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This Young Mom Just Shot Misconceptions Of Feminism In The Face

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While scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed with my sleeping baby on my lap, I read a news article about an eminent cricketer whose family got his newly-wed bride’s name changed post marriage. I glanced at the comments section of the post, curious to know how the masses had reacted to this news item. Expectedly, while some people expressed their disapproval of such an act of enforcing a change of identity on the woman, others had no qualms about it as they perceived it to be her choice. I would refrain from getting into my take on this particular issue as the intent of writing this article is something else.

In the same comments section, someone had posted a joke – “Feminists be like why Nelson Mandela and not Neldaughter Womandela?” This was supposed to be funny because there were more than 500 likes on this comment and possibly a few years back I would have had a good laugh reading it too.  No more! Far from making me laugh, the “joke” actually made me feel disappointed, piqued and helpless, all at the same time. Such jokes send across the message that feminists fuss over non-issues and fight for trivial matters.  This was not the first time I have come across such a bizarre comment about feminists and feminism. It is so common to see memes, sneering comments and ridiculing jokes all over social media which condone feminists or which mock feminism. This happens because a significant percentage of people have absolutely no idea about the feminist movement and what feminism really stands for. “Oh now the feminists will come and start their sermon”, “Oh the feminazis are hypocrites”; “If someone touches any lady, it is rape but if a lady sleeps with many men it is modern feminism. Haha” – these are the exact comments on any post that is remotely related to a woman’s issue and if you have come across them too, you probably already know that it’s actually much worse. It’s heart-breaking to see the constant use of ‘FemiNazi’ in a derogatory manner by people to take a jibe at feminists. It is so frustrating at times that I wonder why it is that hard for people to understand the simple concept of equal rights! But then, reality is that it isn’t really straightforward because our minds are steeped in patriarchy and most of us have internalized sexism to an extent that we cannot see the obvious many a time. It is something that has trickled down from many generations ago and therefore, we cannot expect it to change so soon.

If I talk about myself, it took years for me to understand feminism and be passionate about it. During my growing years, I had perceived a ‘feminist’ to be someone who was against men, even though I was brought up in a gender neutral environment. Hence, at that point, I thought of it to be a term with a negative connotation and because no one discussed these things back then, for a long time I continued to believe so. After I resigned from my corporate job, I began volunteering with an NGO and carried out my research on the feminist movement as a part of my work. It was a revelation of sorts and it hit me hard to see how deep-rooted this problem is. I understood how it has taken years and years of massive endeavour to bring us to the situation that we are in today. All the women who misunderstand feminism and think it’s just a trend or a pseudo thing – I hope you can appreciate that you are in a position at present to say that because someone else has been working for centuries to give you that right. I would highly recommend everyone to read up on the feminist movement before using their half-knowledge to undermine mammoth efforts towards an equal society. Just perform a Google search and you will find endless relevant information on this topic.

Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. (Sourced from the Internet)

However, feminism is misconstrued in many ways and I hope I can help clarify what it’s NOT.

Feminism is not about hating or bashing men – The biggest misconception about feminism is that it is about hating men. Please understand that feminism is not biological but it is an ideology. Even a man can be a feminist and a woman can be a sexist. It is not Man versus Woman, it is equality versus patriarchy. We are not fighting men but the misogyny that prevails in the society, irrespective of the gender, and advocates it directly or indirectly, subtly or not so subtly. Contrary to the notion of it being anti-men, feminism does not disgrace a man by disrespectful statements like “Men will be men” or “All men are the same” or “A son is a son till he gets a wife”.

Feminism has nothing to do with clothing – A lot of people think that feminism is about promoting and wearing modern clothing. Again, it is in the mind and you cannot identify a feminist by his/her appearance. A person wearing modern clothes can be downright sexist and someone who wears traditional clothes can be a flag-bearer of feminism. We as a society need to stop linking dressing sense, which is about style and comfort, to feminism or anything else for that matter.

Feminism does not encourage women to drink or smoke – I have read numerous comments on social media in which people imply that women have started drinking or smoking because of feminism. Firstly, I want to ask them – if it’s OK for a man to indulge in these, what is the issue if women do so too? This is a choice made by an individual who is aware of the cons with respect to health hazards. A feminist would probably say “One should limit drinking or smoking because of the repercussions on health” whereas a sexist would say “It doesn’t look good when girls drink or smoke” or “At least girls should not spoil our culture by drinking and smoking”. Get the difference?

Feminism is NOT the cause of an increase in divorce rates – I was looking up on the internet for some anti-feminist quotes and beliefs to comprehend the different reasons due to which people are against feminism. One of the things that consistently came up was that it is the cause of divorces because it provokes women to leave husbands and end marriages. Sigh! In fact, isn’t it great that we are encouraging women to walk out of bad marriages or abusive relationships? Why are we hell bent on making people stick to marriages if they are clearly not happy in the relationship? Why do we need to look for any reason for divorces? Feminists don’t call ‘any and everything’ abuse as per what we are blamed for. It’s just that probably you do not see it because of the ingrained patriarchal thinking, or you see it and are not ready to acknowledge it. If something is disrespectful, it has to be called out on loud and clear.

Feminism is not about favouring women – Just like feminism is not about male bashing, it is also not about being partial to the woman clan. We do not want any additional privileges and we do not want to be put on a pedestal. A friend shared an incident with me recently which occurred outside an ATM. As we all are aware, post demonetization there have been long queues at the banks and ATMs. A group of women saw the line and instead of maintaining it, went ahead and created another one beside the existing one. When confronted by the men who were waiting for their turn, the women simply responded unabashedly that there should be a separate queue for women. They were pointed to the clear rules that only senior citizens and pregnant women can be given priority, but they refused to budge. This is not feminism and such behaviour is deplorable. Such people are opportunists and not feminists. We all need to walk hand in hand, with respect for each other, for ourselves and for a better tomorrow.

Feminism is for everyone – Another huge misconception about feminism is that it is only for the benefit of women. No, no and no! It is equally important for men. Equality of sexes is great for everyone because that frees people of gender based social taboos and stereotypes. A feminist will look at a man taking care of home and kids, while his wife goes out to work, with respect but a sexist would pass a comment like “Shameless is living on the mercy of the wife”. A sexist might make fun of a man who is a victim of abuse but a feminist will show sensitivity towards him, because we understand that anyone can be a victim of abuse in any relationship regardless of age and gender.

Feminists have a sense of humour – Yes, we have zero tolerance for those sexist jokes! Feminists absolutely despise the sexist husband-wife and man-woman jokes, because we realize how such jokes subtly, though unintentionally, play a role in further entrenching the patriarchal culture. So please stop telling us to “Have a sense of humour”! We don’t take “everything seriously”.

Feminism or sexism is not always obvious in a person – People think feminists are of the opinion that everyone who is not a feminist is evil. Though misogyny does lead to abuse and other grave crimes, but more often than not, the presence of such ideologies in a person is subtle and one may not even realize it. A good human being might still subconsciously say or do things at times that are sexist.  I have experienced this myself and during my research I understood that this happens due to the internalized sexism. Internalized sexism is defined as the involuntary belief that the lies, stereotypes and myths about girls and women that are delivered to everyone in a sexist society ARE TRUE.

For those who say feminists stretch matters and that we should let go sometimes, I have just one question- how is one going to bring about a change in deep rooted ideologies with partial or half-hearted efforts?  Such movements cannot happen without persistence, passion and undeterred attempts towards achieving the goal. Sorry but not sorry, we cannot take a chill pill. So what if that makes you uncomfortable or pushes you to the brink or hurts your ego! We will keep calling out on everything around us that propagates sexism. Today, I am an empowered woman and I owe it to everyone who has been a part of the feminist movement, relentlessly fighting and raising their voice, and continuing to do so.

In a country where girls are killed in the womb, dumped in bins, scalded with acid and harassed and murdered for dowry, we need feminism. In a country where every other second a female is being raped, we need feminism. In a country where many girls still do not go to schools because their brother’s education is apparently more important, we need feminism. If you think otherwise, you are living in a bubble. Whatever great things we do or achieve as a nation, we cannot really make progress till we bring an end to the patriarchal culture and the gender biases and prejudices.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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