Feminism: The Vilifying of a Collective Dream

There seems to be a new trend brewing, one which vilifies an entire movement for the wrongs committed by few.

Feminism has suffered the utmost damage because of the same. The movement continues to face backlash as social media and popular narratives tarnish its underlying agenda and goals.

A wife files a false dowry case against her husband. Accuse feminism. A prominent female figure makes a controversial statement against men. Feminism is the culprit. See a few girls publicly smoke or drink instead of contesting for UPSC examinations. Ah, feminism again.

Feminism aims for gender equality in society by creating awareness about various forms of oppression and discrimination based on sexes, and addressing them. But there have been constant efforts to dilute its core ideology.

The menace of women’s oppression is so deeply ingrained in our social conscience that feminism is seen as providing preferential treatment to women. Hence, an independent woman who doesn’t conform to stereotypical gender roles is believed to be an anomaly by certain men, for they think that feminism will obliterate the social fabric of Indian patriarchal society. As a result, most efforts aimed at women empowerment are maligned and looked down upon.

Just two years ago, a group of people performed ‘pishachini mukti puja‘ to protect us from the foreseen dangers of feminism. A year later, in another such puja held in Karnataka, the participants said, “It is only about seeking female dominance and oppressing men.”

Earlier this year, in Madhya Pradesh, a BJP leader said, “Heroine ko toh apna dance karna chahiye Mumbai mein baith ke. JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) mein kyun jana chahiye tha usko, mere samajh nahi aa raha.

He was referring to referring to Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone, who reached the campus during a protest and offered solidarity by standing silently with injured JNUSU student leader Aishe Ghosh.

In addition to being sexist, these statements lay bare the kind of retaliation that women regularly face when they speak their mind or dare to act out of their own will. On top of that, shallow tales on the misuse of feminism are shared on social media to further denounce the movement.

The truth is: Forget misuse, feminism as a term is rarely used in India.

Also read: The Male Gaze and Unreported Stories of Everyday Abuse

Here’s an example. A few months ago, one of my female colleagues was sexually harassed in an autorickshaw in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. She told me that her fellow passenger was poking her breast. She didn’t retort and instead, moved over to avoid being poked. Despite being a well-educated and independent woman, who under usual circumstances never shies away from voicing her opinion, she couldn’t muster the courage to retaliate.

Since childhood, society teaches women to avoid confrontations saying, “lets’ not create a scene” or “it will malign your image” and so on.

After that incident, I asked my other women friends if they too had similar stories to share. Whether it was a flash by a stranger or inappropriate advances during bus rides, they admitted to ‘shaking it off’.

As a result, it should not come as a surprise that around 75% of women who suffer domestic violence do not report it, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). To add to that, around 99% cases of sexual violence go unreported. You read that right – 99%. If cases are fairly reported, India, as a country, will top all the charts listing crimes against women.

Millions of women go through various forms of cruelty on everyday basis, and suffer in silence. Domestic violence, dowry, eve-teasing, stalking, honour killings, child marriage, coerced prostitution, forced abortion, cyberbullying, sexual molestation, slut-shaming, female infanticide, insult to modesty and trafficking are just a few examples. And then, there is a moral police to enforces “proper behaviour” in public space.

The problem is deep-seated and systematic oppression has been engrained in our culture and everyday practices.

And that’s why we need feminism more than ever. For a better tomorrow – not just for women, but for everyone. A tomorrow where women can voice their opinion without restrictions and participate in the workforce without facing any hurdles. A tomorrow where women make their own life choices and have the freedom to make mistakes. That’s what feminism aspires to achieve.

And it should be our collective dream too.

Awanish Pandey obtained his PhD from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, in 2019 and is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at Ghent University-IMEC.