By Anvitha Satheesh, Bhavishya Sundar and Rebecca Joby
A school in Kerala recently broke stereotypes by introducing gender-neutral uniforms for their students. When asked how the girls reaction to this new change was, C Raji, the principal of the primary school just smiled and said that “they were most excited about the pockets in their shorts.”
One way to figure out if you are a feminist is whether or not you know the importance of pockets in a woman’s life. “Your course is over. You can go home now if you know about the significance of pockets” said Nisha Susan, co-founder of the feminist online magazine – The Ladies Finger.
The Ground Floor foyer of the Bangalore International Centre (BIC) was as crowded as it was spacey. Brightly lit, a comfortable aesthetic and Nisha Susan in a nook where a small library acted as an appropriate background. Behind, slightly to her left was a white board with the words Who wants to know? I wants to know. As she spoke about feminist literature without a mic, the gathering inched closer, almost unconsciously, to hear her better.
Nisha began with her past experiences and about the typical heroine. From her reading of psychology books when she was younger, her main inference out of those books were that appearance was what mattered most and that if you were ugly, your story would end even before it started. There were certain boxes that needed to be checked for you to become a heroine: how she was probably better loved if she cried, was sad, had no change for auto and, basically, being your typical ablah naari.
Nisha’s feminism comes from everyday women who are rebellious in their own way, who watch Ekta Kapoor serials without worrying about their husbands yelling at them that it is dinner time, time for them to give back the remote and go into the kitchen to make chapatis. But the women aren’t having it. They are stunning in their will to have their own time and space, be their own heroine that now the husbands have to adjust to eat only when the wife are free or make themselves their own dinner.
“Run away from someone who says you’re not special or makes you question yourself as to whether or not you’re special.” Women, as people and characters were categorized into various clichés and types. They were even pitted against each other, because women are portrayed as rack others’ enemy.
When she spoke about Elena Ferrante’s brilliant decision to talk about a woman with equal love and contempt but more love, respect, admiration than jealousy, the crowd whooped with recognition. This was the recognition that finally someone understood that women aren’t women’s worst enemy, that if given the space we are all ready to be each other’s heroine, lover, sister and best friend without anger or much jealousy in the equation.
Women writing about women, about how the idea of a feminist or an idea of a stereotypical woman comes from the things we read about ourselves and the space we are allowing to men to define us in this way. We are not feminists because we support the right to equality and ask for more books on men because “equality”. We are feminists because we have made the decision to support an independent single, woman stand up comedian show rather than a well known man’s over priced show. We are feminists because we make the conscious effort to unlearn patriarchal conditioning, to read more women literature, to include women literature every year, to respect women and men alike , even those who believe equality means reading more men in literature or “so now do I have the ability to punch a woman in the face”.
Post the talk, Nisha Susan spent time mingling with the enthusiastic crowd, tackling questions and offering suggestions to budding feminist writers. When asked how one can be more inclusive and aware in their writing, she casually advises, “I have to go to an audition tomorrow and I start thinking from today itself, ‘what if I become famous? Paparazzi will follow me, I won’t be able to go out, I will have to wear big sunglasses and so on’ and I don’t go to the audition. Just don’t think so far ahead. Read and write without thinking too much, read more books, write more.”
‘Gender Bender’ is a multidisciplinary arts festival which showcased installations, marriage migration phone calls, menstrual-themed tarot deck, art work by various artists from all over the world and many more things. It was the fifth edition of ‘Gender Bender’ and the festival took place for four days from the 21st of August to the 24th of August, 2019 at the Bangalore International Centre, Domlur.
Featured Image Credits: Dexy Samuel