How do we view a female activist?
|May 15, 2014||Posted by Shehla Rashid under Politics, Women|
Recently, AAP candidate Prof. Anand Kumar contested Lok Sabha elections from Northeast Delhi. Among the people who campaigned for him were some female students from Jawaharlal Nehru University who, apparently, had been wearing jeans while campaigning for him. BJP workers in the area, while commenting upon their dress, said that they would also “hire” models for their campaign! While one could argue that NE Delhi has a particular social composition (and, hence the comments), I’d choose to differ. No matter how modern, emancipated and liberated our constituency may be, the attitudes toward women haven’t changed much. Be it the rabid character assassination and personal slander campaigns that women politicians have to face or the mindless online abuse generated in response to mere tweets by a woman activist or journalist- it has been established beyond doubt that the expectations of a woman in public life are completely different from those for a male. There is no dearth of misogynistic comments made against female politicians by rival politicians to illustrate my point. Our activism is branded “pre-menstrual stress”. We are asked why we are so angry- and whether it is because we aren’t having enough sex. Taking this concern further , we are asked, at times, whether we would like to helped in this area! Earlier this year, in a protest at Vasant Vihar police station during which protesters broke the gate open, I happened to be in the first line clashing with the police from across a barricade of police lathis (clubs). The cop right in front of me didn’t miss a chance to grope me. This is clearly a gendered experience and not a gender-neutral one.
Having said that, it is also important to point out that there are enough men who do view you just as they should- like an activist, a political being. At the same time there are enough women who will evaluate you based on “looks” and “character”. From acquiescence to active participation- they will be part of misogynistic jokes having a female activist or politician as the subject. They get irritated if one were to point out that the jokes in question are misogynistic. They tend to think that the definition of misogyny has been overstretched by feminists and many of them would not want to identify as feminists (which is okay in its own right). However, there are two points that I want to highlight here. First, it is important to identify the enemy- it is neither men nor women- it is patriarchy. Second, it isn’t until we identify and rectify even the last remnants of injustice that we will achieve a revolutionary transformation of the society.
I wouldn’t blame modern, educated, emancipated women who are party to the perpetuation of patriarchy without realising it. We are born in a world of partial equality. As an urban, middle-class woman, I may feel agitated at harassment and unwelcome physical advances but I’m grateful that I’m not beaten up- grateful because I do not have to move about in public transport late at night, unlike a girl of my age working in the BPO sector- but that’s not the point. The point is that I should be able to do so without having to feel either grateful or terrified. As Marx points out, the good thing about capitalism (vis-a-vis the earlier, feudal social order) is that class inequalities became stark and that it helped consolidate the class struggle. The bad thing about this ‘partial equality’ that has been achieved as a result of consistent women’s struggles is that we have learnt to be grateful for the freedoms that we now have without having to fight for greater freedoms in order to carry out our daily life.
As unfortunate or pessimistic as it sounds, it will take a few more, grave violations of women’s rights to make us aware of the freedoms that we do not have. It is only with a consolidation similar to the post-Mathura or post-Nirbhaya gang rape cases that our concerns will be seen as genuine once again. Perhaps, then, we will also be able to identify patriarchy as the enemy because such inhuman incidents also mobilise men who assert that they will not be party, through acquiescence, to violence against women. It is only then that our rants won’t be dismissed as PMS and taken a little more seriously. It is then that being a Left female activist, who has concerns other than gender, won’t be read as an act of solicitation. It is then that university students dressed in jeans won’t be called “paid models”. It is only then that we will be able to communicate our politics effectively.