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How To Respond When Women Are Being Horrid (Without Being Sexist)

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By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Still got my air purifiers on as I write this from Delhi, but hey, we can totally tackle sexism from indoors, right? Let’s get started!

S asked:

Some women can be really horrible – like racist, casteist, transphobic kind of horrible. But often I’ve seen other people respond to them with equally damaging sexual threats or jibes or name calling. How can I shut down horrible women without being sexist?

Dear S,

The other day I read this insane long read on women who don’t like feminism. Not only do they not like it, they actively campaign against it. It’s a pretty long article (you can find it here), but a bit in it stood out to me. It’s when the main woman interviewed for the piece, who goes by the pseudonym Janet Bloomfield asks her small daughter about feminism.

“Bloomfield turns to her daughter: “What do you think the word feminist means?”

Jane doesn’t miss a beat: “Girls who think they are better than boys.”

“Do you think that’s right? Are girls better than boys?”

“No, boys and girls are the same.”

“The same but different,” Bloomfield suggests.

“They’re both human, so that’s the same.”

“Do you think girls can be soldiers?”

“If they want to.”

“Do you think most girls want to?” asks Bloomfield.

Jane pauses. “Some do.”

“Do you think some boys want to stay at home and be dads?”

Again: “Some do.”

“Should they?”

Jane repeats that it’s okay if they want to—that dads should care about their children. Bloomfield asks her daughter again what feminists think, and Jane repeats her earlier answer, adding that it’s not fair for girls to think they’re better than boys. “Where did you learn that feminists think that?” Bloomfield wonders. Jane answers with a crooked grin: “I learned from you, Mom.” Her mom answers, proud, with a grin of her own.”

It’s easy to hate on Bloomfield. I mean, the woman does sound appallingly misinformed, and someone with a large audience can be dangerous if they don’t put forward all the facts. But I’m interested in the fact that insults to women can be so gendered, like, you’d tell a woman that she’s “ugly” or a “dumb bitch” while you might call a guy a “dumb asshole” more likely, you’d criticise something he’d done rather than the fact of it.

Recently, DNA asked me to give them a quote on this very issue. They were doing an editorial column on model/actress Gigi Hadid’s impersonation of the US’s new First Lady-elect Melania Trump. I never saw it, but the backlash was enough that Hadid had to apologise. The reporter who called me asked whether it was fair to lash out at women in the limelight. To which I said that there were gendered insults everywhere, every day, to every woman, and that when you did it to a celebrity, people just sat up and took notice is all.

I’ve had my fair share of trolls. When I first started my blog, oh, about 12 years ago now, there was a little flurry of publicity around it—an Indian woman writing about sex! Goodness gracious me! And with that publicity came a bunch of people—the usual anonymous trolls, of course, you’d expect them, but also strangely, people I wouldn’t expect to shut me down so violently. There used to be this big NRI blog, I forget what it was called, so let’s call it India Chutney. The authors used to regularly post interesting things from India and the readers (usually Indians settled abroad) would comment. Anyway, so they picked up this little profile a paper had done of me, and the comments came in, and against my better judgement, I read them. I read them obsessively. And this one guy, after all the comments, pulled out my Orkut profile and started talking about how unattractive I was (and therefore all my stories had to be false or some such rubbish).

At least that was on the internet, and no one could see me recoil in shock. Another time, it happened in a friend’s living room. I was just sitting around, having a drink, when this one random guy asks me, “Oh, are you that blogger chick?”

“Yes,” I said, and then he said, “You’re not as hot as I thought you were going to be.” Oh, I was furious—so furious, that I couldn’t get a proper cutting retort out, and it took my friend to defend my honour.

But the point of these two examples? There will always be people around to pull you down based on something you really don’t think is up for public comment. Criticise my writing—that’s the stuff I put out there in this world — but my looks? That’s just weird, and rude, and wrong, because I am then reduced to defending something I had no control over in the first place.

So this woman, I’m assuming you have someone in mind when you name her — this transphobic, racist, casteist person — who is everything you hate about another human being, whose opinions make you actively unhappy, who you listen to talking in public and just want to destroy her, I suggest you do it with facts not slurs. There are plenty of facts around to support every single statement you want to make. Inequality? Totally. Trans people getting beaten up and killed? Also loads. Facts are a great retort, because no one can argue with them! And you’re also being totally gender neutral. Win-win.

Another option, dear S, is that you limit your exposure to this person. Some people will make you angry and long to yell at them, but there’s always a chance that all your carefully crafted arguments aren’t going to change anything. She will still be horrible, and you will have just spent pointless energy. Do what I do—and mute them on Facebook and Twitter, where the unread rant the most. Better yet, unfriend them. That will send a message clearer than anything else you’re plotting. And if this person is someone you have to see on a day-to-day basis: a relative, a colleague, a friend’s spouse, then make your point of view very well known. I find, more often than not, when faced with unpopularity, these trolls back down.

Good luck!


Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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