I hope you’re as thrilled as I am that “Moonlight” won over “La La Land” in the Oscars because while “La La Land” was great, it wasn’t exactly diverse. It puts me in the perfect frame of mind to answer this fortnight’s question.Y asked:
I am an intersectional feminist, but many feminists insist that intersectionality only dilutes the movement’s goal of women’s liberation, by also focusing on men’s issues, trans issues, and other identity markers like class, caste, race etc. How do I engage in that conversation?
I was reading this review of former editor/founder of ‘Book Slut’ Jessa Crispin’s book “Why I’m Not A Feminist”. Interviews with Crispin left me somewhat cold, sometimes it felt like she was being rude for the sake of being rude, not to engage in debate if you know what I mean, but some points she had made me curious, so I looked up her book.
The review says of the book: Absent a plain and absolute demand for equality, feminism has devolved into ineffectual, mealy-mouthed bullshit, all navel-gazing, “self-empowerment,” and “Leaning In.”
I found myself nodding along to that line. I’ve seen so many “feminist versions” of things, most recently a remix of the old pop song “Urvasi Urvasi”. The new updated lyrics are “it’s all bullshit, Urvasi” which is a great thought, but then it becomes the same old story of prettifying feminism to make it appealing to the masses, which okay, is something people need to hear, but there is so much prettification and so little discussion about what the movement is as a whole that it gets kind of grating after a while. The things that video touched upon were consent, the way you dress and fat shaming, I think, which are all hot button issues, but can be unpacked at several levels to make it more inclusive. I mean, there’s the privileged woman’s “no means no” and there’s the underprivileged woman where she’s fighting for the right to even stop having children, and if we ignore one whole part of the argument, are we really getting anywhere with our songs and our comics and our thinkpieces?
Feminism is, above all, a political movement. It involves dismantling years of thinking, of gender roles, of lower wages, of patriarchal bullshit, but that kind of thinking is also, sad to say, endorsed by some women as well. Women bosses who give new female recruits a hard time, women employers to the help that work in their homes, women who deny that there’s a problem because “my life is fine”, refusing to see beyond the narrow little world they live in. Some people might say that transwomen have no place in cis women’s battles, some people might say that caste is a whole other issue that doesn’t need to be on the same table, and you can be right in saying and feeling, dear Y, that these people are wrong. Because, all of those things – caste oppression, racism, and so on, are all also thanks to patriarchy. To put it very simplistically, because some men wanted to be better than everyone else.
You ask how you engage in that conversation, I say it’s by doing what you’ve already done. Start asking questions when you come across what I’m calling “pop culture feminism”. Ask about everyone else who has been left behind in greater discussions. Ask whether that person wearing a Proud Feminist tank top is really making sure there’s room in her ideology for people who are not quite so readily put into a music video. Why aren’t white women at Black Lives Matter marches and are we, the privileged women of India, as bad as white women feminism in the West? You (and I) may be lucky enough to separate our caste, colour, birth, economic status from the fact that we’re women, but not everyone else can.
You ask, and people will discuss, and maybe you’ll be able to start making tiny inroads into thinking. I think it’s worth a shot.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.