Feminism, breaking glass ceiling, stereotypes and the next step

Feminist Conference by ShethePeople in partnership with UN WomenFeminist Conference by ShethePeople in partnership with UN Women

We’ve heard it all before: mansplaining, misogyny, patriarchal norms, limitations, barriers, glass-ceiling, but what next? How do we take the conversation forward?

The Feminist Conference at NCPA in Mumbai was a peep into the world of ideas and perspectives that aim to ensure a snowball effect in the feminist revolution in our country. It’s also an attempt to see how to mainstream a revolutionary agenda — equality and freedom from discrimination. And while the feminist movement, the struggle, includes a fight for disability rights, a fight for freedom against discrimination, whether it’s based on race, sexual orientation or gender, there are also people (men and women, both) who feel they’d rather not use the term feminism, even while supporting all that it stands for. There’s a backlash at times, and it’s almost as if we have to explain the meaning of the word — and the struggle — again and again.

A panelist at The Feminist Conference, comedian Kaneez Surka, asked whether “feminism” as a term needs to be changed to something that’s more palatable, perhaps, which does not involve a heavy explanation. She says, “I don’t want to fight the battle of having to explain the term to those who do not understand the true meaning of it.” Would changing the term but keeping the essence of the movement alive be the way to go?

Feminist Conference

(Left to right) Amrita Tripathi, Kaneez Surka, RJ Malishka, Peter Griffin

Another panelist, Parmesh Shahani, head of Godrej Cultural Lab and author of Gay Bombay, rebutted that call strongly. Changing the term would be a disservice to the fight women have had to wage for equality (and the right to work, and the rest of it!) — a fight that recognises that one gender (male) had and in many spheres continues to have more privilege than another (female). Would we in fact not be offending those who fought for those rights, by thinking of erasing the reference? After all, how is it offensive to one gender, to use a term that highlights an ages-old discrimination against another? Are we on the right path at all, when we lament, oh but it offends men, and excludes them. (By the way: Men can be — and many are — feminists too. Patriarchy affects men too. )

Nishtha Satyam of UN Women — which partnered with SheThePeople.TV to curate The Feminist Conference — emphasised that a change is never made by not offending someone. This step is the needed action to provide the edge to push the movement forward.

Important to break stereotypes? 

An audience member asked why feminism seems to be about breaking stereotypes… And was told that feminism is in fact about challenging the status quo in society. Women entering holy places, women as elected leaders, women CEOs, are all a part of the revolution of breaking the barriers of the society. It is important to challenge the patriarchal status quo because it allows for women to have a choice.

Panelist Sapna Bhavnani says it’s about ensuring access and the freedom to make certain choices, for example, it’s not okay to deny women the right to enter a temple, where men are allowed. It’s not about whether women actually end up going. “They may not make the choice, but at least they have an option to do so,” she said. It’s important to break stereotypes because those are the traditionally dictated roles, the patriarchal norms imposed on women.

Teaching Empathy

Sadly, there’s no magic pill to make people believe in equality, or even understand if they’re being sexist. It’s important to have those conversations though, and remember it should be a conversation not an argument, says comedian Sorabh Pant, adding that sometimes people don’t even know they’re being sexist or misogynist. We need to teach our children — boys and girls — that it’s not okay to discriminate, that equality is a given.

Teaching empathy is also key. If an individual can learn to accept and understand another’s perspective, this battle of equality and choice will be easier to win. Shahani of Godrej Cultural Lab says, “There are studies today that can help people learn how to be more sensitive and understand a point of view and situation. The fight of feminism is a long one, but the first step could be to teach individuals to just be humans first.”

Feminist Conference by ShethePeople in partnership with UN Women

Meghna Pant moderating the panel on involving men in the feminist movement

Women role-models 

Adding to what can be done to snowball this movement, Pant, a stand-up comedian says, “We need more women in pivotal roles to lead the change.” Watching a female authority figure can have a massive effect on the masses as she will be an inspiration to those masses. He adds, “Feminism is not just for women to worry about, it is men’s problem too. How can you avoid something that affects 50% of the population? We need more men to join the cause.”

While this is the absolute truth and need of the hour, we often see men refrain from such conversations. Not to say that there aren’t any who are leading the beacon of change, but if everyone did come together in this, feminism would not even need to be a point of discussion today.