Of feminist circles and their eligibility criteria


In an interview I read a while ago, a quote stayed with me. C.S. Lakshmi, better known as ‘Ambai’, a feminist author, translator and historian, spoke of female friendships, literary ambitions and Tamil writing. On being asked about her willingness to accept the label of being a feminist, she said: I no longer have the time to explain what feminism means. This struck a chord. It illustrated just how important the movement is, just how tired we are defending it, justifying it and constantly countering post-feminist world claims and just how much work we have to do as the clock ticks away.

Someone once asked me why I am such an “angry feminist”. Someone else once lauded me for my “happy feminism” as a relief from a circle of “sad, depressed feminists” that they are surrounded with. Someone once said I am too privileged to truly claim a feminist identity. (huh?) This amuses me. But it also alarms me, because it belittles the very purpose of a movement set out to erase inequality, oppression and marginalisation.

feminazi

I was once in a gathering of young feminist activists from all over the world. We kickstarted the day by introducing ourselves, where we are from and how we began our feminist journeys. It was one of the most emotional experience of our lives. Because for so many of us, it began with anger.Anger at not being taken seriously despite repeated attempts. Anger at several helpless situations that we were confronted with and continue to do so. And this anger didn’t disappear. It channelized its way into a movement from which we gained much energy, peace and liberation.

Over the course of our journeys, we have all felt hopeful, happy, agonised, ecstatic, positive, eccentric, existentialist and so many other things. There are days when I wake up feeling burdened at the amount of work that still needs to be done to meet our feminist goals. There are days when I feel I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this collective. There are days when I feel I need to buck up and think of ways I can contribute better. And that’s the best part about being engaged in a movement that is so relevant, contemporary and contextual.


Of late, I have been witnessing a sense of competition in feminist circles and gatherings. Their feminism is more inclusive. Hers is more environmentally responsible. Yours isn’t intersectional enough. I have seen folks proclaim these out loud or present their viewpoints in a ‘mine-is-better-than-yours’ manner. I have also been seeing some of my feminist sisters openly denouncing particular people identifying with feminism. And that scares me a little. While it is important to be constantly evolving our politics and recognising where our privilege is blinding us, it is hurtful to be denying the identity to those who want it.

For so many of us, feminism is a tool we use to fight sexism, casteism, ableism, classicism, homophobia, misogyny and patriarchy every single day of our lives. It is a cushion we rest on to escape the inequalities that surround us. It is a powerful pen that we pick up to respond to oppression. It is the welcome respite of love from a world of hate and judgment. And for many of us, it began at different stages of our lives. Some of us discovered it after leaving an abusive husband. Some of us found it on the day we were introduced to it by a fellow feminist friend. Some of us read about it somewhere and got curious. Some of us held on to it as we embraced our queerness. Some of us relied on it as we broke caste and racial barriers. This gif somewhat explains beautifully how I see the movement growing as we support each other through the journey.


Once, my mother shared a personal story of standing up for her own right. It was the first time she had acted upon something that she had been silent about for the longest time in her life.

“I am scared I am turning into you,” she said.

“What do you mean?,” I asked.

“You know. Feminist.,” she said with a quiver in her voice, after having uttered the F word. “What if I have turned into one?,” she worried.

“Well, you are not alone,” I assured her.

Picture of a scene from the Hollywood film Hidden Figures.

Picture of a scene from the American film Hidden Figures.

There is no time and there’s so much to do. And the only thing that can catalyse the process is love and support. Let us embrace people into the movement. Let us be constructive in identifying where we are misguided in our politics. Let us acknowledge our mistakes and learn from them. But let us not deny people from the circle. Because feminism doesn’t need an eligibility criteria. And, really, we should all be feminists.


 

This post does not necessarily reflect the politics or views of any organisation, group or collective and is the viewpoint of the writer alone.

Of Serbia, staff meet and a supernatural connection


I double-check my e-ticket and passport. I count the number of baggage I am carrying. I chew some gum to calm myself down and avoid the restlessness and jitteriness I am feeling deep inside. As I take the cab from my home to the airport at midnight to catch a 4 am flight to Belgrade via Moscow, I wonder how uncanny all this sounds when I think about it in my head. A couple of weeks ago, I would not have even imagined such an event happening in my life. And today, here I was, travelling to Europe again. This time, for work. And that is exactly what made me wonder just how uncanny it all was.

As I arrive at the airport and collect my boarding pass, I realize I have a business class ticket. Since I could not take the flight on the day as was scheduled before (owing to visa troubles), my flight was rescheduled to the next day. Turns out there were no other tickets available except those in the business class section. It’s amazing how disappointment of not getting the visa on time turns to euphoria on discovering that I had been upgraded to first class. I collect my boarding pass as well as a coupon that apparently entitled me to first class lounge services. I sheepishly ask the lady who hands me the coupon: “Um…what exactly is that? Sorry, it’s my first time on business class!” She smiles and directs me to the lounge, where I discover comfortable recliners, massage centres, cyber café and, most importantly, free food. A buffet of assorted fruits, vegetables, dishes, snacks, juice and wine. As I pick and fill my plate, I wonder if this is for real.

I board a 6.5 hour flight from New Delhi to Moscow, while absorbing all the exquisite facilities that are offered to me on business class—welcome drink, comfortable pillows and cushions and blankets, a fancy travel kit and a three-course meal served on my seat (pity I am a vegetarian). An hour’s wait in Moscow followed by yet another 3 hour flight to Belgrade, again on business class with almost all the aforementioned facilities. Covering 10 hours, two time zones and over 6000 miles, I finally land in the beautiful country of Serbia. A kind man stands on the exit of a crowded Belgrade airport holding a placard that screams my name. For a moment, I feel too insignificant to deserve that!

I introduce myself to the kind man, who welcomes me to Beograd and escorts me to his BMW taxi. No, this isn’t a luxury I am exclusively entitled to; this is a luxury all taxi users in the city get. Most of the taxis in the city are BMW’s and Mercedes. After a 20 minute smooth ride on wide roads and bridges that oversee river Danube, I reach my ‘boatel’—a hotel that rests on a gigantic boat, of sorts. Every time an actual boat comes anywhere close to the boatel, the waves cause the boatel to swing making you feel like you’re on a Kashmiri houseboat. Soaking in this incredibleness and still unable to believe that I am in a country I had barely any knowledge of, I take a quick shower and freshen up to reach the destination of the staff meeting—the purpose for which I have been invited oh-so-gracefully and travelled so far for. I look at my image in the mirror for the 89th time just to confirm if I don’t look too over-excited, under-confident or unprepared. I head towards the meeting venue.

Sunset on the boatel

Sunset on the boatel

A short taxi ride later, I arrive at a giant building. I am told that the staff meeting is happening on the 16th floor. I gasp in amazement and take the elevator. The door opens and there are six young, smiling and brightly coloured women who cheer and shout at my arrival. I almost feel like a celebrity who isn’t aware why she is popular. We do a group hug and I instantly feel a connection with these amazing souls, who, in fact, I am meeting for the first time in my life. I had known their names and had briefly interacted with them over e-mail but this is the first time I have got the rare opportunity to link their profile pictures to their real selves. It feels surreal—to actually be able to meet them within a couple of weeks of e-interaction. These are women from all around the globe: Turkey, Australia, Cambodia, Botswana, Poland and Serbia. And now, India joins this colourful mix of people. I feel proud, responsible and hopeful for the next few days.

Since I had joined the meeting late, I am briefed about all that I have missed. I am also given gifts by my fellow team members: a special something that they have carried for each one of us from their home countries. It is beautiful and I am touched! I myself gift them my own jhumkas (earrings) and I am elated to see them wear it instantly. It makes me feel closer to them already. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that these lovely ladies are soon to be my colleagues. It feels like they are people I have met. Somewhere, sometime in some form or the other. Perhaps in a coffee shop. Maybe in a bar. Or a park, a library, a supermarket or a rally. They may not be familiar faces but there are familiar interests, common and strong linkages in our activism and politics of feminism and equal rights for all. With each of them, hired for a specific purpose, I feel there is so much to learn and unlearn from. Throughout the meeting period, I am overwhelmed and excited to realize how much there is to know and understand deeply. The variety of ideas and possibilities that are brought together on the table with the collective brains of seven individuals is quite mind-blowing.

All-staff

FRIDA staff. Picture courtesy FRIDA website: http://youngfeministfund.org/about-frida/staff/

I take part in each of the team building exercises. I learn a bit of Tai Chi, do some traditional Botswanaian dance, and make them dance to a Bollywood number. It’s an amazing mix of colours, cultures and cuisines. I make a note of my specific roles and responsibilities in this new job that sounds less of work and more of having fun and making sure that everyone else does too. I am nervous, excited and thrilled all at the same time. I am filled with hope that feminist activism around the globe continues to grow and shall never end. I bid a teary goodbye to all the new people I met. I bow my head in front of the solidarity that is built in such a short span of time. I smile as I return to my home. I smile as I relive each of these moments while typing them down. 🙂

Disclaimer: This post does not reflect the views and opinions of FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund