I have always been up for asking the right questions—the difficult ones, the ones that make people uncomfortable, the ones where I seemingly come out as the ‘Devil’s Advocate’.
And this started when I was young. I was the third girl child born in a small town of Jamshedpur in Jharkhand to a highly orthodox lower-middle-class family that wanted a son. Trust me, I had no option but to question. All through my adolescence, I wanted to be a boy, I didn’t want to ‘look like a girl’, I dressed up like boys—with short hair and pants for attire, I was athletic and got into fights and displayed a whole lot of ‘masculinity’. Things started to change when my body started becoming different, around 13. Suddenly, I was told to ‘sit properly’, eat like a lady, behave like ‘other girls’, dress a certain way, not to participate in sports, keep myself in the house and speak softly.
Until I started working in the development sector, I considered myself a feminist, all too proudly. I got my information from poorly made cinema, biased newspapers, and the chaotic internet; and I boxed myself into this category. Only when I started working on the ground, with government schools, in the remotest villages of India, in some challenging districts of the country, I realized how I had it all wrong. I then dived into literature and history to bring myself up to speed and started engaging with experts and people around me who had insights to offer.
Therefore, there is a critical need for intersectionality in feminism, defining it in a nuanced way and right from adolescence—in our families, in our schools, in our books, in our history, in our newspapers, in our entertainment, in our colleges and workplaces.
Feminism has nothing to do with ‘bra-burning’ behaviour, being rebellious, hating men or for that matter being away from femininity and womanhood. Feminism cannot be (and I quote Urvashi Butalia) a static way of thinking. The feminist movements have also evolved a lot, right from when it started in the 1980s to now. The SlutWalks, The Pink Chaddi campaign, the POSH Act, and the recent #MeToo movement – are only a part of what feminism is about. And it is important to understand that, especially in a country like India where people’s social identities are diverse and are interlinked with income, business, and economy.
Feminism is against inequality, injustice, oppression, patriarchal norms.
Feminism is for equity, justice, equality, for all genders, for all human beings.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, the law professor at Columbia and UCLA coined the term intersectionality almost 30 years back as a perspective or to simplify a lens that could be used to see how different forms of inequality are interconnected and play out in a social setting.
For example, there is a report to show how ‘White Women’ earn less than their male counterparts in the US. The same report also highlights how Women of colour earn even less than white women. Here, the identity of both race and gender are interlinked to create a certain level of discrimination and oppression.
Another relatable example – An upper-caste woman from a middle-income household vs. a ‘lower caste’ woman from a high-class family vs a trans woman from an Islamic state in an educational institution have different experiences based on their caste, class, religion, gender, and sexuality.
According to me, this lens to feminism has made/is making the movement a lot more inclusive, bringing together people from all genders, economic standards, races, religions, sexual orientations, immigrant status, educational backgrounds, geographical settings so that their voices can be heard. There is an increasing need for everyone to realize that one is experiencing life because of their multiple identities.
I am a first-generation female Engineer in my family. The moment I got placed in a top MNC, my parents started getting marriage propositions from eligible men from the same community. Because it was difficult to find girls who had ‘Beauty with Brains’. This went on until I turned 25. I kept putting my foot down because I wanted to focus on my career and my relationships then.
Why do you think it stopped? Because I had crossed the marriageable age, and something was ‘wrong’ with me. I got married last year after I turned 28. There is also an unsaid expectation for married women to look a certain way, deliver on certain fronts as a new bride, and create off-springs at the earliest. These micro-incidents interlink my education, my location, my body, my relationship status, my caste, my career aspirations, my social circle, my gender, my sexuality, my desires into something extremely complex. And all of it makes me Nitisha, who can share her story on this platform.
There is no right or wrong. As human beings, we are the choices we make; and every individual has the freedom to make those choices. People need to start accepting that everyone has agency, especially women who are making these choices – if they are the ones making them.
Women are not a different species – we are a part of the society and it is a complex relationship. So, where do we go from here?
The Global Gender Gap report was released by the World Economic Forum in 2019 and mentions how it will take 100 years to achieve Gender Parity worldwide. And it still misses out on acknowledging the Gender is not limited to the binary anymore. So, we have a long way to go.
And I feel very confident in saying that we are on the right track. It took 90+ women to report Harvey Weinstein and 5 years of court proceedings, but he has been found guilty of rape.
It might come slowly and with a lot of hard work and effort, but feminism will come for sure.
And as Nivedita Menon says in ‘Seeing Like a Feminist’, “Feminism is not about that moment of final triumph but the gradual transformation of the social field so decisively that old markers shift forever.