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Opinion: Liberal Feminism Won’t Lead To Women’s Liberation

More from Gaurav Juyal

TW: Mentions of rape, racism

Let’s learn something right off the bat- liberal feminism is a termite. Liberal feminism does to resistance movements what termites do to your house- threaten the structural integrity without you even noticing! The worst that can happen to a solid, well-organized feminist movement built and led by women is a liberal infestation. Liberals are like wedding crashers- they take your tables, eat your food, and blend in until their stomachs are full or they get made. But there’s one difference- wedding crashers do not impede or obstruct or slow down the weddings. The same cannot be said for liberal feminists and here’s why. 

Applying Fair and Lovely

The pushback against Fair And Lovely led to a name change but these racist skin brightening creams still dominate the market.

Liberal feminists throw in a bunch of liberal demands into the mix. What follows is the shift from original demands to asking for the bare minimum. And capitalism is more than happy to throw them a bone. And the bone has so many takers that people wouldn’t dare to question the pay-off to the movement. In less than a week, we read a five-slide essay on Instagram by a liberal feminist (who brought their camera to film the parade because that’s what they do) on how corporations are forced to fall in line when all women band together.

But it’s far from the truth- most people take the bait, the movement doesn’t achieve any of the actual intended goals, and those who built the movement from scratch watch it gasp for air. That is why Fair & Lovely is now Glow & Lovely, and racism is alive and fairness creams are still a thing. That is why predators get their own comedy special because women can always choose not to watch it. That is why Johnny Depp is the victim. That is why a woman wearing a bikini by choice seems more empowered than a woman wearing a burqa by choice

Progress Or Tokenism?

Liberal feminism is not a threat to either patriarchy or capitalism. It hardly even acknowledges capitalism as the parent of all problems. Liberal feminism aspires to thrive within the capitalist system and not dismantle it. It doesn’t push for anything that matters, and if it does, it doesn’t push enough. If more women can become CEOs, get on magazine covers, join the army, run a successful all-women porn company, become spoken word artists, and get equal prize money as male footballers, liberal feminism has achieved almost all of its goals.

And if that is more or less everything that liberal feminists advocate, women should be scared. Liberal feminism wants you to believe that Harry Styles and Michelle Obama and Ellen DeGeneres are more than what they are- Western celebrities. Hollywood would rather remake white movies with black characters than write a movie for black actors. In liberal feminism, there is no calling out sexist peers or calling for dismantling the system that protects molesters and gaslights victims. But at least there’s a lot of WAP and a lot of cultural appropriation and a lot of sex with women on top. What’s more empowering than the aforementioned things, right?   

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Liberal feminism supports Hillary Clinton despite the fact that she supports all the tools of the oppressing class.

Liberal feminism puts women in politics, businesses, and Hollywood on a pedestal, and wants you to picture them when you think of empowered women. You see them on television, magazine covers, billboards, and Instagram, so much that you can’t even name five feminists that are not movie stars or white.

You are made to feel guilty for not supporting Hillary (who could have been the first female president of the United States), conveniently ignoring that she represents everything women are fighting against- war, violence, compliance with status quo, privilege, and inequality. Women supporting women is a good campaign name for the papers as long as it is everyone supporting privileged women and not the other way around. This feels like a nice segue to argue that liberal feminism isn’t intersectional at all. 

Liberal feminism works for white people in rich countries and rich people in poor countries. It is designed to serve the middle and upper class. It gives us weak struggles to care for. It keeps us too distracted and less-informed to choose our battles based on our oppression. More women in politics mean nothing if they do not care for women everywhere and their rights. More women in the military mean nothing if men in the military get away with raping women in Afghanistan and Iraq. More LGBTQ representation means nothing if it dismisses the struggles of queer Muslims who practice their faith.

Does Liberal Feminism Take Intersectionalities Into Account?

This is what liberal feminism fails to take into account, and therefore ends up doing more harm than good for women around the world. Women everywhere face domestic abuse, poor working conditions, and sexual harassment. But if you’re not white or rich, getting justice becomes more challenging.

If you’re a woman from a minority religion, it is twice as hard for you to fight back or get help from the police or the government. If you are poor and not an upper-caste woman in India, you are A. killed for drinking water from a public lake or eating in front of upper-caste men or B. raped in front of your kids because your husband refused to cut a tree at the rapist’s farm. Why doesn’t liberal feminism talk about these women when it talks about the liberation of women around the world? The answer is very simple. It cannot.

We cannot expect racist and violent police forces to keep us safe or hold their officers accountable, book them for countless fake encounters, and kill black teens, and raping women in custody. They need to be defunded and eventually abolished. Similarly, liberal feminism needs to die. However, termites do not go away on their own. If they are allowed to, they will destroy your house from the inside until it is too late.

If feminism is not intersectional, then it is anything but feminism. Working women of the world must unite to put an end to the plague of liberal feminism. It’s time for women to realize that liberal feminism has been holding them back, offering them breadcrumbs when the loaf is for the taking.

Feature image is for representational purposes only.
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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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