There has been a failure in establishing feminism as a legitimate movement for the masses in India. Coupled with the ‘involvement of western forces’ conspiracy theory that our politicians continually use to deflect from their inadequacies – feminism has become a taboo word in India. Even globally there is a lot of bile against ‘feminists’ and, in India especially, it hinges on the character assassination of women.
One of the biggest reasons for the failure of making feminism the inclusive and widespread movement it has been in Europe and other parts of the world has been the class politics of educated women in India.
Barring a few women activists who have truly worked on the ground to create safe spaces and better policies for rural Indian women, most educated urban women refrain from talking about feminism.
Here, I’d like to request any men reading this to take a seat and let women have this conversation.
If not for the global pressure of the #MeToo movement, these urban women would have never spoken up about the abuse and harassment in their lives. They have allowed the association of violence and savageness with poverty – when it has been far from the truth.
The feminism of the upper class and caste woman hinges on protecting her privilege. And most importantly, focussing on issues which protects them from acknowledging and challenging their class. Because protecting their family means protecting their financial security.
They want to talk about issues like the rights of tribal women that have a flavour of internalised racism, because it would appeal to the largely rich, caucasian audience they want to impress. They will have been admitted into schools and colleges because of their parents’ privilege of access, but they will strut it around as an achievement, as if money, or the lack thereof, is an alien concept to them.
This has all come at a cost of important things which needed to be discussed on a public forum but haven’t been because of the supposed intellectual heavyweights of the upper class and caste women taking up all the space.
They have the platform and they choose not to hand it to anyone else. Concepts like marriage, family, reproductive health – which needed to be viewed with an extremely critical feminist perspective – are never discussed. Because it is precisely these concepts which protect class privilege. Talking about these topics and going against the social, cultural norm in India is severely punished through ostracism and abuse.
But a woman seeking to create her own personal success for making intelligent points as a brown woman does not dare alienate her core benefactors. She would rather continue the entrapments of class because her upbringing has dissociated her from the reality of regular people so much that she believes the metric of progress is her life and of those around her.
This is especially troubling in recent times because of the rise of women influencers running several types of accounts on social media – who all seem to be very unaware of their class privilege. They have now monopolised the conversation online, seeking to create more social and financial capital for themselves.
Recently, another upper class cis-man ‘commentator’ wrote how the beauty bloggers have gone too far, when two viral videos of young women shaming local parlour aunties surfaced. It as if we feed our children junk food all their lives and expect them to know better.
In body issues too, upper class and caste women only want to debate beauty, that too in relation to modesty. The conventionally thin, good looking women seek to show their other talents through modest displays of their intelligence – nothing too radical. This appeals to the gaze of established Indian audiences.
The women with bodies not considered conventionally beautiful therefore show their radical sides by breaking the taboo of modesty, which requires them to talk about sexuality. This, again, actually appeals to the gaze of established Indian audiences.
The virality of the content of upper class women can be very easily supported through publicly available data from all major platforms. These women will never discuss the gruesome truths around disability, healthcare, labour exploitation and servitude of the lower class women.
Their body politics is protected by their access to high fashion and lifestyle and how can they abstain from using that privilege? Therefore, they continue to reinforce the age-old aesthetic tropes of womanhood, while never acknowledging its class entrapments.
The world has moved far beyond the days when having coloured hair and tattoos was truly radical. Sure, there are still conservative social circles in which these are considered unsavoury, but for most young people, these have become a means to gain social media brownie points more than personal expression.
There is a lot that can be said about the ‘wokeness’ of upper class and caste women. But it can never be denied that their insincerity has cost us. It has definitely benefited her to establish herself as a pioneer among her other rich peers. It has brought her fame and envy, eventually, she has never wanted to free us from the male gaze.
This critique applies to the writer of this article also.
So, whether it is young men who fail to see the feminist movement as legitimate, witnessing the success of the top 1% through social media, or non-urban women who seem to get easily swayed by the cis-man’s politics – upper class women haven’t stepped up.
It’s time we stop letting them have so much space in the conversation.
Sumedha writes to highlight the need for non-conformity and for practical politics free of labels. She is also a certified cat lady.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty