Edited by Vanishree
The feminist movement has evolved constantly since its conception. We’ve come a long way from where we began, but unfortunately it just so happens that legal equality does not imply social equality. Now, in many developed and developing nations, it has progressed from the fight for voting and property rights to more nuanced issues like abuse, sexual assault, and the wage gap. Socially, women find themselves, even in the most progressive parts of the world, treated like second-class citizens. Even down to an individual level, we face all kinds of trials and tribulations that men may not even see on a daily basis.
The beauty of feminism is that even though it is a movement built for women, the participants need not be of any particular gender identity! And at the end of the day, it results in a better society for everyone, regardless of their social status. Even men, who have been conditioned for centuries regarding archaic notions of masculinity, need feminism. Toxic masculinity can cause severe mental health issues, which may result in violent or misogynistic behavior. It hurts men just as much as it hurts women and the only way to combat it is through feminism.
We may believe that we don’t hold complexes regarding gender, but the truth is, remaining silent about issues around you is equivalent to supporting the perpetuator. This is why I will always say that unless everyone accepts responsibility in educating themselves about feminism, we cannot move forward as a species. As a member of society, there are some things you can do, to ensure a less toxic, more equal environment for the women around you.
In our quest for equality, we often forget to acknowledge that not all women come from the same background. A cis-gendered, upper caste, upper-class woman will not have the same experiences when it comes to misogyny as a woman from any other social setting. However, chances are high that the former takes up more room in the movement than the latter. In situations like this, issues faced by underprivileged women are not voiced and hence go unresolved. Intersectionality, a framework for understanding a person’s overlapping social and political identities, comes into play here. Accepting that struggle is not unilateral and encouraging dialogue about privilege is one of the first steps to take, and it attempts to make feminism more accessible to all.
All of us have been raised in a patriarchal society, and no matter how much we don’t want to admit it, it unconsciously affects our way of thinking too. This can manifest as internalized misogyny and can take a pretty heavy toll, not just on how we see others, but on how we see ourselves. Combating internalized misogyny can be pretty tricky because we often assume ourselves to be the epitome of political correctness. It is a learning process, which involves conscious correction of language and behaviour. However, it is of utmost importance to do this, as it helps us to reflect upon all the times we’ve displayed rampant sexism. I myself had battled with it in the past, and I’m still unlearning my mistakes to this day. You can read more about my experience, and how internalized sexism affects us here.
Raising Your Voice
Often we tend to skip the first two steps and go directly to step three. But without enough consideration to your own psychology, you may find yourself acting hypocritically when it comes to raising your voice. Of course, it is our constitutional right to be able to publicly call out things that we sense are violating. However, we must ask ourselves if by doing so are we taking space away from a less privileged individual, or if our judgment itself is rooted in stereotypes. If the answer to both of these questions is no, then it’s time to call people out. This is especially difficult to do in situations where there is an obvious power dynamic; say, calling out an older relative or a teacher when they say or post problematic things. In such situations, it is important to not apologize for taking a stand, or for your opinion. We have been conditioned to “respect” people who have power over us, but understand that is not a warrant for them to behave problematically, and that you absolutely do not have to put up with any nonsense of that kind.
This isn’t really a step; more like something that is to be done at every step so far. This fight isn’t something that can be achieved by one person alone. It is a collective effort, crafted over centuries of resistance and protests. If we do not empathize with women, listen to them and support them in their own personal growth as feminists, we can’t mobilize. When a woman shows the courage to share her story publicly, make your support loud and clear. If she confides in you personally, do not treat it as gossip. Instead, offer any form of support you can. Do not support celebrities, social media stars, or any public figures who have repeatedly displayed aggressive acts of sexism. Try not to stay friends or maintain personal relationships with known abusers. If you like someone problematic, and you show your support for them, or even stay silent on the issue, you’re part of the problem.
Hopefully, by including these things in various aspects of your life, you’re helping a lot of women out there (maybe even yourself). While there is a long way to go for a society where men and women are truly equal, we are making our way there, slowly but steadily. Never stop fighting for your rights. Long live the revolution!