What has feminism achieved in the last decade?

What has feminism achieved in the last decade?


Suma Nagaraj Her choice of weapons in a mansplaining world are little to no patience and word barbs @sumantics

The second decade of the 21st century is about to draw to a close, and feminism continues to be a hotly debated word in the Indian lexicon. It isn’t like our culture is a stranger to feminism, and the word is a newly coined term that fills men with dread. But say you are a feminist, and you are likely to receive a snort of disdain in response, if not a mocking “Oh, you are a feminist”.

Let me educate you a bit: The third wave of feminist movement dominated from the 1990s to the early 2010s, moving into the current fourth wave that prides itself on being more inclusive than its predecessors. Each wave of feminism subsequent to the first began as a widening of the circle, to encompass a larger group of voices. You could think of the waves as concentric circles: Every time feminism recognised the need for more representation of differing voices, another larger circle formed around the existing one. Now, what is broadly considered to be the fourth wave, exists as a worldwide orb of sisterhood that also includes micro community circles within the larger framework, if separated from the original intent of the first three waves.

Let me quote a line from a Rainer Maria Rilke poem here: “I live my life in ever-widening circles, that reach out across the world”.

The watershed moment in feminism in the last decade has to be the MeToo movement, when women all over the world (as also some men) gathered together to protest against sexual harassment and sexual assault. The short, two-syllable hashtag, #MeToo, was a reminder of how commonplace sexual harassment and abuse of women was: by known men, by strangers, at the workplace, in the home environment, and how women have had to build their lives and self-respect around it in order to just live in the world. It also has become an extension of understanding and solidarity from one woman to another on social media.

Originally coined by sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke in 2006, the #MeToo war cry is the defining motif of feminist dialogue in current times. This movement got co-opted in various ways, leading to swift criticism, some warranted, some not. As with any revolutionary movement, particularly on social media, it attained a fever pitch before disappearing into occasional whispers and sporadic, if insistent, tweets, but the movement is so entrenched in current feminist discourse that I suspect dissertations will be written on it in future feminist commentary.

But we still have a long way to go in Indian society. Speaking strictly for me (I can see those brickbats coming), keeping #MeToo aside, there hasn’t been much contribution from our country’s women this past decade. Social media has become more of an instant gratification platform, with the gaze turning towards the pierced navel for the most part in this fight for equality. Personal narratives are not egging the discourse on so much as they are a naked attempt at sympathy-garnering in the form of retweets and pledges of solidarity with fist-pumping emoticons on social media. Actresses who accept movie roles that require them to be objectified and/or play meek, subservient hangers-on are not doing any favours to themselves or to the overall crusade for gender parity and equality. And let’s not even go near politics.

Still, there has been a fount of support in the ever-widening circles of the movement globally. Criticisms aside, the #MeToo movement has managed to do something that no one would have thought of – or thought possible – in this supremely divided world. There is this sense of solidarity, of compassion, of empathy that reaches out across the world and embraces women into one group hug that also seems to echo a silent acknowledgement that has still not found its way into male parlance: We know how to keep it in our pants.

And this, according to me, is the greatest achievement of feminism this past decade. Me too, sisters, me too.

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