To quote Emma Watson, I'm always left “quietly stunned” at the few thousand misconceptions about feminism that spring up on the internet and in the real world every time I hit refresh. And while I'm still not fully done reeling from the uninformed opinions spewed by netizens who are trying to have a crack at feminism, I find that a globally-relevant actress here or a supremely educated world-leading techie there are piling on to the scum with their own half-assed ideas about the movement, thus reversing decades' worth of work put in by women's rights activists in an instant.
At an event held to mark International Women's Day, Mira Rajput did just that. She openly and proudly celebrated a way of life that feminism itself has taught men and women to appreciate, but at the same time, stripped feminism of its due credit. And choosing to stay in that state of reckless ignorance, she said some other things that she does not realise the connotations of. But this is a golden chance for us to undo some of the damage inflicted upon the cause for years. By analysing her statement, phrase by phrase, word by word, we would like to tell you where her perceptions weren't sound, and thus, bust some common myths about the feminist theory.
At first, she said, “I am a housewife and wear that label with pride. Why can't you be an accomplished homemaker?
This statement must not only be lauded, it must be repeated, reblogged a million times over till the world starts to understand the invaluable services rendered by homemakers, in building this world, creating sound societies, and conjuring up secure and comforting spaces called 'homes'. Women who choose this lifelong unpaid, underappreciated career - with no apparent benefits, or even vacations – better start getting their perks at the very least, in the form of respect, appreciation, and an equal footing in society. Mira Rajput is right in wearing this label with pride.
Next, she says, “Accomplishing could mean anything one has their heart set on. I had a tough pregnancy, bringing Misha (their seven-month-old daughter) into this world. Now, I love being at home and spending time with my child.”
Being an involved mother is definitely an accomplishment as worthy as a professional laurel - and there are no two ways about it. At the event at BSE on IWD, where the opening bell was dedicated to gender equality, Prem Narayan, President, Indian Merchant Chambers, explained there is a strong business case in accounting for all the contributions women make in the labour scenario, saying, "Women do thrice the work that men do - cleaning, educating their children, domestic work, and professional work - without being compensated for most of it. Our GDP will increase tenfold, to at least $30 trillion, if we account for all their contributions."
This clearly shows that women come in all forms, with all sorts of priorities, and make all kinds of choices in the spectrum, from being ace homemakers to accomplished professionals. And hailing the services rendered by homemakers is of paramount importance to clear the name of this kind of life, so that both men and women are encouraged to follow their hearts and make these decisions, choose professional over personal and personal over professional as and when necessary - knowing that dignity and support waits on the other side, either way.
Neither choice is inferior – but that is the cardinal mistake that Mira made in her statement, next.
“I don't want to spend an hour with her and then rush to work. It's not that I am not a woman of today. You don't have to compromise on traditions and ideals to be modern. Why did I have her? She is not a puppy, you know. I want to be there for her as a mother; seeing her grow up cannot be quantified," she continued.
She does not understand the nuances of the struggle and conflict women are subjected to. In this tussle between work and family, women just can't seem to make the right choice.
If a woman chooses to be a mother, often times to avoid societal and familial confrontation, and often times at her own independent will, she is shamed by a section of the society that compels her to be abreast with “modern times” and have professional goals too. This is wrong, and Mira has rightly pointed that out. Being a homemaker is also a matter of pride.
But then, she went on to say that she wants to be a good mother as it is 'tradition' – and this is a dangerous area to tread upon. You do not want to be the ideal woman as prescribed by religion or culture – for these institutions are the root causes of some of the most inhumane practices inflicted upon women, and hence, by no means offer up the best yardsticks for women to want to measure up to.
And even as she provided this wise sermon to the world to respect homemakers, in the same breath, she did exactly what she frowns upon herself, and unleashed a world of condescension upon women whose choices were different from hers - that is, women who choose to work alongside raising children.
A woman may just as easily decide to work, because she has dreams, aspirations, and ambitions of her own as much as the next person and has the right to pursue them – and often, because she must also work to ensure the financial well-being of her family. In this case, she is shamed for not being there for her family, for not being a good mother, wife, daughter-in-law, what have you. (Even as a man who makes the exact same choices is hailed as 'a workaholic,' as 'focused', as the 'perfect provider'.)
Besides, the pain of leaving a child behind hits too close to home for women who experience dire guilt when they are torn between work and their families – and Mira's words and the “puppy” analogy are only adding on to it. Many leading ladies of our time have confessed to being torn and undergoing excruciating conflict when they had burgeoning careers and children in tow. They have all unanimously agreed that reconciling that conflict and dilemma has been one of their life's biggest challenges. Mira thoughtlessly undermined that struggle.
Women perform this delicate balancing act all by themselves, especially considering that the world provides them with few means to juggle both efficiently. And even as policies get instated on paper to provide long-ish maternity leaves, women still face flak from home and guilt from within for eventually returning to work - and a backlash at work, for temporarily choosing to rear a family.
“It is my choice to be at home. A working mother makes her own choices too; neither [homemaker or working mom] can be shamed.”
Mira is fortunate – because she happens to enjoy spending time with her child, and furthermore, has the option of devoting all her time to her baby, as she had little at stake professionally, and is young and yet to start her career. And being at this privileged vantage point in society, she will presumably have doors of opportunity waiting to be unlocked by her, when she is ready to work, if at all. It is her choice, and she had the means to make it without making any sacrifices in turn. Most women aren't that fortunate.
She only says that you cannot shame homemakers and working moms, but in the end, did exactly that, after doling out harsh judgements upon working women in her interview.
Lastly, this gem. “Feminism is not man versus woman. The new wave of feminism is aggressive and destructive. There is a term called Feminazi, which is now becoming the female equivalent of male chauvinist."
Her first statement is absolutely accurate. Feminism isn't man versus woman. Feminism doesn't attack people – it is attacking the ideology of patriarchy. Just like when one contracts a disease, one does not turn against the person – one tries to cure their disease. Patriarchy and sexism are like diseases, like inflictions. Both men and women at large can have it, as they have all been conditioned and exposed, in the same way. The aim is to educate both genders about biases and stereotypes they both tend to propagate, and in the end, set them free, and grant them the privilege of choice to lead their lives in accordance with their own free will; to ensure that they do not feel compelled or coerced into make any decision in any area of their life based on their gender.
But the word "feminazi" does not imply female chauvinists. A grammar “nazi” is someone who corrects you all the time – but, it earned this suffix in good humour, as it is harmless nit-picking. However, the word feminist got this ugly outgrowth as a slur; it has negative connotations. It is directed at strong-headed women, “woke” women, who are not afraid to call out the ubiquitous sexism in our minds and conversations and interactions, when they see it. Like grammar nazis, when feminists correct you on matters that are directly, gravely offensive to their gender and propagate dangerous ideas, when they simply demand to be treated equally, they are shamed for being too aggressive, quite literally like Nazis, because this kind of nit-picking threatens to change up everything in society, all its power relations and hierarchical structures, as we know them.
And about the female chauvinists that do exist, who carry misguided ideas about women's liberation, who do not practice intersectionalism – don't blame it on “feminism”, the movement. Now is the only time to shoot the messenger instead. Correct the misinformed, change their misconceptions, but do not deride feminism.
It's fitting to also end with a recent quote from Emma Watson, from the same interview. “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality.”