September 04, 2007

Why ‘Young Feminists’?

IN CONVERSATIONS among feminists, the unspoken question is usually palpable. The conversation seeks a defining moment like the Mathura rape or similar such rallying points of the 70s and the early 80s. It assumes understanding. It demands history. It seeks common experiences and some long-ago but much cherished bonhomie and much remembered arguments. And then, amidst crushing hugs, there appears ‘solidarity’, solid and secure before the chai break. These are the second wave feminists. There is so much solidarity that it seems like something you can touch. Though one can dismiss it as a generational peeve, it does sneak its way into the mind long after that particular conversation has ceased. My feminist friends and I were always on the fringe of that conversation.

Our entry points into feminism were very different from the previous generation’s. We came into feminism through women’s organizations headed by feminists, NGOs, feminist literature and even bookshops. We were introduced to feminism by the previous generation. We listened to conversations, read ‘issues at stake’ and were in awe. The women’s movement of the 70s and 80s had taken to the streets, protested, raised consciousness and vociferously sought legal reform. For our generation, there have been few opportunities to find peers, and even when we have found other young women calling themselves feminists, there have been fewer opportunities to dialogue, form relationships and forge a collective identity.

Though much of what we (urban women) enjoy today — mobility, freedom, education, choices of work are the results of struggles of the women’s movement of the 70s and the 80s — I feel it is important to understand and articulate our own issues, which are definitely very different from those that existed then. Our politics may not be radically different but we have the task of seeking answers to questions that were left out and cover ground that the previous generation couldn’t.

Though I don’t subscribe to ‘youth’ in itself as a political category, I definitely feel, as young women calling ourselves feminists, we need to build collective identities, and arguments. There is a very real need for dialogue among us if we have to hold up half the sky, break bread and have cuppa in solidarity. This space and identity is important even if it means we just end up posing a counter to specious ‘post feminist’ arguments.

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1 comment to Why ‘Young Feminists’?

  • Srila

    Thanks for this, Indhu. I’ve been thinking of generational issues as well, and the increasing tendency, not just amongst feminists of an older generation, to view ‘younger’ women as being ‘career feminists’, women who, as you note, come to feminist politics through funded NGOs and not student politics. Do you get a sense of a generational conflict rather than a mere divide in Indian feminism today?

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