Friday, July 12, 2019

The Feminifesto Seminar Club: Session 9


In this session, we read up on an article by Sam Killermann, which talked about Replacing One Binary With Another. In a nutshell, Sam argues that the social justice movement has ended up on both sides of the same argument - that is, for and against nuance. By replacing one kind of binary thinking with another, there is a sense that we are dispensing with nuance - which is key in an intersectional, evolving, and growing world.

Following our reading, Sri opened the conversation by talking about how she has engaged with trolls online more than offline, and is working hard to keep away from people who are a drain on her energy. She talked about how she has been at the receiving end of bad reviews for a café she is part of - from people who hadn’t even visited the café. However, in all her engagement online, Sri explained that she’s come to understand that there are two kinds of people that troll or say abusive things online: one kind that is evidently hurting from something and the anger and trolling comes from a place of pain, and another kind that are blatantly sexist / racist / casteist (etc.) and have no qualms about being so. She talked about how in engaging with people, she does sometimes tend to classify them within binary boxes if they refuse to engage and see nuance, themselves, while with those that do, she doesn’t find the need for binary ideas.

Raakhee talked about how she personally knows of people who are in charge of shaping young minds by virtue of the work they do - like teachers and professors - who speak to young and impressionable minds using the language of moral policing and imposing views of a rigid and regressive kind on them. She talked about how after a point, engaging with them feels like emotional labour that feels unnecessary - and keeps away. While her intent, as she puts it, is not to classify people into binaries on account of the views they hold, it invariably tends to happen on occasion.

Malavika talked about how she struggles to understand what motivates people to espouse misogyny and sexism, and though she strives to engage with them, she finds herself tending to put them into boxes, too - and shared that people who are well into their forties and fifties who espouse such views are doubly difficult to engage with.

Vaishnavi shared experiences with members of her family and acquaintances, where her views are almost pre-empted to the point that some people warn others not to share views with her because she is a “feminist” and an “activist.” She talked about engaging with this resistance through conversation, but also recognizes that once they shut her out, there’s precious little she can do.

Malavika then asked how one can handle and respond to abusive behaviour or parochial views if people are insistent about holding on to them and stubbornly repeat their misogynistic arguments without pausing to reflect.

Suraksha then talked about how her experience in rural areas gave her an insight into how we also tend to operate from privilege. She shared that some of the women she met in rural areas had been very firm about not wanting “city ideas” dictating the direction of their lives. She then talked about how it can be challenging for a person to be told that they are wrong or that their views are wrong - and how that can then close down routes for engagement. She learned that it is important to be respectful, polite, and acknowledge where people come from in their journeys, rather than talk down at them.

Sri then talked about how there is a generally negative connotation that is unnecessarily conflated with feminism and gender equality, but also recognized that her engagement with patriarchy and misogyny has tended to make her defensive. On one occasion, when she took something a friend had said as a cue to defend her feminist view, engagement with her friend showed her that he had used the term with a limited understanding of the language - something that was not his fault because he was not a native English speaker and was still making his way around the language.

Vaishnavi then asked whether it is our responsibility to engage at all - is it one’s duty to educate another when they can educate themselves? Raakhee responded saying that this was especially problematic with older people who weaponize age into demanding respect. Sri then talked about how she has never asked a misogynist or a sexist why they formed their views the way they did - so perhaps engagement may just help to understand the other and then to engage with them accordingly. At this point, Kirthi shared that the idea of engaging is really about speaking to the person and not to the behaviour, which means that we can strive to prioritize nuance before putting people into boxes.