Are you a feminist? Many of you who believe in equality, would agree with this. Even I did being a part of a feminist organisation. But later I felt something different. Something that made me doubt my identity and thought process. Maybe I am not a feminist, even though I write feminist content. Maybe I am not a feminist even though I propel ideas of equality and women empowerment. Maybe I am not a feminist.
As I sit down to write, I can hear the sexist songs in my background. No, I am not the one playing it but my neighbour is. Even though I don’t like the song, I am listening to it. I cannot go and ask the neighbour to change the song and tell them about the sexism it propels. As it is rightly said, if you do not speak against the wrong, you are a part of it.
I am sure many of you will relate to it. We all tap our feet to the catchy beats of sexist songs at weddings, parties, pubs and sometimes in isolation. We all watch movies that are smeared with sexist content just because we like the actor and secretly feel good after watching a sexist romance. How many of you would confidently say that classic movies like Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham have never been your favourite movies? How many of you would deny that you don’t change the channel where one of these classic movies is being played? I won’t.
Moreover, when you see or hear sexism from your loved ones, how many of you would retort and win at changing their mindset instantly? Indian families are rooted in patriarchal norms. Marriage, dowry, gender bias and sexist comments are very common in our houses. Even though we want to change all this, we fail each time. We are won over by the fact that we love our families and hence don’t want to hurt them. We all hide the secrets of our lives from them. Be it about pre-marital sex, relationships, inter-caste or inter-religion relationships, consuming intoxicants, casual sex, our denial of the dynamics of parents’ relationship and more. Many women stay in abusive or toxic relationships ignoring the red flags.
I grew up in a family and society where dowry, domestic violence, child marriage and adultery are common. Women are supposed to stay at home without being recognised for the work they do. Men have the freedom to earn, study and inherit the family businesses.
Every other day, I come across such incidents. I see the bruised faces of women, girl children carrying babies, married men guilty of harassing other women, dowries being exchanged and women silently bearing and adjusting to patriarchal norms. But can I one day suddenly get up and undo all these practices? Can I raise my voice and condemn my own relatives for propelling injustice? Believe me, I have tried and ended up having traumas for life because no one took me seriously and rather I was blamed for breaking families.
I am not alone in this. I came across a friend who said that despite her disagreement with gender discrimination at home, she could never try to undo it. In her family, women are reprimanded for consuming alcohol much more than men. Women are not allowed to stay out late at night. She is pressurised for marriage even though her brothers older than her are not married. But she could never oppose, despite believing in feminist ideas, because she was afraid of being outcasted. In short, we live in denial. No matter how much we want to be a feminist, we fear its consequences.
We are silent feminists because in our society, propelling feminism is equal to propelling hatred.
After a lot of reflection and pondering, I figured out the reason behind all this – our internalised sexism. We grew up sexist environment. We have said, did and heard sexist things without being affected by them. We fail to recognise or oppose many gendered behaviours because it is so normalised that it rarely seems wrong to us. Yes, unlearning sexism is a valid way to call ourselves feminists. But just ask one question from yourself- Even after unlearning sexism, have you been successful in encouraging others to do so? As I pointed out earlier, if we oppose the wrong, we automatically become a part of it.
Moreover, opposing sexism which is so normalised in our society requires effort and has consequences that cost our safety and security. No matter how much we disagree with society, we live in it. And opposing sexism can outcast us and turn the entire society against us.
So what is the solution to it? How can we be feminists in a patriarchal society? The only way is to practice individualist feminism. We have to make sure that our thoughts and actions are not rooted in patriarchy. Even though we cannot change the world, we can change ourselves and the things born out of us. We need to unlearn sexism which is definitely equal to being ascetic in a society where patriarchy is present in entertainment and pleasure. But if we really want to change ourselves, we need to change our lifestyle no matter how hard it is.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
Suggested Reading: ‘It’s All Façade’: My Feminism And Depression Left Me Alone In The Crowd