She’s young, she’s sassy, she’s irreverent and she gets social media buzzing with her tweets. She is also the Founder and Editor-In-Chief for Women’s Republic. We spoke with Arizona State University graduate, Sai Seshadri on feminism, being brown in a predominantly white country, founding Women’s Republic while she was still in college, the rise of majoritarianism world over and all the trolling she gets on social media for her sharp takes on colour and feminism.
Tell us a little about your childhood, growing up as a person of South Asian ancestry in a country where identity is still defined by skin tone. When did you first realise that you were different and what were the challenges to assimilate?
I was born in India but I moved when I was really young and I’ve spent most of my life in Canada and the United States. While living in Canada, I had friends of all different backgrounds around me – in that sense, I didn’t feel too alone or left out. However, the thing that made me realize that identity is defined by skin tone was the media that I grew up seeing and watching. I used to be a big fan of kids’ television shows and movies, and was always watching them – but I could never fully relate. The characters that were shown on screen were almost always white, and there was never anyone on screen that looked or acted like me or my family members and other friends of color. I think this was a big challenge – the media set us up to believe that in order to be popular or successful, you had to look a certain way. I remember being upset that I wasn’t fair skinned and blonde, because that’s what I would see everywhere in the media. It wasn’t until much later that I finally saw some representation on screen, but honestly, we still have a long way to go when it comes to diversity and representation.
Women’s Republic started because I wanted to combine my passion for feminism and love for writing together – but originally, I was planning on just creating a blog where I could write short pieces of my own.
What made you begin Women’s Republic? What were the driving factors that made you think there was a need for it out there?
Women’s Republic was something that I created very unexpectedly. Before I had started it, I spent a lot of time on social media discussing feminism. It became my favorite topic to talk about, and as time went on, I learned more and more about it and also got to meet a lot of people online who could relate and who were interested in discussing similar things. I’ve always enjoyed writing and starting in high school, I had been writing articles for different outlets. Women’s Republic started because I wanted to combine my passion for feminism and love for writing together – but originally, I was planning on just creating a blog where I could write short pieces of my own. When I tweeted this plan, however, I had some people reach out to be. And I was very pleasantly surprised when they asked me to make this idea for a blog something bigger, something that they could get involved in and contribute to. The next few weeks after that, I got a lot of help from my family, friends and followers on social media who helped me put together the website and promote it – and I will always say that I would not have gathered the courage to do it if I didn’t have so many people who supported me and still do to this day.
One of the most important things for me with Women’s Republic is that I think it’s important for women to have a platform where they can speak. I’ve always been privileged in the sense that I have family and friends I can be vocal with, and a social media platform where I can constantly speak on the things important to me – and I wanted to give women a similar platform where they can talk about anything that they’re passionate about. I think there are very few platforms out there that are dedicated solely to women’s issues, and that was my main reason for starting Women’s Republic. I want to continue to grow it and encourage more people to use it and write what they feel is important to them, and share their work so that it’s being recognized and people are educated from it.
You’re pretty vocal and outspoken on social media and have often been the subject of rather vicious trolling. How do you deal with it? And why do you feel women are not expected to have an opinion on the internet?
Oh yeah, I’ve dealt with a lot of trolling. It’s not easy – as much as you want to try and ignore it, it definitely gets to you at times. There have been times where I’ve felt absolutely overwhelmed because of the trolls who are constantly trying to find a way to “cancel” people and prove me wrong. But over time, I’ve gotten better at ignoring it. I’m always ready for a productive discussion if someone disagrees with something I say – it’s great to talk to people with differing opinions, and sometimes you might even end up learning from them. But I’ve learned how to differentiate between a disagreement that’s actually worth a discussion versus a troll that just wants to waste both their own time and mine. Nowadays, I mostly just ignore it or, if it’s really verbally abusive or threatening, I’ll go ahead and report them because I don’t think it’s alright to be using derogatory terms and cussing someone out on social media constantly. I think a lot of people, especially men, aren’t used to the idea of women being outspoken – and don’t like it either.
However, with the rise of social media, more and more women are putting themselves out there and standing up for what they believe in. This is shocking for many because they expect women to stay quiet and timid, to agree with men and not have their own thoughts and opinions and it’s hard for them to accept that that’s not how it works. I, for one, am very proud of all the women who put themselves out there every single day and continue to speak out and educate others even though they receive tremendous amounts of abuse and trolling, and I will always respect those women.
As a student of political science, how do you view the rise of majoritarianism around the world. What made you choose this subject? And as a minority and a woman of colour, does this worry you?
I actually started out as a business major when I first entered college, but I realized very quickly that political science was much better suited for me. This is mainly because political science is something I’m very passionate about – politics are all around us, and especially as a woman of color, everything around us is political. I find it very interesting to see how politics affects us on a micro and macro scale, and this is why I decided to pursue it. I learned a lot through the political science classes that I took and it opened me up to the idea of learning many other things one day in the future – including different languages that’ll help me in terms of international politics and better understanding how race and religion play a role in the political climate today. When it comes to the idea of majoritarianism, I think it’s a little worrisome how prevalent it is now- I don’t feel that it can accurately determine what everyone wants, especially minorities.
I think a lot of people, especially men, aren’t used to the idea of women being outspoken – and don’t like it either.
While it falls under the umbrella of democracy, I think it can still very easily be exploited by people who are a majority rather than a minority.
You asked this question on twitter to some hilarious responses. Let me ask you, how Indian are you?
It’s funny, I was never expecting to get SO MANY RESPONSES when I tweeted that but it was awesome. I love how creative people on Twitter can get and it was great to see so many replies that were so relatable. I would say that I’m pretty Indian. It’s definitely hard growing up with different cultures – I’m always caught between Indian and American culture. But over the years, I’ve been learning to appreciate my Indian heritage more and more – from learning about the traditions and history of India, Indian food, music, movies, clothes etc. and one of the things I’m trying hard to do is learn more Indian languages. I know a good amount of Telugu and Tamil, and I understand some Hindi (which is honestly thanks to all the Bollywood movies I’ve watched), but I’d like to improve on those and also learn other languages. I like to think it’s a learning process – “how Indian I am” will keep changing based off new things I learn about and experience every day.
As a young woman of the diaspora navigating the dating and relationship space, do you find that Indian men, even those living in the US still carry patriarchal notions of what women can and cannot be? How do you deal with this dissonance?
I absolutely believe that Indian men in the US still carry patriarchal notions. The things we grow up seeing and hearing are often what influence us and how we grow up to be. This is the same for Indian men. While they might be far away from India and have been born and raised in the US, they are often raised in families that are still misogynistic by nature, that still uphold patriarchal values – and as a result, these young men believe in the same ideals. What I’ve usually seen is that they want women who are American in some ways – in the sense that they’re independent, educated and working – but also Indian at the same time, such as being modest, quiet and timid. It gets frustrating at times because you feel like you can never win with such men – and they very often resort to shaming you if you don’t fit their patriarchal mould of what a woman should be like. But what I’ve learned is that at the end of the day, you should know your own worth and don’t change your own identity and values for someone else. If a man’s views are patriarchal by nature, that’s not someone I’d be happy with in the long-run, so there’s no point in me trying to change them (because people don’t usually change) or trying to change myself for someone else. Instead, I’d rather be myself and wait to find someone who appreciates and complements that.
And finally, what do you see Women’s Republic growing into and how can we as women be the rising tide that takes other, less privileged women along?
As of right now, Women’s Republic is still very small – but I hope that we can turn it into a much bigger thing one day. I would like for the website to continue to have content, because writing is such a powerful tool and I think it can make such a big change. Writing is a wonderful way of educating people and raising awareness, and I hope to continue to do that. However, I want to also expand it into more. I want to make it more inclusive by finding ways to allow more women to interact and speak out. I also want it to one day be an organization that can help women out through some form of aid, such as monetary support or volunteering. I think that those of us who are able to use the internet as a platform to speak up, to talk about different issues and opinions, are very privileged. We have something that a lot of women don’t have – a voice. And we should use this voice to help the women who are less privileged than we are. We should continuously advocate for them and remember them in our battles, we should find ways to reach out to them and speak with them and understand what we need to change or do better in our fight for equal rights to better include them.
Finally, I think the most important part of including less privileged women in our battle is simply remembering that they EXIST and their problems are important. Too often, people feel that feminism is unnecessary because women in countries such as the US and UK have everything needed. While this is untrue, and there are still many issues that women in those countries face, we would need feminism even if the women in those countries did have everything – because feminism isn’t just fighting for ourselves, but fighting for everyone else as well so that we are all equal and safe. As Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” This quote is very important to me personally and to Women’s Republic, and I think it’s something we should all keep in mind when discussing women’s rights.