Captain Tania Shergill has created history by becoming the first woman to command an all-men contingent on the 72nd Army Day Parade. The 26-year-old will also be seen executing the Republic Day Parade this year, again another first for any women in the army. While one cannot stop gushing over this cool woman in uniform, Shergill’s feat has sparked a debate around feminism on social media. A man recently shared her picture on Twitter, writing “This is feminism” above it and posted a picture of women partying right next to it, captioning it with “This is not”. Does Shergill embody feminism in truest of sense? Of course, she does? But does that mean that women who choose to party or live life on their terms don’t? Must feminism be defined as per patriarchal convenience?

SOME TAKEAWAYS:

  • Tania Shergill is being hailed as the embodiment of true feminism on social media.
  • One Twitter user compared her image at the Army Day parade with that of women partying, deeming that the latter didn’t represent feminism.
  • Why do others get to choose what feminism should mean for each and every woman?
  • Patriarchy approves of feminism only when it caters to its regressive boundaries.

For conservative individuals, feminism is acceptable when it advocates women empowerment within the constraints of patriarchy.

What is feminism? Those who do not understand this concept seem to boast the most of having a clear idea about what it is. Curiously, it is people who love to troll women who advocate equality by calling them “feminazi”, who seem to approve of such comparisons the most. This happens irrespective of gender. According to a certain section of the society women championing sports, achieving breakthroughs in fields like STEM or medicine, or breaking glass ceilings or gender barriers in fields like the army or corporate world are the true embodiment of feminism. Women who party, wear short clothes, or are rude (read outspoken) aren’t.

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People with such a mindset are partially right. Women like Shergill, PV Sindhu or Shooter Dadis are indeed the true embodiment of feminism. But this is where their understanding of feminism goes haywire. You see, for conservative individuals, feminism is acceptable when it advocates women empowerment within the constraints of patriarchy. They want daughters who serve the nation, polite bahus who are successful at work, but can handle household chores like cooking with equal expertise, or sisters like PV Sindhu who are ace sportsmen but also visit temples. Remember the picture of Sindhu wearing a saree, holding a kalash over her head, that was captioned “A successful woman can do both with perfection,” by someone on Twitter?

It is unfair to compare a woman in a different setting, behaving in a certain way to another woman whose conduct you approve of in an altogether different environment.

What these people do not understand is that the very essence of feminism is the advocacy of unconditional equality and empowerment of every person. Yes, feminism advocates women’s increased appointment in the armed forces at the officer’s level, but it also advocates women’s right to choose. To live life on their terms. A woman can join the army, play tennis, act in films, wear short clothes, party till the wee hour, marry a person she loves, choose work over marriage or maternity. The bottom line being, a woman has the right to choose how she wants to live, and that’s feminism for you, boiled down in a sentence.

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It is unfair to compare a woman in a different setting, behaving in a certain way to another woman whose conduct you approve of in an altogether different environment. Because then, you are defining and eventually limiting choices for women, taking away their agency and using the very ideology that advocates their emancipation to police them. And feminism doesn’t approve of that.

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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