It's hard to imagine why any decent human being would shrink away from calling themselves a feminist. What is it about the word that makes people squirm and dodge it? For those who truly believe women are inferior and don't deserve the same rights as men, you need to get help, stat. But if your only problem with calling yourself a feminist is that there seems to be little more to it than armchair activism and endless ranting on social media, we hear you. Here are 17 things you can personally do to make the world a fairer place for women. May 2017 be a year of less background noise and more actual positive action.
Sexism is rampant all around us, in the language we use to talk about women as well as to them. Real change begins with honest introspection. It's easy to point out at Ranveer Singh's horrifyingly sexist ad, but it's a lot harder to see your role in shaping a pop culture that often hates women. Start with yourself and your immediate circle of influence.
Once you train yourself to observe inequality, start speaking up against it. No one's asking you to uproot your life, but make it a point to call out what seems like harmless, garden-variety sexism. It often comes in the form of harmless jokes, but is the most insidious. Manels, offensive Whatsapp jokes, Facebook posts, tweets...all of them qualify. Send out the "Not on my watch" signal loud and clear.
Literature needs more normal Indian women and fewer One (insipid) Indian Girl
Know when to shut up
Women spend a frustrating amount of time fighting for their seat at the table and once they have it, being interrupted (mostly) by men who believe they thought of it first and can say it better. Also, don't just wait for your turn to talk, actually listen. You might learn something.
Whataboutery is not a valid argument
Don't pepper every discussion with but what about climate change, kids dying of starvation, soldiers dying on the borders... You get the drift. Worthy causes can be worthy without being pitted against each other in a game of one-upmanship.
Read a book
By a woman author, preferably. Literature has far too few women and it is painful to consider how many wonderful stories are languishing in slush piles simply because "women authors" are a genre and there's only so much that can be done in a "genre" before it gets saturated. Literature needs more normal Indian women and fewer One (insipid) Indian Girl, please.
Support something other than yourself
Care about issues that aren't necessarily connected to your own. It'll help you from sliding into the belief that you've got the rawest deal in the universe. At the very least, it'll keep your empathy alive.
There is a massive difference between honest exchange of ideas and vapid one-upmanship. Don't be the jerk who is always trying to upstage other feminists.
Doing even one thing, no matter how small, is better than doing nothing at all. Make feminism a talking point at your book club. Buy a charitable library a subscription to a feminist publication. Volunteer with NGOs that don't mind floating assistants. It will help you feel some ownership and sense of responsibility towards the cause.
Unfortunately, there's a toxic amount of in-fighting among feminists which can put people off the ideology. The beauty of feminism is that it was never meant to be a monolithic, prescriptive or exclusionary movement. There is a big difference between honest exchange of ideas and vapid one-upmanship. Don't be the jerk who is always trying to upstage other feminists.
Don't believe your own PR
This can happen to the best of us. Once you're deeply entrenched in an ideology, it's difficult not to place yourself at the centre of every argument. It's not about your rights, it's about equal rights for women. Your role is limited to accepting that all our destinies are intertwined and so you need to fight for every woman's rights, even the ones you don't agree with. No matter how prolific a feminist you become, you can never let yourself believe you're bigger than the cause.
Look at women as a whole
I hate to admit this, but women are only slightly less guilty than men when it comes to treating women less as people and more as disembodied parts, particularly "tits" and "ass". It's a difficult conditioning to break out of, but valuing women for their intellectual prowess is one of the most important steps in securing equal financial, political and social rights for women.
Be more mindful around children
The future is not something that will happen to us at a later date, it's something we're shaping and raising today. Break the chain of sexism by not passing on ideas about what gender should mean to kids.
Make a list of three things that bother you and work only to change them.
If you're in a position of power, use it
Force more diversity in your sphere of influence. Take special pains to hire, develop and retain non-male talent in your organisation. It might be difficult, possibly uncomfortable in the short run but pays rich dividends, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in the larger scheme of things.
Don't dismiss everything as a publicity stunt
When a business or person makes an attempt to take a stand in favour of feminism, don't question their motives or ridicule them. Instead, hold them to the beliefs they claim to subscribe to, so they're forced to do more than launch tear-jerker ad campaigns and YouTube videos.
Make a list
Feminism is a simple life philosophy with a staggering number of layers and nuances. Don't let its enormity overwhelm you. If it helps, make a list of three things that bother you and work only to change them. It's better to be able to do a little, than be paralysed and do nothing at all.
No matter how intelligently you engage, there will always be those who reject fact-based discourse. When that happens, feel free to roll your eyes and walk away; you're not responsible for the world.
Learn to laugh at yourself
Don't go around forcefully looking for offence where none is intended. While some jokes can be seriously off-colour, recognise humour and appreciate a joke even if the truth in it is embarrassing.
Cut yourself some slack
Feminism is not something most of us grow up being educated about. Subscribing to it often means chipping away at conditioning with deep, gnarly roots. Sometimes, without realising it, you will fall back to comforting patterns. Forgive yourself and move on. Be willing to forgive others who falter as well. We're all a WIP and in this together.