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Feminism: A Collective Responsibility (?)

Vrinda questions the glaring yet somehow easily ignored double standards and ideas that are tacitly accepted in public let alone private spaces. From classroom discussions to social media warzones, there seem to be increasing attempts to attach shame to the word feminism. Has ensuring equality between men and women ever been a collective responsibility? Will it ever be?

Feminism. The different ways in which people interpret this single term might be enough for me to write a book on. I have heard people saying, “I believe in equal rights but not in feminism.” This would be akin to saying that one believes in Bajrang Dal but not in fascism (wait, what?). Derogatory terms such as ‘feminazi’ have also been coined to mock those who speak for gender equality. The count of people, who feel that feminism is, in fact, a movement that schemes to put women on a pedestal and annihilate men, is quite distressing.

I still remember the first day of college, enthusiastic and brimming with energy, I was quite excited to be enrolled in ‘one of the best colleges’ of our country, that is until our professor started a discussion on feminism. To my surprise (read: tragic disappointment), more than half of my class did not believe in (ahem) equality. Not sure if they were actually fans of patriarchy, or if they had grown up believing that feminism implied subordination of men, or if they were just plain bored and unwilling to participate in any form of dialogue. But I often wonder if these students would hold the same views about feminism if they were asked about it now, as they are about to graduate from college. Their response would determine the success of our hallowed institution.

I, of course, write of my experience with feminist ideas, in the current context of the #MeToo movement. What started off with a single tweet, soon turned into an international phenomenon of people united in their anger with the system that protects men and hushes women. It has initiated a domino effect, where women, once too scared to speak out, are being empowered by the stories being shared and have sought the courage to do the same. What I find most hopeful about #MeToo is that even the rich and resourceful are being held accountable for their actions. When one person stands up and takes the lead, it gives courage to a hundred others to fight against the unjust.

Some questions that often come up though are- Why after so many years? What do these women seek to gain by speaking out after decades of allegedly facing harassment? Dubious intents, political vendetta or long-held grudges—what could be the possible cause? But to answer these, one only needs to look at the historical evidence of how little women have ever gained from speaking out, and how much of their own credibility have they lost in this society that overlooks men’s faults while holding its women to exceptionally high standards. To believe that hundreds of women are sharing detailed accounts of harassment for frivolous reasons is to ostrich your way out of uncomfortable times.

People continue to belittle the stories of the victims and look at them with suspicion and disdain. Lack of empathy towards the survivors and victim blaming/shaming is not a very uncommon occurrence. How long will it take for the victims to come out in the open without facing humiliation, to speak against their predators without the fear of being ridiculed, to fight for their right without being sued for defamation? Creating a space to express is not enough. Speaking up does not necessarily mean being heard. We need people to listen, to change their outlook towards the victim, to understand that feminism is equality and that bringing about this equality is not a choice; it is our collective responsibility. The question is not how far have we come, it is how much further are we willing to go to break down the walls of patriarchy?



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