Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who saw a stand-up performance of a woman on Youtube, talking about her will to dress as she pleases (and not being able to) and how Bollywood feeds on to the image of woman being either a vamp or a Goddess, never anything in between.
According to my friend, compared to other more important issues like rape and child abuse, this was no significant matter, and thus, not worthy of a discussion, or her time.
I tried to explain to her that perhaps the invisible link, the thread between a woman’s choice (or lack thereof), and a society that reeks of male-domination, and its stale effects was lost on her. Her version of feminism, or so she thought, was a more justified one than my credulous stance.
Flash-forward this particular talk, I have spoken to many other people (mostly women) who are of the opinion that a woman’s right to wear what she wishes to, or go where she pleases, or express herself sexually, are not as important predicaments in women’s rights discourse, as are violence against women on one hand, and the rights to education, health care, financial decision-making, on the other.
Again, the feeling seems to be rooted to the fact that those speaking about the former list of issues are not the right kind of feminists, as opposed to the latter group, who sometimes term themselves as “pragmatic feminists,” denoting feminists who are sensible beyond measure, and those who call out what only needs to be “called out,” and can be fixed.
This makes me wonder: Is there then a hegemony existing amongst the feminists themselves? Of course, one is aware of the different ideologies when it comes to feminism -- Marxist, liberal, radical, etc, but trying to push forward certain ideologies over others certainly defies the purpose of feminism itself.
Undoubtedly, feminism has space for different fights, different rights, and for multiple dialogues to co-exist without one faltering in criticism? Incidentally, I was part of a show even more recently that staged a production on gender stereotypes, challenges, and prejudices that a woman faces on a day-to-day basis.
Let’s create a more diverse tribe where all kinds of women and men raise each other up, instead of pulling them down
A writer/blogger who belongs to the latter group (the pragmatic ones) wrote an opinion piece about the production, on a very urban-elitist platform I should add, stressing that the stage show captured issues primarily faced by “urban middle class and upper middle class women only,” drawing on concerns that are not akin to patriarchy and subjugation, as faced by the major chunk of women in Bangladesh.
She went on to criticise the way the organisers mixed up Bangla and English while speaking, how younger people at the venue were smoking and drinking coffee, how the performers were in Western-wear; she even went on to question how the organisation could afford such an expensive venue in Gulshan. Blasphemy!
I find it absurd when I am questioned about telling my own story, or of those like mine. Isn’t it obvious to know yourself best, to talk about your own personal misgivings, or accomplishments? How can I speak of experiences I have never had?
I also take this personally, because I am often called names, and I face biases particularly because of the way I talk, my social circle, my home, my “foreign degree,” as if that’s something to feel guilty about, something I have not earned.
I feel like I am constantly having to explain myself -- explain why I or my parents could afford to go to/send me to grad school abroad, why I eat at expensive eateries, the likes; and because I do all that, and then speak about women’s rights (that too in English), like my version of feminism is susceptible to perpetual suspicion.
As if, the battle against Third World and First World feminists was not enough (in which case to the issue aroused because the struggles and accomplishments of both groups were dissimilar in nature, and hence a different set of voices needed to be heard, as opposed to white feminists telling the stories of feminists of colour), as if taking away a woman’s voice, her agency, her power to speak and breathe for herself was not enough, now we speak of different versions of feminism, amidst our own clad, our own class, and region and women.
Perhaps there would be some fragment of method in this madness, had there been a level of equality that had been achieved in society, except there is none even amongst the “privileged” classes, and there is still a long way to go.
Who, then, is to say that one struggle defeats the other, or that the tussles of urban women are less than those of rural women, simply because the former has a roof over her head, food to fill her tummy with, and technology in her hand?
Call me a dreamer, but I dream of a society where women (and some day men too), irrespective of their class, socio-economic background, religious belief, and education can support one another and each other’s causes.
I hope all feminists, pragmatic or otherwise, can simply refer to themselves as feminists, who truly believe in equality, irrespective of our personal differences.
Let’s be less rigid when defining feminists -- let’s create a more diverse tribe where all kinds of women and men raise each other up, instead of pulling them down, be it a Beyonce or a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a woman who likes pink, one that listens to rap songs, a woman who adorns the hijab, or a man who is the ruler of a nation.
Let’s be our own kinds of feminists.
Syeda Samara Mortada is the Coordinator of Bonhishikha, and an advocate of equal rights.