Feminism has become a bad word. From Katy Perry to Marissa Mayer, women we respect and admire choose not to be identified as feminists. Is that because our inherited understanding of the word is coloured by images of angry women burning their bras? Because you have to be ugly to be a feminist? Or that you have to hate men?
Feminism simply espouses the idea that men and women are equal, as opposed to patriarchy which holds that men are superior. Almost everyone I know believes the former. They believe a woman should be given the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as a man. She should be allowed to travel by bus or auto, go to a party, catch the late show of a movie if she likes, wear what she chooses, and be safe in her city.
In January this year, some rather fantastic men in Bangalore decided to take radical action against some very stupid things that people were saying. They decided put on a skirt and walk the streets of Bangalore to highlight the absurdity of the idea that, what a woman wears, invites sexual assault. It was a radical idea for sure, and stirred up a lot of furious conversation – How silly, what will a man wearing a skirt prove? How will you change anybody’s perspective simply by wearing a skirt? And more importantly, girls should not be wearing whatever they like and wander about the city, what preposterous naiveté! Yes, it took a lot of courage for those men to wear a skirt in the face of such loud resistance. But they did it.
The story went viral. It was picked up by CNN, the Week, Huffpost and Jezebel, zoomed to the top of Reddit, was carried on NDTV, CNN-IBN and in every big newspaper in the country. And every time the story was shared, a debate ensued. The conversations kept growing. Women cheered them, saluted their effort: A man espousing the ideals of feminism, breaking society’s gender barriers of ‘his’ and ‘hers,’ to say that women have an equal stake in the right to freedom, security and justice in our country.
Since Delhi, since One Billion Rising and the Fearless campaign, the conversation has moved into our homes – into the living room with our parents, into coffee shop conversations and classroom debates. We’re all talking about it. Even if it makes us uncomfortable, angry or awkward, it can’t be avoided anymore.
Maybe it’s time to reclaim the meaning of feminism for the times we live in. The lines need to be redrawn because it’s no longer us and them. Like this gentleman said, it’s no longer a women’s rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, and we need to stand together. Perhaps it is now time to stop being angry and instead, go out there and reclaim public spaces for ourselves. There are more feminists among us than we realize.