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Why a feminist’s work is never done

Updated on: 17 November,2023 04:38 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rosalyn D`mello |

Our never-ending task’s nature instils a resilience that sustains us. To know that the project will remain unfinished becomes a source of hope because it prevents us from sliding into complacency

Why a feminist’s work is never done

Those of us who commit to feminism are people who arrive at it from the vantage point of our wounds. Representation Pic

Rosalyn D’MelloMy partner took four days off this week, because he had them pending in his leave quota. Instead of travelling somewhere, he decided to invest in a home-based staycation. Instead of taking the time off to do things he might want to do for himself, he has been gifting me his time by assuming my afternoon childcare slot. This has allowed me the unexpected luxury of larger swathes of time to work on things that have been on the backburner, like updating my website, or responding to emails, or catching up on reading that is relevant to essays I’m currently thinking through. It has also helped mitigate the anxiety I would otherwise have felt these last few nights when our apartment has played host to a symphony of coughing sounds emitted by me, our toddler, and my partner. Like half of South Tyrol, we’re sick, too. Knowing I can catch up on sleep during the day, if I need to, or even on work, helps me be more present and offers me the patience and grace I need to soothe our toddler.

Our morning routine remains unchanged. But the fact that he doesn’t need to leave for work and is home managing so many chores usually reserved for me means my time is freed up. You would think this gift of time would offer me the feeling of completion, the high of finally getting things off my to-do list, emptying it out to accommodate new possibilities. Would it surprise you to know that isn’t the case? Especially considering I may have inherited my mother’s uncanny ability to always ‘find’ more work to do, even when everything seems, ostensibly, to be done. This fact, coupled with my feminist inclinations towards forms of activism means I constantly embody the state of being encompassed in the phrase ‘her work is never done’.

I first came upon this lamenting phrase more than a decade ago. It was the title of a two-part art exhibition that I think was curated by Bose Krishnamachari in a gallery he was running at the time in Mumbai. I’d been asked to interview two participating female artists for a publication that was planned alongside. At the time I thought of the title as something Sisyphus-like, connoting an endless loop of doing, undoing and redoing. I haven’t disregarded that perspective. I still think female labour feels often mountainous in its scale and boundless in its scope. So much of it has to do with its emotional undertones and the unrewarding nature of caretaking which marginalises it into female domains and allows for it to mount and pile up.

But off late I have been thinking about how the unfinished nature of feminist work instils in us a resilience that either directly or indirectly sustains and feeds our capacity for hope and joy. When we contend with the intersectional nature of oppression and wrestle with the complexity of structural inequities, we know from the get-go that we’re dealing with a David-Goliath scenario. Our resources will always feel meagre in the face of everything we’re fighting against. However, many cis-het male friends I know who have been participating in intense activist work frequently struggle with coming to terms with the minute nature of every minor victory against the colossal beast that is the racist-casteist-capitalist patriarchy. I don’t blame them for craving the thrill of a win, for frequently feeling like banging their heads against a wall. Many of them are simultaneously doing the work of un-conditioning themselves, but male entitlement is that vestige of patriarchy that is hardest for cis-het men to let go off, because so much of their identity remains tied to the privileges that it has both afforded and continues to afford them. On the other hand, those of us who commit to feminism are people who arrive at it from the vantage point of our wounds. It is precisely because we acknowledge that we are not entitled or are not privileged or do not have the same opportunities that we find ourselves at the threshold of feminist ideology. 
This is also why it is hardest for savarna and white women to fully embrace the notion of feminism as an embodied system of living, because it means they have to be transparent about the privileges they have that are bound to caste and race and in order to do that you require a certain humility.

As feminists, to know that our work is never done and will never be done, to know that the project will remain unfinished becomes a source of hope, because it prevents us from sliding into complacency. We frequently say that no one is free unless everyone is free… that is really, at heart, the mandate that feminism has set out for itself, and through that logic, it is invested in every movement that is on the side of liberation against occupying forces. It also means that our work is intergenerational in its expanse. It goes on, it persists, it is entangled, somehow with the history and future of humanity.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx
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