How Much of a ‘Real Feminist’ Are You?

Roma Thakur may not have the perfect comeback when people question her feminist leanings, but she has no intention of giving up.

By Roma Thakur

In day-to-day conversations with my male (and sometimes female) acquaintances, I am asked to prove how much of a “real feminist” I am. Accusations like, “Where were you when this happened to men?” or, “How is this equality if men can’t hit women but women can hit men?” are laid on me nice and thick.

As if I, a 25-year-old barely-passing graduate from a STEM field, could do that.

Had I been a liberal arts student in India, I would have at least had the minimum advantage of understanding the sociological and political structures associated with the systemic oppression of women for centuries in our country. But, alas, the only kind of gender studies I’ve been exposed to was being told to wear clothes that fell below my knees and not get any tattoos for fear of being called a woman of “loose character”.

I’ll be honest. I used to not be a feminist. The word always had a rather unpleasant undertone to it, like a rabid amazon brandishing a hammer, running behind men trying to knock their heads off. But luckily, I was part of the Harry Potter reading generation and grew up admiring Emma Watson, a dazzling, beautiful and glamorous feminist icon.

Emma Watson as Hermoine Granger in Harry Potter

Emma Watson was everything I wanted to be. She was desired by men, loved by women, and charmed kids and old people alike. She was the perfect oxymoron for me: an attractive feminist. She didn’t look like she was angry with the world for labelling her “too ugly”, she didn’t by any stretch seem sad about being rejected by men – she was Emma-fucking-Watson!

Because, you see, until that point, patriarchy had taught me that feminists were essentially women shunned by society – women who were not good enough or had “bad” characters. My school education had taught me that the world now respected both men and women as equal; we had female pilots and police commissioners and male nurses and air stewards. All was good in the world – who needed feminism?  

Of course, by now, most of you might have realised that everything you read in a textbook is not true. If you had not, I have some bad news for you.

It is difficult to say at what point I woke up to the imminent but nonetheless harsh realities of our world. Was it in my preteens, when the boys of my town followed girls while driving on mopeds, wolf-whistling, yelling and just, in general, scaring the bejesus out of them? Or was it in my second year at university when a rather large senior started stalking me around my college and paying-guest accommodation to finally corner me in a public corridor and get too close for my comfort?

By the time I worked with a slippery pervert of a team leader in my corporate office who hit on his younger female employees and manipulated their appraisals when they rejected him, I had, most definitively, realised there was something wrong with the world I was living in.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Fleabag

So, what is my definition of feminism you ask? I don’t have one. I often ask people to watch Fleabag and get in petty fights with my male friends over sentence structures and hypothetical gender dynamics. All too often, I block my male cousins on social media because they always have something snide to say about my “radical posts”, like calling out the boys involved in an Instagram chat group who shared unsolicited photos of minor girls and women and demeaned them.

Do I regret it? Yes, I regret the toll it takes on my mental health. But do I apologize? Not very often.

I agree in principle with the popular sentiment that we shouldn’t create kangaroo courts on social media to try men accused of gender crimes or misdemeanors, as this can lead to unexpected repercussions. This was evident in the recent case of a 17-year-old schoolboy killing himself after a girl wrote an Instagram post accusing him of molesting her two years earlier.

I also admit there will always be a chance of misuse and misdirection in calling out men in a virtual mass movement like #MeToo. But will that stop me from supporting the women that come forward with these allegations, even if they sometimes may not seek a legal route to pursue justice? No. As long as the legal justice system keeps reporting a conviction rate of less than 28 per cent of the total rape cases filed, I don’t think I will. For comparison, marital rape in India is still not a criminal offence and 99 per cent of total rape cases in our country go unreported. Let that sink in.

But rape is a mere symptom. It is a symptom of the disease that has resulted in the rot of Indian society, corrupting our maatrbhoomi (‘motherland’) and failing our women by making them slaves of patriarchy and a culture that burdens them with the traditional obligation of unpaid care work at home along with the modern responsibility of working in offices and “matching” up to the working “standards” of their privileged male co-workers.

Until then, let us keep watching Fleabag and squabbling over what kind of a feminist I am.

Roma Thakur is a freelance writer based in Pune

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