When gender based violence erupts on our TV screens, as it did recently with instances of molestation in Bengaluru, we react in shock. What does it say about a society where such acts have become routine? The shell of silence surrounding sexual violence needs to be shattered. As a first step towards a more honest conversation, we bring you “Talking Gender”, a series of articles on the fundamental problems of the collective mindset on gender.
Sometime back, I met an activist who narrated a horrific incident of violence that she faced in an educational institution. Listening to the ordeals she went through made me angry at the injustice of it all.
Except for one big problem: while recognising that the violence was misogynistic, she also slipped in that it was an instance of ‘reverse casteism’.
It was neither the first nor the last time that an upper caste person has completely missed the point, and tried to paint themselves as a victim of caste discrimination.
It was not even the first time that a feminist did it.
Our social media feeds are filled with posts from people who are quick to point out male privilege in everyday life. But when you examine how they treat those less privileged than them beyond their laptop and phone screens, you’re left wondering about the legitimacy of their political stands.
I’ve heard stories of creative folk who swear by feminism online, but ration their respect to other human beings based on their rank and file - the amount of influence they wield, and where they are in the power hierarchy.
I’ve witnessed feminists who campaign for women’s rights through their work, but don’t bat an eyelid while describing dalit youth as ‘conspirators’ who are trying to ‘snatch away our women’.
Feminism is a movement that stands for gender equality. Feminists strive for a society where people are not denied their rights or discriminated against in all walks of life on the basis of their gender. Feminists have fought for women’s right to vote, to protect them from violence in the workplace, on the streets, at home, to have legal recourse when they face such violence. Feminism fights for equality in everyday life and in the public sphere, and is a movement I have strongly supported for several years now.
But in the fight for gender equality, I’ve met feminists who routinely forget about both gender and equality.
They routinely speak about gender as a binary, without making an effort to change their language. And when it comes to identifying the roots of patriarchy, they frequently point a finger at those less privileged than them, refusing to acknowledge the role that they and those around them play in perpetuating the system.
The purpose of this post is not to call anyone out, or to diss feminists who don’t have the same politics as I do. Especially because none of us are perfect, definitely not me.
Growing up in a caste bubble, I have never had to question the privileges that were handed to me by the accident of birth. While my family has never been rich, I have never had to recognise that what we had was still much more than what a majority of the people in the country have.
I have never had to struggle to get an education. I have never had to worry about being made to stand up in class for the teacher to count me as part of a ‘reserved category student’.
I have had my fair share of battles - but I have fought them from a position of caste and class privilege unlike many of my sisters. I have made mistakes, horrible mistakes, and I have learned from them.
So when I listen to feminists who haven’t got it all together yet, I recognise that we’re not at the same place in our journeys, regardless of our ages.
But I also realise that it is not okay to sit back and wait for the world to change. As we talk about gender, here’s my plea to everyone who wants a more gender just world: recognise your privilege.
Take some time to introspect about whether your feminism is inclusive, and identify the people it excludes. Ask yourself how you can change this, in your own life. Treat every human being with respect, without trivialising their struggles.
Check your privilege at every step, and in the fight for equality, understand that gender discrimination is not the only evil that exists in an otherwise utopian society.