Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Feminifesto Seminar Club: Session 1

In our first meeting, our group discussed the findings from this article, where a feminist talked about how actor Priyanka Chopra's choice to take her husband Nick Jonas' surname as antagonistic to feminist ideas.

In our opening comments, all four of us agreed that the article made points that we were in agreement with. Vaishnavi explained how her early foray into feminism began with the understanding that feminism was about being able to enable women to exercise their choice - and that was the end goal. But this article, to her, seemed to put things in perspective, and made her realize that the choice that feminism has enabled should not be used to set the movement back. Vaishnavi also acknowledged that a lot of people in the limelight do hop onto social phenomena that are prevailing at a given time, and try to stay relevant so that they remain in the limelight - and that it may be possible that Priyanka Chopra may be espousing such views.

Malavika agreed, and suggested that while feminism ultimately does advocate choice, one must use this choice responsibly - especially when the person in question is famous, and is likely to create an impression on several people who look up to them. She explained that it is unfair and unpleasant to set the movement back - especially because a lot of women don't have the privilege to subvert structures around them, and seeing a role model they look up to doing just that could inspire them to make a change. Malavika also explained that in a 2012 interview, Priyanka had taken a stand that she was not a feminist, but a humanist - but also acknowledged that Priyanka may have made a learning curve since then.

Raakhee suggested that the strong comments Priyanka Chopra made about being a feminist were suggestive of her commitment to the cause - but by choosing to reinforce a patriarchal practice, she was effectively engaging in Feminism Lite, to borrow Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's terminology, and was being hypocritical about her views. To Raakhee, it seemed like Priyanka Chopra was definitely clear about her stand - but was not doing anything to defend herself, in indicating that she was opting for this out of her choice.

Kirthi agreed with all three of them, but then had a few questions to ask. One, is it necessarily true that all those who look up to Priyanka Chopra necessarily look up to her for feminist ideals, or for her stand on feminism - and if women who looked up to her were feminist, wouldn't they be discerning enough to see that what she was opting to do with her free choice, was setting the movement back? Two, would it be fair to foist, on Priyanka Chopra, our expectations of what she must do with her free choice? If we did so, wouldn't it be a setback to the feminist movement and to our stand as feminists seeking to advocate for the right to choice? In mulling over these questions, she shared that one can acknowledge that feminism is indeed a movement advocating for personal agency to exercise the freedom of choice, but not every choice made out of that personal agency is necessarily feminist, although the endeavour must be to be thus.

The Responsibility of a Role Model
Vaishnavi explained that regardless of whether her fans and followers follow Priyanka Chopra for her feminism or feminist views, they are still impressionable, and her views are going to make a difference to them. To that end, by taking a stand verbally and not following it up with action was indeed a disservice.

Malavika, who has experience working with and studying households, particularly the women, explained that a lot of women in households do follow stars like Priyanka Chopra, and do in fact look up to her. However, that said, she also explained that priorities vary tremendously. Their concerns center more about their daily lives, and what Priyanka Chopra does in her life doesn't necessarily affect them. This then centered around a conversation on how people are driven to survive - which also explains why whole populations took to Gurmeet Ram Rahim, despite his involvement in crime - because they saw a provider in him.

We then took a look at the institution of naming and taking on the name of the male lineage - and looked at how, institutionally, the practice centers around the notion of a woman "belonging" to someone else. For instance, a woman who has to fill out a form for, say, a bank account or a loan, is expected to fill out either the column on her father's name or her husband's name - and if she doesn't fill either, that form is returned with the note that she must fill it for the form to hold value. A man, however, isn't asked to fill out his mother's name, or his wife's name, and if he chooses not to fill out his father's name, that rule isn't imposed on him to adhere to.

The surname, much like the golden noose that the mangal sutra is, is an imposition of a woman's person as the playground of the performative nature of marriage.