How a feminist's words resonated with me

By Annada Rathore. Dated: 8/9/2018 3:57:43 PM

"The fairness cream companies that promote being light-skinned as the only way to be successful in society are not any different from Hitler having an ideal race, with fair features and blue eyes"

The third annual Balraj Puri Memorial Lecture 2018, hosted in the Brigadier Rajinder Singh Auditorium at Jammu University on Monday morning, saw the illustrious Kamla Bhasin giving an extremely enlightening speech about feminism and its relevance in South Asia.
What I loved most about her lecture was how rational it was. Many people today speak of feminism without taking into account the reality of the cultures and traditions that have always prevailed in South Asian countries. She didn't make sweeping statements to abolish decades-old practices; instead, she proposed intertwining equality in them to celebrate women and their capabilities as well.
One of her quotes that left an indelible mark on me was, "Before I ask for my rights, I ask for my responsibilities". This is the mindset that makes the most difference.
The lecture covered key aspects of the topic that has become so widely discussed, it was named word of 2017 by the Miriam-Webster Dictionary. Kamla Bhasin talked frankly about how feminism is the most incorrectly represented ideology, when in actuality, gender equality is a win-win situation. Throughout the lecture, Ms. Bhasin articulately illustrated how men are actually held back by the patriarchy that they think puts them on a pedestal. No country, economy or society can progress when half of it is being held back.
Ms. Bhasin also gave us her take on the cosmetics industry, which in my opinion, is one of the largest causes for self-esteem issues within women. She quoted the statistics from a study revealing that 85% women are unhappy with themselves because of the pressure from certain products in the cosmetics industry. This is due in large part to the idealistic image that they paint. An example would be the fairness cream companies that promote being light-skinned as the only way to be successful in society. How is it any different from Hitler having an ideal race, with fair features and blue eyes, I wonder? This sort of media is unhealthy, what with their 'perfect' skin tone and body-type. These are crucial issues to speak of which were so beautifully brought to light.
Moreover, she held responsible the toy industry for a lot of the gun-violence taking a toll on America by designating toy guns to young boys and dolls to young girls- in short, gender appropriation. It got me thinking- is it not the toy industry that enforces upon girls toys like dolls and little kitchen sets, while leaving the more boisterous toys to boys? This undoubtedly shapes their personalities and paves the paths they embark upon as adults. Sitting in the auditorium, I immediately recalled the chocolate egg toys- with blue eggs with different 'boyish' toys, and pink eggs with 'girly' toys. In fact, this gender appropriation is on the rise, as within a span of less than ten years, the chocolate eggs that were once gender-neutral are now starkly gender-differentiated.
Who decided that girls like dolls and boys like cars? Speaking in reflection of my own childhood, I never liked dolls to start with. I liked the same figurines that my brother played with, and thankfully, I had the freedom to choose my toys as I wished. I did enjoy the cooking sets, but I also remember my brother being overjoyed to serve me 'soup' in the little cups and saucers. My parents never discouraged these types of activities, but it is too disheartening to see other young boys being enforced to follow a 'boisterous' route because it is said to be more 'manly'. If this is the case, why is it that we wonder why some boys resort to violence as they grow older?
Ms. Bhasin also illuminated the ill-effects of Hollywood and Bollywood, giving due blame to the lyrics of songs that all Indians listen to with great enthusiasm, oblivious to the mindset they slowly instil in us. I am so glad that this topic was addressed. For all the change our youth is trying to bring in to India, songs like these hold them back. It puts many in a state of conflict- do the young boys and girls who propagate equality still dance to these tunes? How can they not, when it's all they hear? To the masses of Indians who follow Indian cinema closely where fitful, complaining girls are depicted, to those who forward sexist jokes about wives being nothing but burdens… this is just the way it is. They are too conditioned to think of the fact that there are more girls who oppose the false stereotype than there are those who fit in it.
Another vital point made was that feminism is not a new idea. This was pivotal to address, as many feminists today are shut down with the phrase, "Your new generation and its new ideas", as if it is a bad idea if it hasn't been thought of for centuries. There is comfort in the old than too many people have latched on to, halting progress in various areas.
Many people, she explicated, dismiss feminism as being a 'new' and 'Western' ideology. Through humorous anecdotes, she made two extremely impactful points. The first was that feminism has always existed, and so isn't 'Western' with the aid of an example from the time of the Lord Buddha. Secondly, she affirmed that even if feminism was a Western concept, she would have adopted it, because she believes in the ideology. To her, ideas don't have any nationality.
Throughout the lecture, she kept the crowd captivated as she employed clever, relatable humour as well as simple yet profound quotes. One example is "My feminism is not opportunism", which through her powerful delivery, was explained to mean that being a feminist required consistency- not just to make the most of a situation. Another profound one is, "Men of quality are not afraid of equality". Its clever wording implies that it takes a good man, unafraid of change, to understand the benefits of feminism, for both men and women.
Using rattling statistics, Ms. Bhasin depicted just how much gender inequality was actually holding back men as well. Spiritually, she said, gender inequality actually has far more detrimental effects on men than it does on women. This is one of the most ground-breaking statements she made. The men who believe they are entitled to hit their wives, the men who believe it is right to punish a woman with rape… they are never taught that these are things that corrode their souls into nothingness.
Furthermore, she respectfully addressed various festivals that we celebrate which put women down- but one of the most prodigious parts about her lecture was that she didn't talk of abolishing these festivals. Instead, she gracefully spoke of how to encompass equality within them. Taking Rakhi as an example, she spoke of how it is not just men who protect women. We too protect our brothers in various ways. Drawing out a page from her personal experiences, Ms. Bhasin recalled that she had paid for her brother's education. This, she declared, is a deep form of protection as well. So, she believes that both brothers and sisters should tie Rakhis to each other, vowing to protect each other all their lives. I found this to be beautiful, an echo of what my mother has always inculcated in the Rakhi celebrations between my brother and I. It is a deep thought process that can truly spark a change in mindsets within children, who are, after all, the future. If all children are taught equality through their festivals, it will bring out the beauty of how nature keeps reinforcing the concept of co-existence.
She spoke often about how feminism required changes from within and demanded the most of ourselves, rather than others. This is due, of course, in large part to the patriarchal mannerisms embedded deep within us. But she spoke of feminism as a journey. She spoke of women as her sisters. She spoke of all those oppressed as partners in her fight. Ms. Bhasin wove in positivity in her speech, as opposed to simple blame sharing. I suppose that is what made her lecture resonate within me the most. Women like her are proof of just how much society can develop if women are given the equality they deserve, and I'm truly grateful I got the chance to imbibe the wisdom she shared.



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