is important, then, to acknowledge something called intersectionality.”

“Are you saying that many other factors intersect to affect women?”

“Exactly that. As a community of people, they have faced years and years of oppression and marginalization, and are placed vulnerably at the bottom of the hierarchical ladders of India’s caste system, class segregations and gender identities. If feminism was not intersectional and looked at her from a choice-consequence dimension, it would view the Dalit Woman as one identifying as a Woman; as one who is vulnerable to violence; as one who is, well, like other women. Intersectional feminism, however, would see her differently. Vulnerable as a woman, disenfranchised as a caste, marginalized as a caste, isolated and oppressed in society and therefore, even more vulnerable than most other women. And there are numbers, facts, stories and truths to back this correct understanding of a Dalit Woman’s position. There is enough and more in the form of evidence to show you exactly how Dalit Women are exploited, oppressed, discriminated against, isolated and vulnerable to violence. In a nutshell, not only are they dominated over by men in the power relations of a patriarchal social order, but are also fighting against a toxic hegemonic pillar of power in the form of caste, and coping with the poverty that comes in with a progressively divisive class system. This establishes the circumstance. Let’s say a Dalit Woman and a woman from a caste and class that are higher up (let’s call her privileged woman) in the hierarchy are brought into the mix. Let’s just say that the both of them have aspirations for their lives ahead, and let’s say that they aspire to pursue a course that would make them Mechanical Engineers. (If you raised an eyebrow, check your privilege and break those limiting stereotypes inside your head). The Dalit Woman is encumbered by the burden of a system that started with her exclusion: she had no access to education that would suitably enable her to attempt the entrance exam, which, by the way, is administered in English. But the privileged woman has had the benefit of school, extra classes and access to resources online. They take the test. The privileged woman makes it, but the Dalit Woman doesn’t. Strike one. She still harbours some hope, that she will make it in the quotas that have been reserved for a range of castes and classes. But no, she is among the last few in the pecking order, and therefore, waits, and waits, and waits. Strike two. Almost like an afterthought, she is sent an admission letter – a rarity, for many of her caste are left at the bottom of the pot. But the fee she is expected to pay is the next new hurdle in her path. Where can she afford to pay a year’s tuition if her family can’t scrape enough to afford a square meal? Strike three. This shows you how constrained choice truly is. These “choices” are not choices. And so, even without the right to make a choice, she has to bear consequences.

“Interesting. So it’s not black and white?”

“Nope. It never was, and can never be.”