Be ready to lose. You will lose battles. You will lose friends. You will lose yourself at times. Sometimes the humiliation of loss is a necessary rock bottom. Allow yourself to crash. Don’t clutch at straws, let go. Standing up for justice is hard. More often than not, it is a long drawn-out process. It is certainly harder than passing lazy, immediate judgments based on your own biases. It can seem like a dead-end. Start anew, start again.
“You have no idea how hard it’s to be a young feminist,” a woman fresh out of college said to me recently. “Why,” I asked her, ignoring the hint that I was neither young nor a feminist. “People judge you so much,” she said. “They label you, attribute motives without knowing a thing about you,” That’s why we need feminism in the first place, I thought to myself.
Feminism isn’t a shortcut to solutions. It is a path with much diversity to offer. There will be milestones in self-awareness. There will be pauses for apologies and reconciliation. There will be long, lonely stretches when you must walk alone. There will be bitter moments when your privilege will stomp over the rights of others and you will not even see it till it is pointed out to you. Others may not be as polite as you’d like them to be. It will feel like a slap. You will find out how easy it is to be comfortable as an oppressor. How it became a way of life for you too.
Taking on the label “feminist” is not a substitute for the process of personal growth and self-examination. Exploring and surrendering one’s own sexism is the work of a lifetime. This may mean that the world we have known intimately, the world in which we feel “safe” must be radically changed. Feminism will require everyone to change, not just those we label enemies or oppressors. When a movement for liberation inspires itself chiefly by a hatred for an enemy rather than the creation of new possibilities, it begins to defeat itself. In the words of late philosopher-educator Paulo Friere, “Dialogue cannot exist in the absence of profound love for the world and for women and men. Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself.”
Unity and dialogue between women is a necessary base. Abandoning the idea of solidarity and sisterhood weakens and diminishes all of us. “Separatist ideology encourages us to believe that women alone can make feminist revolution—we cannot,” wrote American activist Bell Hooks in her Feminist Theory: From Margin to the Center. “Since men are the primary agents maintaining and supporting sexism and sexist oppression, they can only be successfully eradicated if men are compelled to assume responsibility for transforming their consciousness and the consciousness of society as a whole.”
Be ready to move very, very slowly. Be ready to move very fast. There is a time for first aid and early intervention, and there is a time for slow processing.
Feminism is nothing if it is not intersectional. Your and my rights at work and at home are only as important as the rights of Kanta Massi and Taslimun at work. Their workplace is our home. Whatever I feel I deserve from my workplace and home, they deserve in theirs. Let’s name some of the basics—paid maternity leave, promotions, pay raise, workplace breaks, holidays, off days, medical benefits. Some more basICS: love, respect, being valued for her essential self.
For some women, feminism will mean stepping out of homes to work and travel in the world outside. For others, it’s spending more time with their families and at home. Everyone lives in one’s own context and a practising feminist doesn’t misunderstand her role as that of a judge. Feminism is your conscience. It will teach you to revolutionise your consciousness.
Change is a complex process that offers learnings at every step. Be open to reassessment and grief. Do not feel compelled to substitute confusion and complexities with anger and rage. Anger has its uses but it is also toxic and contaminating. It needs to be tempered with clear-sightedness. With self-awareness.
Go beyond anger. This I have learnt from you. Anger is a stage, a short necessary phase. It misleads us into thinking that having declared our position means our work is done. Real work and contribution start when you sublimate your anger into action. Anger traps you in the victim mode. Social media has dulled our innate sense of right and wrong. We do not have to surrender to its easy lure.
You already have better skills than previous generations. Resist the archaic pressures of your socialisation. You know you are not here to please others. Don’t make mocking others a pastime either. There will be many stages in your life when the power balance within structures will tip in your favour. That will be a test of your feminism. Will you kick and hurt those who you can, or will you resist the easy temptation of populist vengeance?
There was a time in my life when the geopolitical power inequality between nations made me so frustrated, that I would find myself lauding the death of the oppressor in the conflict that he had created himself. I had willingly suspended my own humanity…my gift of innocence. My own moral compass.
Be strategic, as you often like to remind me. Finally, it is the children who simplify what we have complicated for ourselves. You want justice, not revenge. The look on your faces tells me I have strayed when I become misguided in my anger and frustration. My peers often goad me on, because outrage is easy. We have a tendency to gang up and declare who our enemies are. We are shooting ourselves in the foot as we do this.
When you begin to lose faith to become cynical and angry, when you find your reserves of empathy and self-love depleted, go back to reading. Slow down. Self-care is an essential part of feminist ideology. Read feminists and read about feminists. Bell Hooks and Audre Lorde. Savitribai Phule and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. Make your own lists of those who have inspired in action and with words. Don’t just read those who have written books. Read about women who have paved the way for you to walk on. Work with them. There is very little you will do that someone hasn’t done before you in tougher circumstances and harsher times. Know that there are mentors who are watching your back.
Refuse to inherit our biases. Reject victimhood. Do not accept the legacy of willing misrepresentation and misunderstanding. Of the excesses of power. We don’t want to offer you a battlefield: feminism seeks peace. The goals: justice, equality, healing, transformation and rehabilitation for both men and women. Feminism is a theory in the making, which we must criticise, question, re-examine, and explore possibilities. Listen as much as you speak. Learn from everyone. Then feminism will begin to win.
(The writer is a filmmaker and author of the book My Daughters’ Mum.)