April 21, 2008

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

JUST POPPED IN to post this video from the Feminist Majority Foundation. The word ‘feminist’ comes with so much baggage and this is such a cool, smart way to dispel some ridiculous notions. It’s a simple concept but by visually representing the diverse kinds of people who are feminists, it busts some of the myths that swarm around us. I wonder what an Indian version of this would look like.


18 comments to This is What a Feminist Looks Like

  • Ok. Umm. I didn’t have the reaction I thought I would have. This was all surprisingly shallow and scripted. I think it would be useful in an extremely broad, pop culture way (the music toward the end was sooooo TV show). But absolutely nothing new was said, asked or answered. Just seemed like celebs were endorsing the FMF, in the same way they may endorse any other entity or product.

    Why don’t we make an Indian version then? But one that is not so commercial and obvious?

  • Sharanya, the fact that it could be useful in an “extremely broad, pop culture way” is exactly why I like it. I am extremely convinced that feminism needs to get simpler, more direct and more appealing to reach out to more people. There is no point being a niche academic movement with a few of us exchanging considered opinions in fusty classrooms or blogs. There must be at least a face of feminism that has broader appeal.

  • I’m totally with you on the taking it out of musty academia bit. But I’m also apathetic about this video for essentially the same reason why I don’t think email petitions to save the whales do much good, even though I would gladly attach my signature. It’s so easy to associate with something general, unthreatening and which works on the psyche in a clique way (celebrity endorsements, and the whole feel of if you’re not with us you’re not cool/liberal/sexy/etc). I think “feminist” is a pretty mainstream label, used as fashion statement, status thing and for other reasons (the Pussycat Dolls embrace it too). But feminism in action is rarer.

    Simplicity is different from simplification. I’d have liked a video like this to be about men and women who are truly inspirational in their lives, not just in their statements. And yes, America Ferrera is a lovely mass representative for instance, but there was an absence of depth (emotional depth as opposed to sophisticated thought which I agree can be a turn-off) in general. I would have liked to hear more ‘I am a feminist because…” or “Feminism saved my life by…” and less “feminism is” or “isn’t”.

    There are mainstream faces out there, even locally — Arundhati Roy, Sushmita Sen, Nandita Das (yes, even if one is a beauty queen with breast implants). They are feminist in their choices, not just because they declare themselves to be. I think this takes us into a related topic, actually. Is it necessary to identify politically as feminist to be feminist? My personal opinion is that it’s not necessary at all.

  • I think our fundamental disagreement stems from here:

    “I think “feminist” is a pretty mainstream label, used as fashion statement, status thing and for other reasons (the Pussycat Dolls embrace it too). ”

    Perhaps, we’ve been exposed to different sorts of people but I have met a huge number of people who are deliberately and proudly ‘apolitical’ and therefore ‘nonfeminist’. Some of them may even ‘believe in equality’ or live their lives in ways that are not so unfeminist, but they do not want to associate with it.

    While I agree that the kind of video you suggest would be good too, I feel there is a need for both rather than either/or. I believe that especially in our country there are (and rightly so), many feminisms. It is important to reach out to different sets of people in different ways. I think this is something we’re very bad at doing in India — harnessing pop culture and advertising to serve our ends. I’d love for a shorter, catchy Indian version to be played on MTV so that college-going girls see it and and accept the word, after which they can (hopefully) be more curious and look it up on the Internet.

    I do think your last question is an interesting one though Roy and Das have quite clearly associated themselves with women’s rights at some point or the other in interviews etc. So in that sense, they have declared themselves to be. Not sure what you mean by Sen being feminist in her choices; I’m not sure choosing to be a single mom is the only criteria.

  • Kali

    Don’t want to comment on the relative merits of A’s and S’s views .Strength to you both for engaging in this dialogue.

    As a middle-aged Indian living in the US and who is a feminist: (and discovered Ultraviolet through a link on US feminist sites) I would say don’t ape the West. These video ads are made by ad companies, perhaps the same one who made “I am an American” after 9/11. The latter was a good thing at the time but the genre is getting a little tired now.

    Perhaps it is time to invent an Indian(Sanskrit?) name for Feminism which isn’t too hung up with ‘ism’ and more to do with the worth of, and respect for, women.

    btw: the singular of criteria is criterion (for A) and sever (head or limb) is pronounced ‘seh- ver’ (for S).

  • Anindita: I suspect we’ve been over this before, but I think we need to ask why people are reluctant to associate themselves with feminism. One hypothesis is that they’re reluctant to call themselves feminists because the term is too narrow and associated with specific stereotypes. The other hypothesis is that people are reluctant to call themselves feminists because the term is too broad and can be embraced by pretty much anyone who wants to, without their having to do / believe anything, so that as a personal descriptor its essentially meaningless. Whether this film is useful or not depends, I suspect, upon which one of those hypotheses you believe.

    I agree with you that the film may be useful in getting people who don’t associate with feminism because they have a stereotypical view of what it means to be a feminist to rethink their position (I’m a little sceptical about anyone taking so blatant a piece of propaganda seriously, but as long as we’re talking about people who watch MTV I suppose anything’s possible), but I think there’s a risk that it may make people who are wary of feminism because it feels more like a fashion statement than a coherent ideology even less inclined to call themselves feminists.

    Which, of course, brings us back to the question of whether it really matters what people call themselves as long as they think / act in ways that are consistent with gender equality?

  • Kali

    “Which, of course, brings us back to the question of whether it really matters what people call themselves as long as they think / act in ways that are consistent with gender equality?

    Yes, it absolutely does. The human brain loves names and labels because it help us understand, categorize, learn.

    We want people to ultimately identify and lend energy and enthusiasm to our cause – not be indifferent or antagonistic.

    Whhat I liked about this film (and about the post 9/11 I am an American) is the inclusion of non-stereotypical feminists: men for example.

  • Kali: Perhaps, but some of us would rather identify with ideas than with labels. Especially labels that are so broad and vague to be meaningless when it comes to understanding, categorizing or learning.

  • Kali

    Thought I should add that I really admire the spunk and talent exhibited by all you young folks. Makes me proud to be Indian.

    Over here in the US, for all its prosperity and presumed progressiveness, they are currently debating whether a woman, or a black, is electable….. unbelievable (to a feminist dinosaur who grew up in the time of Indira Gandhi)!!

  • Ashutosh

    Well .. i am new to this web-portal and found it interesting. I am not sure, if a man’s comments would be appreciated here but still I have to speak my mind ..

    Feminism has 2 simple definitions:
    1. The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
    2. An Organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

    Now, both the theory and the activity is relevant where women are surpressed and denied basic rights.. but this philosophy of “equality” in an educated society has created an un-necessary competition between Men and Women … Nature created Men and Women to compliment each other and not to compete … but due to this “Feminism” and its hyped and false relation to “Women Empowerment” has created a rivalry between the two who were destined to love each other …. My question to you all is “Why do we need Feminism or Chauvinism ?”

  • Kali

    Falstaff and Ashutosh
    Do I sense a mild unease/sense of threat – in your responses.

    When there comes a time when there is no male chauvinism in this world – we won’t need to invoke feminism!

    Falstaff, clearly you and I both love labels – we would not have chosen such apt pen-names otherwise.

    Ideas can be too vague, broad and even meaningless (to others) until we label them – and then there is this ‘Aha’ moment (hope springs eternal…).

  • Kali: But that’s the point isn’t it? Personally, I have no desire to identify with a group of people who don’t understand / won’t engage with ideas but are content to subscribe to a label because it makes them feel good about themselves – in other words people who care more about appearance than content. Or, put differently, I have no desire to be identified with anyone who wasn’t calling himself / herself a feminist before but is happy to subscribe to that label simply because he / she saw an ad where a lot of cool looking people identified themselves as feminists.

    I have no problem with labels per se – I have a problem when a label is so broad as to encompass multiple sets of ideas, many of which contradict / disagree with each other, in ways that are too critical to overlook. Which, I submit, is the case with feminism. If being ‘feminist’ meant simply being opposed to the patriarchy then I’d be happy to call myself one. But if it means having to identify with everything that calls itself ‘feminist’ (and there’s really no exclusion criterion, is there?) then I’d rather just be myself than be part of some label.

    And I can’t say I know what you mean by ideas being vague, broad or meaningless – I’ve certainly never found them so.

    In any case, notice that your argument about labels helping people to achieve ‘aha’ moments is irrelevant to my original question, which was: If people already subscribe to your ideas why do you need them to subscribe to the label for those ideas you happen to prefer?

    I’m afraid I can’t comment on what you sense / don’t sense.

  • kaliprabhu

    I am a feminist but heretofore a lazy one. I have only recently had more time on my hands and have started to read feminist blogs and literature.

    Here is one I would recommend:
    Visit this site. on Feminist theory for an overview.

    Ashutosh – I don’t own this site but I would think that men are very welcome so long as the discourse is respectful (I am talking about some of the trolls that turn up).

    “If people already subscribe to your ideas why do you need them to subscribe to the label for those ideas you happen to prefer?”

    As short-hand for a whole realm of theory and ideas. The other purpose is to recuit more people to the cause . That is what the video was about. We cannot succeed without proselytizing.

    Just for example there is a whole Wikipedia page with multiple links on the “Quit India” movement a very handy label conveying a whole host of complex goals and ideas

    >The Quit India Movement (Bharat Chhodo Andolan or the August Movement) was a civil disobedience movement launched in India in August 1942 in response to Mohandas Gandhi’s call……etc <

  • kaliprabhu

    In light of your title for this thread perhaps you should check out feministe about the storm surrounding Seal Press (Feminist Press) and Marcotte’s book (she writes for Pandagon).

    Also it may be an idea to add a link explaining “What is feminism” to the curious uninitiated looking at this site and considering your ideas.

  • kaliprabhu: “The other purpose is to recuit more people to the cause . That is what the video was about. We cannot succeed without proselytizing.”

    Read the first paragraph of my last comment again. What kind of recruitment do we want to achieve? Do we want people to join the movement because they care about the issues and subscribe to a clearly defined set of ideas? Or do we want people to join because they saw a phony ad and the people in it looked cool. And how much ‘success’ are we likely to achieve with people who are more concerned with appearances than content? We cannot succeed by proselytizing without saying anything.

    The point is simply this: if the feminist shorthand is turning away people who otherwise agree with feminist principles, then should we be investing time, money and effort in defending the shorthand, or looking for an alternate shorthand (or a sub-label) that everyone could live with? Do you not see the irony in claiming that a label or shorthand is useful because it provides a convenient way of referring to a whole realm of ideas even as you struggle against the inconvenient stereotypes it comes burdened with?

    Oh, and thanks for the link, though it’s very basic isn’t it? Just to be clear – there’s a great deal of feminist writing / theory I agree with. There’s also a good bit that I disagree with, and wouldn’t care to be identified with. Which is why I don’t find the shorthand / label of feminism useful.

  • kaliprabhu

    The label doesn’t have to come burdened with stereotypes. No more than “quit India” did. One just had to be Indian .

    This may sound elitist : most people don’t read or post on blogs or read feminist literature and we must use popular culture to fill the gap.

    Personally, I do not like the word feminist any more than I would like the word ‘masculinist’ but that is a matter of style and relevance in the current context. There are too many good things associated with the F Word to casually dump it now.

    Try Racialicious and Apostate (latter by an exMuslim Pakistani woman) for more articulate arguments than mine.

  • ‘most people don’t read or post on blogs or read feminist literature and we must use popular culture to fill the gap’ – agree!!
    interesting discussion..though going back to what wondered at the start..what would an Indian version of this would look like..i wonder too.

  • Q

    I agree about the importance of media. I think it’s good to get more people get involved in creating alternate representations.

    This is kind of tangential, but I really don’t like The Feminist Majority Foundation. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think they supported the invasion of Iraq.

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