Sandhya is tired of being chided by her friends for being political : something she feels doesn’t just come naturally to her, but is a necessity in these times. No sooner has she drawn a breath to dive into a politically charged discussion, she either gets dismissed, or is branded as a feminist or a leftist who “just doesn’t understand”. Or has “a one point agenda.” Like Sandhya I have faced this issue too- of being walled off from a conversation for either being left leaning, or a feminist, or both. Oh you feminists, can’t you stop talking about equality for a second, I have been told to my face. If only patriarchy took a breather so that us feminists could stop talking about equality and empowerment for just one second, I thought to myself, but didn’t say it out loud. Isn’t that what a lot of us do when we are chided for speaking up on an issue – bite our tongue and ignore the jibe? But how does that solve anything?
Rudrani feels that it is harder for her to get a point across in a political discussion because it is assumed that she doesn’t have a bandwidth to grasp it. “My opinions are often ignored because I am a youth and a woman, who is traditionally not allowed to have an opinion and so I will take time to understand everything and that I look at things from a single perspective.”
Especially when it comes to politics, women’s views are often left hanging out to dry as they are either conveniently ignored or dismissed from making a point with an eye roll or a in a more conservative set up, by blatantly being told to shut up. “In political conversations are women shut down? Absolutely. With women, and I don’t know if this is with men as well , everyone has labelled me with tags – feminist, left leaning. Everything I say it is not given the attention it’s due, every time when you speak up, your statement is run through a presumed lens. It is dismissed through that lens. Again, this is what happens in real life, and is magnified on WhatsApp. The patronising tone adopted, the frivolous dismal of what one says. In these groups, people are not really engaging, they are reacting mostly. Additionally, our comments are influenced by the last forward we read. I am so trigger happy, want to contribute, I might react on a WhatsApp forum without considering whether the other person is coming from. There is a lack of engagement and intelligent conversation and you are reacting emotionally. This also means, people don’t always dismiss the other on a real argument, but on flimsy basis, like ‘oh you are a feminist’ or you are anti government,” says Sandhya.
Here’s my key takeaway from what Sandhya had to say— not just men, women are equally prone to dismissing other women’s political opinion too. Many have internalised this stigma that a political dialogue is a man’s domain. That we have no business in commenting on the budget or the even the government’s handling of the coronavirus lockdown. But why shouldn’t we? If these things affect us, if the government’s policies or the opposition’s agenda concerns us as a citizen of this country, why should we stop ourselves from expressing our opinion on it, and that too on the basis of our gender?
One of the major deterrents for women, when it comes to voicing opinion on politics is lack of confidence. We feel we do not know enough to open our mouth in public spaces on politics. But looking at most of the commentary on social media, I have realised that most people don’t know much either, or too much for their own good.
This combination of internalised stigma, a feeling that you lack depth, and male tendency to preserve this space of conversation as their domain leads us to taking dismissal lying down. And if we refuse to do that, we soon find ourselves sans company. And not just young women, female politicians who do not cater to the conventional idea of how a mahila neta should present herself had a hard time being taken seriously. Remember the entire Nusrat Jahan and Mimi Chakraborty incident last year, when the elected members of Parliament were more in news for what they wore to work, than their politics.
Within our homes, it brings patriarchal wrath our way. You cannot simply walk to the head of the house and tell him that his Right leaning opinion on a certain issue is senseless because that makes you rude.
For a long time, Rudrani used to think that news and political opinion and awareness is something that only her father can understand. “I have grown up seeing my mother never watching the news channel and tuning to daily soaps instead. However, when I read Simone De Beauvoir’s essay on married women, in which she wrote that after marriage women’s idea of the outside world are formed by what her husband tells her, I could not agree more. Since then I started building my own political opinions. In fact, sometimes I am able to have a discussion about it with my father and help my mother to look at different perspectives and not just what the people in the neighbour tell her.”
I don’t exactly know what is worse, being trolled or harassed by complete strangers on social media for so much as having an opinion, or being shut up or shut out by family and friends.
Either way, opinionated women don’t have it easy. It takes a lot of courage to brave all the odds and speak your mind, when you don’t know from what direction the repercussions will find their way to you.
But let me tell you this, every little break through matters, and breakthroughs only happen when you keep trying . For instance, you may think that you speaking up on politics in presence of your relatives is a risky business , and could cost you humiliation in front of everyone, but you could be paving the way for a younger cousin of yours to speak without fear. To be confident of their opinion and to not give in, when asked to shut up. That’s certainly worth all the trouble. [Picture Credit: Indian Express]