Editor’s Note: This piece has been brought to you by the Martha Farrell Foundation, an organisation promoting a gender-just society, and challenging inequality. On April 7, the Foundation is hosting the Martha Farrell Award for Excellence in Women’s Empowerment to celebrate the work of changemakers from varied contexts, who have been practising feminism in everyday life. Find out more here.
In 1969, an essay by Carol Hanisch was published under the title “The Personal is Political”, a phrase that quickly became a feminist credo. Nearly half a century later, it resonates with anyone who sees that a patriarchal society impacts men, women and non-binary person negatively.
When the personal is political, the ‘everydayness’ of feminism comes to the fore – the small acts and thoughts that we distill from the volumes of feminist theory, and conferences, and public demonstrations, to make feminism an everyday practice. It’s the everydayness of these things that make feminism a force of positive social transformation.
But what does feminism in everyday life look like, exactly?
Mum does the cooking, and dad goes to work. That’s how it’s always been in so many households in India, so much so that even our films and advertisements find it difficult to show us anything else. But the arrangement is founded on an unequal and unfair distribution of labour. Cooking, cleaning and caring for children should not be the unpaid labour of women, but a responsibility shared by both mothers and fathers. (Oh, and it should go without saying, that in same-sex parent families, no one parent be charged with ‘the man’s work’ or ‘the woman’s work’!)
A child should never be discouraged from pursuing their dreams, just because of the gender assigned to them. Boys and male-identified children should be able to learn (and exploring serious careers in) art, dance, theatre, and care work. Similarly, girls and female-identified children should be able to do the same with the hard sciences, sport, politics and business. And no matter what field or work boys, girls (and non-binary children!) choose to pursue, educational institution should take the necessary steps to see them through.
Feminism recognises every individual’s right to make decisions about their own body. Along with this, comes the ability to respect a partner’s right to say no to certain advances. Consent is about mutual respect for personal boundaries. Ever heard the old adage that relationships are founded on honesty? Well, the feminist version also includes consent. As two slam poets once said, “Consent is a basic human right”, and making it a part of our everyday life is also part of practising feminism!
We live in a world that profits from feelings of doubt and shame about the size of our bodies, the colour of our skin, our features, body hair and more. Everything from fairness cream ads, to procedures like vaginal tightening, to the idolisation of certain body types deters us from loving ourselves. Instead of checking boxes off society’s long list of expectations, it’s important that we focus only on the goals we set for ourselves. And this includes help those around us to love themselves too!
When the workplace occupies a large portion of women’s everyday lives, it’s only right that it be one built on feminist principles – where a person’s access to opportunities, to personal safety, to decision making power and more are not circumscribed by their gender identity. A workplace like this is sensitive to the different needs of different people. A free and fair workplace provides flexible hours for working mothers (and fathers!), installs a sanitary pad dispenser for employees, ensures a safe environment for LGBTQ people by sensitising employees, and makes its immediate and surrounding premises accessible to persons with disabilities.
Part of feminism’s evolution has been an inward glance at its own shortcomings. This has led us from viewing gender purely in binary terms, to understanding it as a spectrum of identities. It’s helped us to fight for trans people as hard as we fight for cisgender women; for dalit and adivasi women with as much vigour as we fight for savarna (upper-caste) women; for LGBTQ+ rights alongside women’s rights; and made sure our feminism includes class, ethnicity, religion, able-bodiedness and more.
And all of this helps us to be more inclusive and supportive of the people in our everyday lives. Practising feminism in everyday life only draws us closer to achieving its larger goals of gender justice, bodily autonomy, equal opportunity and more.
Everyday acts like these have made feminism what it is – a collective effort for positive change. And when people – folks just like you and us – actively imbibe them, it’s only right to recognise them, and draw feminist inspiration from them.
The Martha Farrell Foundation was set up in February 2016, in the memory of Dr. Martha Farrell, a civil society leader, a gender rights activist, and a practitioner of everyday feminism, who worked on women’s rights, engendering institutions and adult education. The award ceremony will be held at 4pm, April 7, at the Nehru Memorial Auditorium, Teen Murthi Bhawan. Follow #MFAward and #StoriesofChange on Facebook and Twitter for live updates.