From Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to actor Priyanka Chopra (version 2015), the word 'feminism' is an anathema to many. While some don't know what the term really means, others distance themselves from the 'Are you a feminist?' question, fearing a backlash. Even as people may profess that they believe in gender equality, they may say they're not feminists.
It's not difficult to see why feminism is unpopular - after all, it challenges patriarchy, the bedrock of most societies across the world. In doing so, it raises uncomfortable questions about ourselves, our families, and the immediate world around us.
Here are some common misconceptions about feminism. Reading through the list (patiently) may convince you that there are times in your life when you've been a feminist, too, though you may not have identified as such.
Feminism is NOT anti-men
Feminism does not say men are the problem. It recognises that people of all genders are complicit in sustaining patriarchy - including women. But what does patriarchy mean? Patriarchy - meaning 'rule of the father'- is a social system where values, qualities and structures that are considered to be masculine are celebrated as the norm. This means that anything which falls out of this circle is denigrated or rejected.
Patriarchy can be oppressive to everyone. Yes, everyone. Ever asked why men are forced to be the breadwinners? Why they are assumed to be the "natural" financial caretakers of the family? Just as it's oppressive for women to be pigeon-holed into the "nurturer" role, it's oppressive for men too to be forced into the "provider" role because of their gender. So, if you've wondered about this, congratulations, you've just had a feminist thought.
Feminism DOES NOT say all women are angels
Actually, feminism asks that women are NOT seen as angels but just regular people - with flaws and vices. It only asks that they are not held to a different moral standard than men.
If you've felt outraged about TV soaps that go on and on about that virtuous, wonderful, all-sacrificing heroine who has no individuality whatsoever, then that's some feminist criticism you're indulging in. These ideas are constantly reiterated in popular culture and they do influence how we see people in the real world.
Feminism DOES NOT see women as perpetual victims
While feminism acknowledges that in a patriarchal world, women and transgender people bear the brunt of gender discrimination (which is why we have special laws that address these issues), it does not see "pity" as a solution to ending the oppression. Neither does it celebrate victimhood. Feminism recognises agency in people - that is, the ability of a person to act for themselves. Its goal is to encourage people to move towards claiming this agency for themselves while understanding why this process may be difficult.
Know a friend who is in a violent marriage and won't walk out? Felt frustrated by the person's reluctance to stand up for themselves? It's because you feel they have the agency to go against social norms while they don't feel that way yet. Or may never feel so. But your willingness to think past oppressive social norms is what feminism encourages.
Feminism DOES NOT think men and women are the same
Feminism says people of all genders are equal but not necessarily the same. We don't need to have the same bodies, abilities, or biological capacities to be recognised before the law as equal or treated with respect by society.
If you don't see differences as "weaknesses" and believe in equal opportunity for all, then you believe in a feminist idea. Whether this is at home or the workplace. Support maternity leave for women? Feel men too need paternity leave because parenting should be a shared responsibility? Think denying employment opportunities to transgender people is unfair? All of these are feminist conversations.
Feminism will NOT destroy society
Feminism asks for more equality, less oppression and greater freedom for all. In doing this, it looks closely at social institutions like marriage and family. How can this destroy society? What it will destroy is traditional, polarised power structures and establish a more level-playing field.
If you are angered by dowry deaths, female infanticide, and the several other injustices that happen in the family, you are thinking like a feminist too.