Paromita Vohra: Why it is nice to study feminism


Illustration/ Ravi jadhav

Last week, I read one of those perplexing articles that keep getting published in national dailies the way Abhishek Bachchan keeps getting cast in movies about what is wrong with contemporary feminism. Apparently contemporary feminism is fail because it does not prepare women to deal with the wild world, by learning karate and self-defence. Theek hai, that's nice dear, or whatever is the appropriate response.

It reminded me of a remark by Sonal Shukla, founder of the feminist library, Vacha, that feminism is one of those things people don't feel they have to inform themselves about - the debates, the theorising, the movements - before having opinions about it.

Why should one do so? For the same reason one should study political science, economics or management really - to be better informed, be a better thinker, as you articulate your choices.

Choice is a cornerstone of feminism. The ability to make choices about your body, your life, your work and not have decisions forced on you by virtue of your gender - male, female or trans - is one of the goals of feminism.

That's why I am a bit confused by a new slogan in the campaign to make sanitary napkins tax free, which goes: Sex is a choice, menstruation is not. The slogan is linked to the fact that condoms are tax free.

This is a feminist campaign. One, it aims to benefit women of different classes. Two, it challenges the claim to neutrality that constructed structures like taxes and workplaces make, thereby penalising women for functions of nature like pregnancy and menstruation.

On the other hand, it is confusing when a campaign says something like 'sex is a choice' because is it really? Sex is all about choice. But our society hardly treats it like that. We have Section 377 which renders whole sexual orientations illegal and invalid. We have moral policing by parents, state and cultural organisations which do not recognise the right of two adults to a consensual relationship shaped to their preference. We have censorship that does not allow us to choose to see sexual choices depicted on screen.

We also have many (not all) men who do not recognise the idea of sexual choice in a woman. Condoms are symbolic of that. They may be used physically on men, but the fact is they are of use to all genders sexually because they prevent infection to all parties involved, as well as unwanted pregnancy. Yet, the use of condoms has gone down in India by something like 40%. This is because women are unable to negotiate condom use and men refuse to use condoms. It is in women's interest, too, that condoms be used more and they be able to exercise that choice.

Menstruation and sex are linked, biologically and culturally as taboos, so, their liberation is tied up with one another, just like the liberation of men and women is tied up with each other.

Sex is not the enemy, condoms toh definitely not. The enemy here, is taxes that governments impose on citizens and citizens can ask for changes in. Yaniki: taxes are a choice. Menstruation is not. So taxes must change.

And that's why it's nice to study the history of feminist movements, debates and theories. It helps you kick (the right) ass, just like karate.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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