"I think when a man speaks as a feminist, he is recognising his privilege and not
Arush Pande, Class of 2019
Disclaimer: I have not written in detail about gender identities other than male and female. This is in no way to insinuate that I do not recognise the gendered struggle of non-binary identities. I just think that they are politicised differently and including them in this article would not do justice to their concerns.
I write this as some “Liberal Teen” tags me in a meme about the Egg-Throwing Incident. When people first started responding to my post with memes, I was a little disturbed — mostly because my politics was being trivialised, being reduced to a joke aimed at social media validation. About three weeks after the Incident, it pleases me that a bunch of people (“coincidentally” mostly men) still feel the desperate need to ridicule what I was saying. It further strengthens my belief that I raised something important, something that they are happy to sweep under the carpet.
I identify as a male feminist (the equivalent of an “anti-national” in the world of gender). No, this does not mean that I think that men do not experience sexual harassment. I do, however, think that they enjoy structural privilege that manifests in the form of entitlement over public spaces. This is not to say that all men are — pardon my candour — assholes that are out to reinforce their superiority over other genders. But it is to say that our innocent seeming actions — be it the repeated use of gendered words like “mankind” and “hysterical”, or the kind of leverage we assume with women in the name of “fooling around” — are often driven, facilitated and/or catalysed by deeply internalised gender norms. And as much as that does not give rise to “culpability”, it is useful to think about the ways in which each one of us is responsible for the reinforcement and strengthening of gendered power dynamics.
It did not come as a surprise to me that people were disturbed by my decision to gender my post. After all, wouldn’t we all like to believe that Ashoka University is this La La Land where human civilisation has reached the pinnacle of egalitarianism and all forms of identity-based oppression have been left far behind? And the outrageous number of CASH cases that come up every semester — the “larger” issues that everybody is a lot more comfortable talking about — are merely unfortunate, inexplicable aberrations of behaviour that arise in this otherwise Feminist Utopia? The problem lies in us looking at these incidents in isolation as opposed to examining them structurally, which would involve scrutinising our own behaviours and seeing how they might contribute to a culture where some bodies aren’t considered equally important. The normalisation of sexist humour, the lack of gender inclusivity in our usage of pronouns, and the systematic derision of marginalised gender identities through the use of cuss words — to name a few — are as much causes as they are products of the patriarchy. Sexual harassment does not stem from a mere delegitimization of consent; it is the result of a systematic delegitimization of certain bodies and identities. It cannot be tackled without identifying and weeding out from our social fabric these seemingly innocent but deeply internalised norms.
My disturbance with Ashoka, which is one of the reasons why my friends and I decided to initiate a feminist collective, does not arise merely from the existence of these problems. It is hardly a surprise that gender relations that have been established and reified over a gargantuan expanse of time are reproduced in a public space like the university campus. My discomfort lies in the conviction with which we disavow the existence of these relations, wrapped in the warm and cosy shawl of our privilege, pretending as if Ashoka doesn’t need feminism. We restrict our critical thinking to the classroom, refusing to point fingers at ourselves — to start saying “I’m sorry I made you feel uncomfortable” as opposed to “I’m sorry you felt uncomfortable” (spot the subtle difference). It is not the rampant sexism but the refusal to recognise and the mental lethargy to overcome it that is appalling. The unfortunate fact — and this is the part that nobody wants to acknowledge — is that we cause those CASH cases that we admonish from a distance. We may not be culpable, but we are most definitely responsible because we refuse to question and critique our everyday, normalised actions that feed into a structure which manifests most obviously in the form of sexual harassment.
I understand that this has become a common defense mechanism: make memes when life gives you gender. But it will not make the problem disappear, nor will it successfully bully into silence those determined to draw attention to it.