As misleading as the title may be, this article is not going to tell you how to understand the inner machinations of the psyche of a rival. Nor is it a Machiavellian guide to defeating your nemesis by analysing their body language. This is about feminism, or rather how some people, as unsuspecting individuals, try to propagate it in a way that is counterproductive.
The other day, I opened a WhatsApp group to find my classmates talking about an influencer who identifies as a “humanist” and not a feminist, and who has gained popularity for her statements. I watched in awe as she was called all sorts of names and insults. Hypotheses were put forward for her eccentric behaviours, ranging from calling her actions attention seeking to wanting to appease the male population (“pick me” were the exact words used) to her being immature due to her age (even though the person in question was an adult and all of us are more or less the same age) to seeking validation from misogynists. The conversation later devolved into a fight between feminists and ‘non-feminists’ and came to an end when a few people intervened and iterated that there is no point in fighting amongst ourselves as we are all part of the same institution.
The events of the day had me longing for a time when I was only familiar with civilised discourse. ‘Agree to disagree’ is a phrase one doesn’t hear often enough anymore. Instead, what one hears is sly remarks about the other person’s seemingly edgy behaviour and other comments that can be put under the category of trolling and character assassination.
All of this was particularly disenchanting because I had been enjoying the misogyny-free ethos of a girls’ college (albeit online) and the eagerness of my peers to start conversations about gender and queerness. For me, feminism and gender equality has always entailed the freedom to be myself, freedom from labels (about appearance and temperament) and freedom from gender norms (in perceived ability and assigned tasks). This freedom also meant freedom of opinion, a basic right often not met – people will always have differing opinions, but may not necessarily have access to an environment to express them.
After months of online classes with political debates that never accommodate opposing opinions, debates feel more like lectures and asking questions leads only to personal attacks. When I was in school, not being able to speak my mind made me feel very angsty. Now that I’m in college, I’ve resorted to the anonymity of the pen rather than the discernibility of my voice. I wonder, if those who I write about so scathingly were to chance upon it, would they confront me or would they reflect on my words?
The feminist movement has a gamut of differing opinions – cultural, intersectional, liberal, radical and more. If the movement has space for all kinds of feminists, then why in our hearts can’t we? After all, hasn’t the fact that someone is a woman been used enough times to put us down or disregard our opinion?
I realise we’re living in extremely polarised times but we don’t have to turn our opponents into our enemies. I also believe that those who made the saddening remarks did what they thought was right and weren’t motivated by malice. I understand how disassociating yourself with feminism because you believe in gender equality may seem like the right thing to some. It, of course, is threatening for those who associate themselves with the feminist movement in their fight for gender equality because it discredits the movement and effort.
Personally, I also sulk when someone I admire says things which go against my beliefs, but I would never want to shove my opinions down their throats because then, what kind of a world would that be? My radical friends roast me every chance they get, but as good friends they also educate me. Our separate approaches to feminism should never hinder our camaraderie.
In moments of deep distress when I find myself questioning whether it is worthwhile to say what I have to say in crowds where most don’t agree with me, I try to recognise the fact that they’re just standing up for what they believe in, what they visualise as a better world, just like me.
And as long as we both do that, we can agree to disagree.
Medhavi Gupta is a first-year political science student at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. She identifies as a feminist and has a penchant for asking good questions. Her writings are a result of her curious and overthinking nature. You can find her on Instagram @me_dhavi_ .
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty