There was a debate on ‘sexism’ going on and someone shared her point about how she has faced unfair problems in her corporate office. Then another woman brings out a point about lower caste women facing immense issues at work, about the hardships they face. To my astonishment, it was brought out as an argument and not like a separate point. It started with ‘aa badhu to theek che pan..’ meaning ‘All this is fine but…’ There is a blatant divide between women all over and some people generously attribute it to the ‘female jealousy’.
It is very human to compare your problems with others and wanting to be seen as the worst affected. Same goes for women. Even though almost all problems get covered in the purview of some countable issues of patriarchy, politics, casteism and religion, we never see different women coming along to support one another.
Women are otherwise naturally built to be more empathetic. Women all over India are facing consequences of some particular ‘sanskar’ elements like not arguing (popularly known as ‘answering back’), obeying ‘hierarchy’, not knowing how to say ‘no’.
Child marriages, dowry, marital rape are the result of the same. Then are the urban women who don’t care about drought issues, farmer suicides and Dalit women issues. Rural women think urban life is easier and urban women are spoilt. Hindu women don’t identify or empathise with Muslim girl’s problems of FGM. Muslim ones don’t relate to dowry issues in Hindu customs. Representations from the media also make sure that a gang rape in a small village of women from lower caste fetches a really small estate in a newspaper compared to one in a metro. Further less time on mainstream primetime. This furthers the divide.
And in the end, not all women will be able to speak for themselves. Not all women will want to speak about their experiences, and they shouldn’t have to. However, online, a self-righteous group of people propose that you must have a lived experience before you can speak:
“You haven’t been raped? Are you a Dalit woman? What can you possibly know? Shut up and stay in your lane!”
It is laughable. We are all privileged in one way or another and those with more privilege should work to level the playing field. On the other side, we need to check our privilege often. Activist Mrinal Pandey had shared this incident about privilege in one of her sessions at JLF 2017,
“When I go to some of the events on gender equality, I witness a royal divide. There are women who are supremely articulated in English, speaking about women empowerment, women issues and then there are rural women there too. In one of the instances I asked a rural woman, do you know what’s happening here? She said, “It seems like they are talking about us but we don’t know what. “The only difference between them and us is that they smoke cigarette and we smoke beedis.”
I’m not saying that we should all agree because we’re not a homogenous group. There’s bound to be disagreement. And a little infighting and challenging each other is healthy. But if we care so much about liberating women then sisterhood – not this constant infighting – is what we desperately need right now. We must somehow find a way to bring our fractured and divided movement together. We must put our heads together to make the world better for women – and men. Because stereotypes affect men too. The first step we can take is to become better at listening because that is what we are all failing to do. We are not listening to other women- women other than us. Feminism needs sisterhood.
There are as many kinds of feminism in the world as there are women. You could be against a specific feminist but any person who believs in human rights would not be anti-feminism because it stands for the bigger issues out there. A shorter version of this article was translated to Gujarati and first published in City Bhaskar, Ahmedabad.