Paromita Vohra: The F word of the year, yaniki...

Dec 24, 2017, 06:23 IST | Paromita Vohra

Who knew aise bhi din aayenge? The Merriam Webster dictionary has declared an F word, the word of the year. 

Who knew aise bhi din aayenge? The Merriam Webster dictionary has declared an F word, the word of the year. Yaniki, Feminism, because searches for the meaning of the word feminism went up by 70 per cent in 2017 as compared to 2016.

Isn't that just, well, cool and groovy? Because feminism is one of those things that people love to argue about - or rather against - without ever having really looked at the histories of movements, theories, legal and political debates. They make up a definition retro-fitted to their fears and anxieties and argue away. They suggest other names for feminism - humanism, womanism and my favourite, heard most recently, equalism, which sounds a bit like a movement for putting sugar substitutes in your coffee. They take potshots at feminist earnestness (because to argue seriously is to engage. To take potshots is like pulling pigtails, but, chalo, boyz will be boyz).

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

One might imagine that there was a surge in searches following the various sexual harassment revelations of the last few months. The largest spike in the search actually came after the women's march in Washington DC following Donald Trump's election. A second spike followed works like Wonder Woman and The Handmaid's Tale. It means people look at something - a women's march, a film, a book, a news report, or some arguments about these works and movements between feminists on social media - and think, "Hmm, maybe there's something there. What is that something?" And then, they search for that word. And that may start a journey for them. Maybe a journey which allows the swelling of discussion about sexual violence and sexism in Hollywood for example.

Those journeys will be diverse, unpredictable as journeys are when one thing leads to another. The most frustrating and fabulous thing about feminism is that it may have one essence, but it has no one definition. I personally think of it as a philosophy about the gendered nature of how power is structured, used and misused, in spoken and unspoken ways. There are dozens of other perspectives. In fact, often, as soon as some feminist agendas become too settled or static, it is challenged by some section of people invested in the idea, kept moving along, hence being a constant, ongoing movement.

That's what makes it an interesting movement, because the very idea of movements is redefined every day in the doing of feminism, in trying it on for new sizes, mixing and matching it with other ideas. The argument about whether feminism should exist or not - which sometimes happens - is so silly, as are declarations about 'feminists think that" because you will need to ask, which feminists baba?

The nice things about dictionaries, is that they rarely provide just one meaning for a word, but rather many shades of meaning, acknowledging life's heterogeneity. Words describe the world, in its visible and sensory glory, to set our experience of it free, in order to be sharable by many, not restricted in incoherence.

Feminism, too, like that, exists not in a fixed time and place but in the fact that people always try to exceed their boundaries - gendered, material, emotional, philosophical, political. It exists also in so many other F words - friendship, freedom, fighting among them - not to mention several other words under A to Z. Look it up sometime next year.

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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