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When it all began
Done with my undergraduate studies, I had spared a gap year for myself to explore and contemplate career choices. I was a twenty-something guy, who was just like most others of his age- active on social media and up-to-date with trends. Oh, and a feminist too. Or at least, I thought I was.
There are as many definitions and versions of feminism as there are misconceptions about it. Now, I was not patriarchal. Misogyny would be the last noun that anyone would use in my description. But, I didn’t realize what being a feminist was, what was the actionable role of a male feminist until a radio show changed that for me.
A social incubation institution I followed was sponsoring a project that aimed to bring the feminist movement to the heritage city of old Ahmedabad through the medium of community radio. They were looking for volunteers who could write for the show. My bias for writing and feminism along with the need to invest my creative energy during the gap year helped me decide that I wanted to apply. After a brief screening interview, I got in!
Two months into training for the volunteership, they offered me a mic along with the role of a radio presenter, and that is where my journey towards further exploration into the feminist movement began. When I started ideating and designing the show, I had to make sure that I keep in mind the audience- patriarchy ridden families who lived in rural infrastructure surrounded by an urban metropolitan city. I also had to understand the functionality of a community radio station which was extremely different than the commercial radio that we listen to while going to work every day.
From Siddhartha to Gautam Buddha
If you are familiar with the story of Lord Buddha, you will be able to understand how I faced my privilege and hopefully, you will realize yours.
Legend says that an astrologer predicted after the birth of Prince Siddhartha that he will either become a universal monarch or a great sage. To prevent him from disclaiming the throne, his father kept him in a royal bubble where he was provided with everything that a commoner could never even imagine in his lifetime. Basically, he was kept from all the suffering that there is in the world.
Once, when he actually saw someone poor, someone old and a corpse on its way to cremation, this sudden stimulation made him think, and he ended up renouncing everything in search of the true meaning of life.
I’m not saying that I have found true meaning in life and the solution to the inequality that we see today. What I experienced was a realization of the privilege that I was living in. Along with the patriarchal conditioning that my family members were exposed to, and passed on to me, the casual sexism that I contributed to- in my social circles and the fact that my feminism was limited to wearing a “this is what a feminist looks like” tee.
This revelation happened through the research that I conducted for the show, the people that I interviewed, and to visit these rural families, to listen to the stories in person. I saw the intensity of the patriarchal epidemic.
But there was a problem
All of these sudden realizations resulted in a whirlwind of thoughts inside my head. I read about theories, and the history of feminism from Simone De Beauvoir to Malala Yousafzai and the learning multiplied as I did the show regularly.
There were a few questions that I began asking myself,
Should I be talking about this?
Am I eligible to represent the feminist movement? Let alone preach about it.
How do I talk about something that my privileged self has not experienced?
Was I, a man, credible enough for the people investing time to listen to me?
My mentors made me understand that such questions should make me feel responsible and not hopeless. Responsible to never communicate anything remotely wrong, and to motivate at least one listener to make a step towards equality.
My realizations from experiences and experiments
When I looked for other male feminists to look up to, I found some but realized that the others were only trying to pretend- for selfish reasons.
I used to look for ideologies of successful people who have given that support the movement. I have found statements like
They are true feminists who understand the cause and at least empathize if not join the fight.
But then there is Gandhi who might have been a feminist of his times, but his ideology doesn’t comprise of what feminism is today.
He says, “To call women the weaker sex is libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, the woman is less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then the woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, the man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with the woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?”
Knowing what is wrong with such an ideology was one of my first steps towards realizing the actual meaning of feminism.
On what I talked about in the show
The four hour-long shows that I was doing were more ‘content heavy’ as compared to music-centric show formats that commercial radio goes with. Heavy content might not be an ideal method for radio according to mass communication theories, but we had to start with a clean slate; and to bring these listeners to the same page as the world is, we needed to speak a lot.
The initial shows had themes about issues like domestic violence and education which the urban population might be aware of, but the rural still need deconditioning for.
This was followed by themes that surrounded family planning, working women, careers & employment issues because of gender, the menstruation, other taboos, parenting, and relationships.
Finally, we reached a level where we could talk about generations, old age & gender, women portrayal in media, social media trolling and cybersecurity, women in sports, women in media, women in comedy and the occasional festive specials like the Independence show and a week-long series of LGBTQ+ special shows after the historic amendment of section 377, with added specials on toxic masculinity, body positivity and mental health. The project ended with a special on gender pledges that all listeners must take before I bid adieu to them.
Even though I was the presenter for the show, I made sure I would speak less and listen more. I collaborated with amazing personalities from the city and outside to bring their perspectives on the show. These personalities included everyone; a widow from a local NGO to the music sensation Hard Kaur.
An open letter to men out there from this feminist guy
Between everyone making assumptions about my sexuality to misogynists DMing me #NotAllMen posts, I realized that male feminism in itself is a divisive concept because feminism is about equality, it just happened that women started the movement. Feminism is about breaking the boundaries of patriarchy and the bubble of the gender binary.
My learnings developed based on the idea that male feminism is about challenging casual sexism and patriarchal conditioning. Especially, in the case of men because it provides us with the cushioning of privilege and who wouldn’t cozy up? But, we have to kill the selfish NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome in us and evolve together as humanity; rather than based on gender.
I did lose a few male friends in my social circles. Now I realize they were a burden to me as much they are to the society when I started making them uncomfortable by pointing out their casual sexism while hanging out and defending women they were trash talking. They probably continue doing that even today. But if one person from every group starts, sexism might be a thing of the past.
People asked me if it is so much about equality, why is it not humanism and why is it feminism? The answer is simple. Women and femme folk initiated it and they deserve the credit. Above that, it is an expression that helps women stand in solidarity while fighting for a world we all deserve. If we, as men show more solidarity to the movement rather than what name it holds, maybe, we can get to the ideal world faster than the pace we are going at right now.
For me, It was about realizing that I am an active supporter and not a star of this movement. The real superstars have already done their job by creating the spark that has become the wildfire today. It is now up to us to be the torchbearers and keep this fire going until these unequal ideologies aren’t burnt to the ground.
It’s time we, as men, use our privilege as currency to accelerate the speed at which the world is changing- into an ideal place for every being to live ideally.
Where can you start?
Things are changing now, and people realize that they have to change with the changing times, but still, there are places and people with stubborn ideologies that indulge in partial behavior even with their own children based on their gender. Many women might be working but depend entirely on their husbands for making financial decisions about the money they earned.
We might wait for special days to start anew, which is a cognitive bias we have talked about in a previous blog. If you are looking for a good day to start, Indian Women Savings Day is an ideal day to start. Us millennials are a generation that wants independence and we want it now. Financial independence comes with learning about what they forgot to give us in the educational institutions. Not only women but men must know about basic finance.