Recently, two young women from Lady Shri Ram College, have been in the limelight for very different reasons. Gurmeher Kaur’s recent protest against the ABVP’s disruption of a DU seminar, reminiscent of her 2016 petition to the government to stop hate-mongering and end war, was too much for our fragile guardians of nationalism. Faced with abuses and rape threats, she was hounded into withdrawing her campaign (including from stalwarts of our two favourite industries – Bollywood and cricket). This violence she encountered represents the sorry state of women’s rights in India. Cut to Mira Rajput’s controversial International Women’s Day about feminism.
In the interview, she takes on feminism and motherhood, both very loaded terms, and does them a disservice. What seems to have been intended as a meditation on traditional values and modern ideals that women juggle today comes across, in parts, as a reductive portrait of women as wives and mothers, and sets a dangerous precedent.
Speaking on a public platform is a responsibility, especially on an occasion like Women’s Day, and must be addressed as one.Her talk of life after marriage being defined in terms of being a mother, wife and “keeping good home” adds not only to patriarchy’s fantasy, but also suppresses the efforts of feminism to undo these categories that have been historically used to oppress women.
Is there anything fundamentally wrong with being a homemaker? No. But labour comes in many forms. The unrecognised labour performed by millions of women running homes, raising children, doing domestic work, is real labour.
Being a homemaker is the basic minimum expected of women who enter the institution of marriage, and such expectations need to be challenged precisely by women from the inside. To speak as if these problems do not exist – especially on a day earmarked to recognise the historical situatedness of women’s rights – is problematic.
Speaking on the occasion takes on a historical significance that falls flat in this case due to its lack of nuance. Much as I respect her right to air her views, it is a questionable choice to do so on a day when women have rioted and picketed for their right to equal pay, to vote and include themselves as part of political consciousness.
Sometimes over the past few decades it’s seemed as if we’re slowly, inch by inch, getting closer to a gender-equal utopia. And sometimes, as for instance with the election of a “pussy-grabbing” women’s-hotness-rating misogynist as “the leader of the free world”, it does feel as if we’re getting further away from living in a feminist paradise. The worldwide women’s marches against Trump were a way of saying how much of a step back his inauguration feels.
So it might be good to think about where we’re hoping to get to. Here’s what a feminist utopia is for me: a world where your genitals, hormonal arrangements or gender identification matter not a whit. Where no emotions are gendered: everyone gets to be both vulnerable and tough, aggressive and nurturing, effortlessly confident and inclusively consensus-building, compassionate and dominant. Each by turn, just as it exists in us: no part of our rich, human selves cut off or excised because “boys don’t cry” or “girls aren’t funny”.
What I want is a world where neither gender nor sex are destiny. Where no child is ever told there’s anything they can’t do, or must do, “because you’re a boy” or “because you’re a girl”. It’s not a world where anything is “taken” from anyone – it’s one where everyone’s possibilities are enlarged.
We are very far from that feminism world today. So how do we get from here to there? A million steps, large and small. But here are a few ideas. We urgently need to address the assumption bound up in our employment laws and custody arrangements that women are the “natural child carers” and men don’t really want much to do with their children.