By Shambhavi Saxena:
#RuinADateWithAFeministInFiveWords started about a day ago, documenting “micro-aggressions that people who identify as feminists, face quite regularly both online and offline,” says Shreya Sen. In a short span of time, it is gathering steam on social media with women making their own contributions in sharp, succinct and clever ways.
After the Twitter trend on #RuinADateWithAnAcademicInFiveWords, three women, Anu Salekar (Zehen), Archismita Chowdhury and Shreya Sen (Being Feminist), thought of starting a discussion around #RuinADateWithAFeministInFiveWords.
Speaking about these examples of micro-aggressions, Sen says, “We face it so often we may become immune. But this gives us a stronger, deeper sense of solidarity.”
Are you a *whispers* 'feminist'? #RuinADateWithAFeministInFiveWords
— Anam Mittra (@AnamMittra) January 20, 2015
Those who are familiar with the feminist brand of humour, which generally points towards structures and institutions of oppression and is, as Sen puts it, “non-derogatory”, reacted positively to the pithy updates under the hashtag. Does it seem like a sort of inside joke between feminists? “A lot of people got pure fun out of it which I think is great! We deserve it too, right?” Says Sen. “Sometimes the inside jokes are also important; it gives people outside the movement an idea of what we are like as people and what the movement is about.” But one does see strains of sadness and anger commingled here. “Someone had posted ‘you’re more feminist than girlfriend’ under the hashtag. And that really broke my heart. Many feminists I know have struggled in relationships because they are strong and opinionated people.”
Samcha Lowang, postgraduate student of Delhi University, found a lot of the remarks uncomfortably familiar. “I was on a date once and he said the exact same thing: ‘yeah but not all men’.” She believes one of the reasons people make such statements is that “concepts like feminism and queer rights have made them conscious of how little by little they are losing ‘control’.” While Lowang links up these micro-aggressions with the direct structures of power in society, others offered various explanations and speculations. Harnidh Kaur of Lady Shri Ram College, who writes extensively on feminist issues, attributes these remarks to a lack of awareness, fear, preconceived notions, pop culture and confusion. Delhi-based photographer, Archisman Misra pointed out that many women are also prone to making such statements, because they are “still, in some way, bound to the patriarchy.”
When asked about the effect #RuinADateWithAFeministInFiveWords could have, Nikhil Dalal, an Indian student in Geneva, says: “I’d have preferred #HowToImpressAFeministInFiveWords, which sounds more constructive. A list ofwhat not to say isn’t as educative as a list explaining why.”
Sen sees these online platforms as an important space for counter trends to exist. “#YesAllWomen invited questions about homogenizing women’s experiences and intersectional ties, and #RuinADateWithAFeministInFiveWords raises the issue of myths and stereotypes about feminists.”
Sen, like any vocal feminist, has been harangued by a persistent and seemingly inexhaustible inundation of trolls. “You can extend the philosophy of respectful dialogue to some, but others aren’t worth engaging with. It always helps to have a support system online as well. A feminist troll army, if you will. Enlist friends willing to help out, because the onus is not on you to single-handedly change society,” she says.
While the focus is clearly on the quoted statements being made under the hashtags and the kind of biases, prejudices, privileges, misconceptions and other problem areas that they indicate, it is also worth noting the implication of the sentence “Ruin a Date with a Feminist”, and I’m deliberately stressing the word “Date” here, which means social intercourse and interpersonal relationships. Some people who harbour half-baked notions about feminists generally assume that feminism excludes you from having relationships.
“It’s so easy to cast us out as a bunch of people with inherently un-loveable traits,” says Sen. “We are challenging a lot of thoughts and ideas that people are comfortable with or have gained privilege through or have grown up with, and it’s a difficult process. A lot of us who identify as feminists have put ourselves through that process too. But to lash out at feminists, constantly belittle and vilify them, it’s just not okay.” The hashtag then becomes a gentle reminder that feminists are people, with lives, emotions and relationships.
While Sen says it isn’t being treated as a campaign, the hashtag will be bandied about by feminists for a while. It serves the purpose of being an outlet, as well as challenging persons who make these comments, and making feminist circles online all the more cohesive, inclusive and strong.