Monday, November 24, 2008

On Feminism

IHM put me in quite a spot by tagging me on something like this. I have oscillated between calling myself an all-out feminist to being the occasional borderline misogynist. So you can see why it was difficult for me to even begin this post. Then, if I had to write this, I would have to THINK my way out of the mess in my head! Thinking hurts the head. IHM... at this point I feel positively misogynistic! ;-)

In my teens & twenties I had this simple logic: Girls are so beautiful, so demure. I like everything about them. They're great to be with. Much more fun than playing with the boys. So I was a self-proclaimed feminist.

Even today, check out my reasons for wanting to sit through a Bollywood item number:
Priyanka Chopra, Lara Dutta, Neha Dhupia, Tanushree Dutta, Riya Sen, Bipasha Basu, Celina Jaitley, Katrina Kaif, Yana Gupta...
If I was either Akbar or Samudragupta, these women would've been the Navratans (Nine Gems) of my court! Or would they be adorning my harem? Am I confusing art with biology?
But you get the point, don't you? I love women. Everything about them. I'd give them their rights! Hell I'd give them mine! Dashratha even gave his son's rights to one! Now there's a feminist if there ever was one!
I'd actually like 18 Gems. I have a list beyond the one I've given above. That way I could have them in my court & in my harem!

But jokes aside, I've always been a big champion of equal rights. My feminism is probably a branch of that tree.
I've been raised by a single Mother. With a fiercely independent younger sister. And a housefull of aunts & female cousins. Maybe that has something to do with my understanding of their myriad moods, with my general affinity for women and my desire to see them treated well.

I've been victim to some bullying during my first few years in Bombay. Until I finally learnt how to fight. But even in these initial years, my distaste for street brawls didn't stop me from taking a stand when it came to women. I will relate an incident here:

My first job entailed being clean shaven & dressed in a tie. Barely 22, I hardly looked intimidating. I was travelling on a crowded BEST bus to work, seated thankfully, when I heard a commotion up in front.
There was this huge man yelling at a woman, "What did I do? Did I touch you?".
The woman was apparently protesting his standing too close in the crowded bus. She was too far away to hear & probably intimated. She (softly & bravely) probably said something like, "Please stand a little further away".
The said huge man got bolder, "DID I TOUCH YOU? WHAT DID I DO, HAAN? DID I PUT MY FINGER IN YOUR BUM?"
The poor woman mumbled something in protest...
Huge man: "Shut up. I've seen enough like you. You get them for 50 bucks on the streets."

At this point something stirred inside 22 year old, boy-faced, clean shaven, tie-clad, 5'7" me. The same me that preferred to walk away from brawls, suddenly stood up & roared (I have a voice that is 6'3"), "SHUDDAP!!!"
Huge man whirled around: "Who said that?"
I roar back, "I DID!"
Huge man: "How's it any of your business?"
Huge man tried to move towards me, but he was far & the bus was crowded. He mumbled something about it not being any of my business, but I roared back: "THAT'S NO WAY TO TALK TO A LADY!!!"
By this time, the bus had come to life. A few more women stood up and started berating Huge man. One gent got up & offered his seat to the poor lady who bore the brunt of Huge man's attack. Huge man backed off seeing that he was hopelessly outnumbered by now. (And THAT is also why I keep saying that it takes just one voice to start a revolution! THAT is also why I am on the blogosphere!)

When I got off at my stop, some old ladies got off with me. They smiled at me, patted me on the head/shoulder & said, "God Bless you my son."
That moment I am still proud of, over 11 years later.

Like I said I'm a feminist.

I am however not blind anymore (as the teenaged me used to be) to the faults of women & women feminists. (Nor is my so-called feminist record that clean anymore as frequenters to the Mutiny will happily vouch for; but this is not a confessional...). Women are not perfect creatures. No one is. They have their faults and reams have been written on them by William Shakespeare & Jerry Pinto alike!

The problem that some feminists face is a lack of objectivity. They tend to make feminism a little like what the current (as opposed to back then) Dalit rights movement in India has degenerated into. Loud, Partisan & represented by crass Mayawatis instead of classy women. When a Shobha De is celebrated by feminists, I cringe. Just as I cringe when Chetan Bhagat is celebrated as an author!

There is a strong need to pick the right role models, the right causes, and go about them in a classy manner, a manner befitting women.
This last phrase is no doubt going to cause irritation to the average feminist.
And therein lies the problem.
In trying to break the mold, they shatter everything that is feminine or is likable about women. They didn't fight to be recognized for what they were. They tried to become like those who they thought were their oppressors!
Women are nice because they are gentle, soft-spoken, feminine, kind, they smell good, etc. etc. Hope for a better world lies in some of those very traits. What good comes from discarding all of that??? What good comes from being a coarse, loud, manly, uncouth, smelly woman? THAT is not feminism to me. That is taking feminism too far... too far from what it set out to achieve!

Every ~ism runs the risk of having factions that tend towards the extreme. We've all seen that happen in history & in our times as well. Communism... Capitalism...
This is a danger feminism must guard against.

Not doing so will elicit such responses from their own ilk. The said blogger is an extremely talented writer (among other things) and it would be a shame to not have her on the side of moderate feminism.

Edit: A blend, a fine balance, the middle path are what enhance everything. Even feminism.
To me feminism could also mean treating women as equals. No special privileges. Same tough talk as the men get. Same rough language...?
It could also mean being the man of the house, taking care of our women, providing for them, treating them like delicate pieces of china, pulling out chairs for them, old world chivalry. Chaperoning too...?
Or it could mean striking a balance between these two. Taking the best of both worlds and giving it to women worldwide!
So that women can have their cake & eat it too! NOW that would be Feminism!
Except that only a handful of really secure men would want to give it willingly. And the rest would call them minority appeasers! Such a shame...
Over to the feminists now. Tell us what you'd prefer.

And oh yes... I tag Annie, Sanjukta, Yaamyn, Ketan & Utopianthots. Any other interested takers?


  1. Nice post, a lil patrionising but nice.
    I abhor the "Shobha De" feminism as much as the "Nari Mukti Morcha" feminism. But you know what I abhor most, people calling me a feminist cause I choose not to change my surname (I refuse to call it my maiden name). To begin with I would like to retain the right to be called what I want without being branded as a feminist or raising eyebrows.

  2. Will comment at leisure, right now just want to make a point, that Feminism is simply understanding that women are HUMANS too. In fact they as well as men are humans first.

    'Women are nice because they are gentle, soft-spoken, feminine, kind, they smell good, etc. etc.'
    - Yeah but then we will not have Kalpana Chawlas, Kiran Bedis and Snia Mirzsa, Indira Nooyees etc. Not all women are born beautiful, and if they were 'gentle' always, they will never be able to stand up against exploitation and control in the name of 'protection'. Both happen and even the most intelligent women are made helpless. Also aren't most of these qualities equally nice in men also? Why call them 'feminine'?

    Hope for a better world lies in some of those very traits.
    - It may suit the 'world' but what about the woman's (or a man's) own personal make up? I think it should be their own choice.

    What good comes from discarding all of that???
    - Discarding doesn't figure. Many girls are forced to be all these - they are born more like Aditi of 'Jane tu ya jane naa' or like Scarlett O'Hara ... what do they do then? Just like many boys are forced to 'tough', sensitive boys are given ridiculous names, all in the name of being manly!

    What good comes from being a coarse, loud, manly, uncouth, smelly woman? THAT is not feminism to me.
    - Now being 'loud', crass are uncouth are not gentlemanly traits either! Basic polite social behavior is becoming in all.

    That is taking feminism too far... too far from what it set out to achieve!
    -I think the basic thing (sometimes in ridiculously ways perhaps)feminism aimed to acheive was justice, fair and equal treatment, it does not mean 'becoming like men' at all ...

    Expecting all women to be soft, tender hearted, and traditionally 'feminine' is unfair of all the woomen who just aren't made like that, but are still wonderful people. (Just like it isn't right to expect all men to be macho, the world needs sensitive men too)

    I think feminism, both for men and women, is more about questioning set norms, and not falling into the stereotypes trap.

    So if a little girl loves to climb trees, she could still be a wonderful person, or if a boy/man is terrified of the dark or of insects, he might still be a scholar ...

    Feminism does not mean women should be men, it just means all the people be themselves.

    LOl @ 'vishesh tippani'

  3. IHM,

    Thanks for the pre-comment. PHEW! ;-)


    1. I said somewhere that my feminism is a branch of my human equality tree.

    2. All women (or all people) are beautiful. If onw can't see it, it's their problem. Kalpana is beautiful because of being intelligent, hard-working & an achiever. Ditto Kiran Bedi. I have not seen Kiran Bedi come across as coarse or super-tough in any of the interviews that I've seen of hers. Nor did I find Indira Gandhi unfeminine. Neither Sonia. She's tough, isn't she?
    Sania is positively feminine, absolutely delectable. Have you seen her on the recent Cosmopolitan cover? She looks like a model!
    Gandhiji stood up against exploitation & control. Without being rough. He was gentle in speech & action. Throughout.
    Point taken on qualities. It's a mix of the yin & yang and the middle path argument I guess.

    3. I'm not that big a fan of extreme individualism anymore. My teen years are over. I'm a fan of what YFS founder Venkatesh calls ISR (Individual Social Responsibility).

    4. I don't think women who aren't soft & tender hearted qualify as wonderful people. They may be achievers or celebrities but not wonderful people.
    And the sensitive man is a couple of steps from being bullied relentlessly if not gay! Macho is good. It's a trait propagated for defence of self & the women.
    I like a girl that climbs trees, knows kickboxing & can throw me to the floor in a judo manouvre, but can still look pretty, have a nice bright smile and want to have kids!
    I think certain stereotypes were invented by nature.

    I totally agree that feminism should not mean that women try to become like men. I'm just not too sure of the letting people be themselves argument. It's a very gay rights movement kind of statement & I'm not sure of what it does for feminism specifically.


  4. You say,
    1. "I'm just not too sure of the letting people be themselves argument. It's a very gay rights movement kind of statement"
    You are against Gay Rights Movement and individual freedom? We should live by rules made by some other people - probably rules which suited them better?

    2. Will go through the link.

    3. 'but can still look pretty, have a nice bright smile ...' Isn't that being a little superficial?

    4. 'and want to have kids!'
    About kids I think women must have a choice here, if they love kids and want to raise them only then they should have kids.
    There as a time it was a curse for women to be 'baanjh', they were shunned in society, such expectations can be unfair to women who not wish to have or can't have kids. I think we should let women be people first. Men too.

    Women should be able to take care of themselves, because there is no guarantee that a macho man will be around when they need help. Courage is admirable in all humans. very admirable.

  5. You were really brave when you stood up for that woman in the bus, I agree that one voice can create a revolution! You were not being a feminist, I am sure you would have done the same for a child, or another person - you were just being someone who can't sit and watch injustice. Hats off.

    It's good to blog about such stuff, sometimes others might see this also as an option when they have got used to ignoring injustice. If one person thinks before walking away from an incident like this, you've achieved so much!

  6. IHM,

    1. I'll just say that I'm not for it. Against it is taken as too politically incorrect. Not that I care too much for political correctness, but I do care about taking too absolute a stand.
    My personal stand on homosexuality: It's against the laws of nature. Any other philosophical takes on it be damned.
    Taking a life is a no-no.
    Ditto homosexuality.

    3. Not really. It's attractive. Pleasant.

    4. Should they? Theoritically they should have a choice. About when? Not about if.
    Why is going against nature so much in vogue these days?

    Courage is admirable in everyone yes. And a female karateka (a la Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) is yum!

  7. 1. About Homosexuality. Heard about victimless crimes?
    I know this unhappy person, the kindest, sweetest guy who refused to marry any girl and ruin her life, left the country and is happily settled with a guy. Both are happy. Nobody is hurt. Immediate family was shocked at first, now they have accepted him. Until I heard him I did not even know homosexuality 'really' existed (at least not in India, I thought), he also didn't. Now of course he talks about the trauma he went through, not understanding why he was different. Even if we consider him 'abnormal', doesn't he have a right to live, he is not hurting anyone, in fact he is protecting some poor girl who would have been married to him.

  8. IHM,

    I'm happy for him.
    I'm happy that he is happy.
    I believe he has the right to be happy as opposed to sad.

    I still do not think what he is doing is OK.

    A little like, I may not agree with what you're saying, but I will defend your right to say it...

  9. Oh wow u tagged me. Will write soon...

  10. 1con, I am so sorry I read this post...I used to like you.

    Am so saddened that while you are so wise aware and well read on matters of state politics, you are so blatantly ignorant of sexual politics. Concept of Gender, sexuality, stereotypes and the accompanying roles and responsibility are something you have never read about or tried to understand. And this when you "been raised by a single Mother. With a fiercely independent younger sister. And a housefull of aunts & female cousins."

    There are literature available on such topics as a branch of scientific study, please google and read. I'd send some links too...

    You so should understand sexual politics to be a complete man, a man who is wise not just in matters that affects only him.

    As starters you might want to read this

  11. sanju...

    I'm always eager to learn.
    But I insist that the points are making are valid if you can see them without feminist glasses.

  12. The points are not valid at all because the very premise on which they are formed is wrong. And I am using the word, 'wrong'

    not philosophically misunderstood, just factually wrong, that premise being nature. Blah things are natural and blah blah things

    are unnatural.

    What do you think is natural? Anything that is part of this nature and not coming from Mars is natural right? (i mean as of now,

    till we find solid proof that there r life in other planets too, coz then they wud also be natural)

    Then how come a certain thing which is wished for by a certain person is unnatural? isn't that person's wish a part of this

    nature? A man wants to love another man how is this unnatural when both men are part of the nature?

    Everything is natural. Distinction have to be made between which natural thing is harmful to others and which is not.

    Homosexuality is not harmful, then how can you say it is 'wrong'?

    Consentual incestuous relationship: why should it be called wrong unless it is proven to be harmful?

    Because incestuous couple produce defective offspring? ok, but what if a couple don't want to procreate at all? Why should the

    society have a problem with that?

    Secondly, where in the true state of nature, did you see, that female species are gentle, kind, soft spoken or smell good?

    Can you differentiate between the bark of a he-dog from a she-dog? does the bitch bark softly? Don't the bitch bite if provoked?

    and does it bite any softly than compared to the Dog? Can you tell from their smell who is a he-cat and who is a she-cat? You

    think the tigress wouldn't eat you but the Tiger would, and do you think the tigress teaches her she-cubs to be polite and kind

    and teaches the he-cubs to be aggressive.

    Now, what consists a larger part of this nature, us humans or the animals? If in the entire animal kingdom there are no such

    male female norms to follow then why is it considered natural to set these norms amongst us humans?

    Why is it only human that creates rules and teaches our children to follow them? Specially when these rules are harmful to

    half of the human kind, the females.

    You are well read on the matters of the world, tell me 1con, do you not see how many women lives are lost / destroyed

    because of gender norms, from dowry to honor killings, don't you realise all such evils inflicted upon the women all over the

    world is rooted to the reason that they didn't follow rules?

    Why do we teach the daughters to be soft spoken, weak, it not to control them? If these are sought after virtues why

    don't we want our sons to be the same, why must the men be tough and women soft? WHY?

    ‘natural’ – after thousands of years have gone into suppressing a behavior, the suppression becomes a culture, it gets deeply

    embedded and carried forward through our genes - and we end up calling it ‘natural’. There was no suppression in true state of


    No woman is ever born with any of the female traits you mentioned, they are tought to aquire them, our sexual organs don't

    determine our behaviour or charecteristics, how we talk, walk, think, dream, dress etc. they are determined by what society

    expects from us and what role and responsibilities it imposes upon us.

    I can go on but I am not here to change anybody's perception. A wise man would learn on his own, that's my firm believe. And

    as for you, lets just say we'd stick to state politics :)

  13. Why do you moderate comments.. I don't like it :|

    and the word verification is such a pain...

  14. Oh! Wow! If not for Matt's fabulous wordpress counters I wouldn't even know that I was being talked bout. The obligatory caveat aside (talented(?) writer etc), I think there is a lovely radical feminist invective that one can launch into and educate a little but that will have to wait because right now I am bleeding with my city. Because we were kinda attacked and stuff.
    So, in a while, I shall dispense with wisdom. Or bloodshed. Or both.

    p.s.: I keep doing this on most blogs I discover via mutiny because there seems to a universal chaos about feminisms' (notice the pluralization of term?)interpretation - Please read The Second Sex before such epithet muddled monolgues about "women and men are equal" yada yada yada. Because they aren't. Enough historical, biological, anthropological and psychological data to support that cause. And the book is an excellent starting point to induct people into conceptual feminism before activist zeal takes over.

    p.p.s: This is also where my inner Sherlock would say, Why, Watson - Gender Studies! Elementary!

    And, um, err, for someone claiming to be a feminist (?) it's slightly debilitating to see you ask women to read this without "feminist" glasses. It's counter productive then to wax eloquent bout moderate(haha) feminism. I am sorry but those are the only glasses that were prescribed to me.

    Cheerios. Despite what Paglia may spit out, contrarians are just not hip. No?

    -Suburban Noise Machine

  15. You think homosexuality is against nature. Ahem. Why?
    What's so unnatural about being gay?
    Err. Elaborate. With scholarly chops et al. Coz this, I would love to hear.
    Son, you have a long to way to go before you stake any claim to being a "feminist".

    - Suburban Noise Machine

  16. Nice post..
    But I will not call that feminist behaved responsibly and that's good. Just like you said any "ism" is bad....and I agree one should just learn to be human being.
    Keep it up!

  17. You didn't publish my comment? How could you do this?

  18. All,

    Thanks for your comments & sorry for the delay in publishing them. I was trying to wrangle myself away from the Mutiny!!!

    First up, I wrote this post only because I was tagged. I'm no expert on radical feminism (is there a moderate feminism, coz it doesn't seem to be on display here?).

    Will reply to each of your points time permitting. I want to!!!

  19. "Will reply to each of your points time permitting. I want to!!!"

    Achcha? Kahan hai response? Phans gaya saala. :)

  20. I agree with Sanjukta. Completely.

    I have realised sometimes even the most Democratic amongst us might think all should get justice in Rome except women :(

  21. keffir...

    bin jaane muh khologe toh foot-in-mouth disease ho jayegi

    Samay se Pehle aur Bhagya se Adhik kisi ko kuch nahi milta!

    Intezaar kariye.

    I've just signed off the Mutiny. I will hopefully have more time to devote to this blog. I will answer. I want to.


    Mine is a hastily written post, a poorly thought-out post, because your tag forced me to think about this issue deeply for the first time. I went out on a limb & wrote it & the more I think about it, the more I realize that I had a zillion other things to say here that got left out. I will respond to you all & hopefully do a follow up post on feminism. That doesn't mean I don't stand by this post. I am just saying that it doesn't completely represent my stance.

  22. You'll answer by displaying your prejudices? Theek hai, intezaar karte hain aur majaa lete hain tumhare anokhe vichaaron ka. :-)

  23. Sanjukta,

    After all we've err..shared...u deserve a hug for that long post. (( Sanjukta ))

  24. u hv mentioned all my fave actresses, except one. ayesha takia. providence gave her a fulsome bosom & a very apt surname!

    and katrina's loooooooooooooong legs. those micro minis tantalize with the promise of even more in that song from Welcome. there isn't a better pair of legs in hindi filmdom.

    and YANA.......................... the lady who rules a million wet dreams, the classy looking beauty who despite her innocent face evokes carnal desire in anything with an XY chromosome! that milky, voluptuous, curvy body is a temple where all men are worshippers aspiring to be the resident deity. and some women too i'm sure! ;-)

  25. baap re baap...! bhai, ek ek kar ke please!

    Let me start chronologically.


    I get your natural-Mars-Earth analogy.
    What purpose it serves I can't seem to understand.
    - What is the purpose of 2 genders?
    - Doesn't "The Naked Ape" suggest that the bodies of men & women were meant to experience pleasure at each other's stimulation?
    - Stimulation is possible through a plethora of sex toys as well. Plastic. Would you call that Natural? Organic? I didn't think so.

    - Consentual incestuous UGH.....! Whatever!
    Look if they don't want to procreate, what're they doing together? They just wanna hump each other? Can't find anyone else? Sexual attraction within families. There is a reason why this isn't meant to work, why genetics fails in such cases.

    That everything is natural argument doesn't cut any ice with me.

    Gotta run for now. Will be back with more later.

  26. sanju...

    I continue...

    "Secondly, where in the true state of nature, did you see, that female species are gentle, kind, soft spoken or smell good?"

    They're not? My experiences with women taught me that they're soft-spoken as compared to men (in number terms). They're gentler, kinder, less aggressive & less prone to violent outbursts.
    Not that I haven't seen the other kind, but they're referred to as shrews & other such things.

    I think your larger part of nature argument fails hopelessly if you consider this:
    All females nurture, protect etc.
    You have enough proof of this all around you. Do you see the male of the species doing the nurturing? Who has that instinct? The female, right? And doesn't nurturing entail being gentle?

    No rules are created for humans. Rules were written by nature. Until ultra-feminists, like ultra-nationalists came along.

    And just for the record, anyone is free to flout the rules of nature (or man for that matter). Women getting killed for not following rules is more lamentable than women rejecting the roles nature foresaw for them. Don't confuse the two. My being on one side of the argument doesn't mean I justify the other.

    If you believe that women are a) taught to be weak & fragile, so that b) they could be controlled, you're not only wrong, you're also a bit paranoid.


    Would rather read you than write to you, but my argument against homosexuality is in the comment above this one.


    I'm done puking. Now you can eat.
    And by the way, it's pronounced mazaa not majaa, you illiterate... :-D



  27. Maybe you'd like to read THIS about being masculine ...

  28. I did IHM, thanks.

    She's saying what I'm saying. It's just that no one else seems to get it.

    I guess some of you are looking at me as a "male"-writer and are therefore not able to drop their wariness. Am I being viewed through "feminist glasses"?


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