A For Agency: The A to Z Of Feminism In India

The words we love, those we hate and the ones that make our ears bleed.

If you've ever found yourself surreptitiously googling words and phrases to be able to understand a piece of feminist literature, this list is your go-to guide. While sexism is a gift that keeps on giving and this is by no means an all-encompassing list, it should familiarise you with the most often used words in a feminist's vocabulary

A for Agency

You'll often hear feminists question whether a woman had "agency". You'll hear the word in relation to sex, clothes, religion... basically any structure of power, tool or argument to silence a woman. A woman's agency means her right to exercise free will and choose for herself—her sexual identity, the clothes she wears, religious beliefs, etc.

B for Benevolent Sexism

This is a cloaked dagger kind of sexism. It panders to stereotypes and traditional gender roles, but in a complimentary, positive-sounding way. Women are put on a pedestal by calling them "naturally" kind, sensitive, empathetic and compassionate. While these are all admirable qualities, assuming that sensitivity is gender-related automatically casts women in subservient roles in the workplace, while demonising tough women.

C for Cisgender and Confirmation Bias

C is a double whammy. Cisgender is a term for the people who self-identify with the gender they're born into. The word exists as an equal for transgender on the other side of the gender spectrum, so that our language stops implying that transgender is a deviation from what's "normal". Confirmation bias means focussing only on information that serves as evidence for an existing bias. Like when men will look at one woman struggling to park her car and use that as proof that women can't drive.

D for Donald Trump

Because when a self-identified pussy grabber manages to get elected to the highest office of one of the most powerful countries in the world, he becomes a definition unto himself.

E for Egalitarianism

Egalitarianism means good things—anyone who believes in equal rights for all has their heart in the right place. But to argue "egalitarianism, not feminism" takes away from the oppression women have had to face purely due to their gender. The politics of gender must be recognised.

Heteronormativity rejects the ideas of homosexuality, transexuality, asexuality, and every other sexual identity.

F for Feminazi

A figment of the collective imaginations of people uncomfortable with the idea of equal rights for women. It is used to lend credence to the ridiculous notion that feminists hate men and are looking to establish a new world order with female supremacy at its core.

G for Gaslighting

Gaslighting is what people like D for Donald Trump do—when their intimidation is challenged, they attempt to overwrite the reality of your experience with their own more forceful narrative, making you question your sanity. It is psychological abuse and it's a scarily common experience women face in relationships.

H for Heteronormative

It is the belief that gender is binary (male and female) and heterosexuality (being "straight") is the natural state of being. Heteronormativity rejects the ideas of homosexuality, transexuality, asexuality, and every other sexual identity. It is discriminatory and denies equal marriage rights to anyone who doesn't subscribe to its narrow definition.

I for Intersectional Feminism

Intersectional feminism is the view that sexism hurts women in varying degrees, depending on the structure of privilege they belong to. For example, while all women face sexism in India, the experience of Dalit women is far worse than that of an upper caste Hindu woman because she must battle casteism in addition to sexism.

Microaggressions are subtle actions or language that demeans a marginalised group.

J for Joke Tha Yaar

How many times have you heard someone say something breathtakingly offensive, but expected you to let it slide because they aren't actually sexist, it was a "joke tha yaar"? No. Just, no.

K for Kyriarchy

Kyriarchy is a layered concept and there have been several calls to replace patriarchy with kyriarchy in feminist terminology because patriarchy isn't isolated and is therefore not the only factor responsible for repression of women. Kyriarchy explains how circles of power are constantly shifting, depending on who enjoys privilege in a given situation. For example, an underprivileged Dalit man has little or no power over a rich upper caste Hindu woman. The rich upper caste Hindu woman might be oppressed in other ways because of her gender and the poor Dalit man might enjoy male privilege in other settings, but within their interaction, the balance of power is in favour of the woman.


It stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allies and Pansexual. While the term aims to be inclusive of all sexual identities, the fact that it is a mouthful makes many cynics consider this alphabet soup of orientations as PC taken too far.

M for MRAs and Microaggressions

MRA stands for Male Rights Activist, or a delusional personal who believes that men's rights are gravely under threat and must be safeguarded before "feminazis" take over the world. Microaggressions are subtle actions or language that demeans a marginalised group. For example, when female employees are infantilised and their authority undermined by addressing them as "honey", "darling" or "sweetheart".

The term "Queer" is a powerful example of how a slur can be appropriated and converted into a symbol of empowerment.

N for #NotAllMen

This is hashtag popularised by those who leap to the defence of "good guys" while discussing rape, violence, patriarchy, misogyny... By reminding the speaker that #NotAllMen are deplorable. It is a stupid thing to say because of the implication that grown-up, intelligent women aren't capable of understanding on their own that not all men are terrible. We know.

O for Objectification

When woman are reduced to their body parts for the purpose of male viewing pleasure as opposed to thinking, feeling, intelligent human beings. Objectification colours the way women are treated, interacted with and portrayed in popular culture. It is also a link in the lethal chain that leads to dehumanization and violence.

P for Privilege

Privilege refers to all the advantages a person has simply by virtue of belonging to a group that wields power in society, such as male, caste and class privilege.

Calling a woman a tease somehow makes it possible for entitled jerks to shame her for being both at the same time.

Q for Queer

The term "Queer" is a powerful example of how a slur can be appropriated and converted into a symbol of empowerment. Initially used as an insult for anyone who didn't identify as heterosexual, it is now used as an umbrella term for any person who rejects traditional definitions of gender and sexual orientations.

R for Rape Culture

It is the shameful social conditioning that seeks to normalise sexual assault and violence against women by excusing, even justifying, the actions of the perpetrators. Rape culture is encouraged by trivialising and glamourising sexual harrassment in the media, victim blaming and equating manliness with aggressiveness.

S for Slut Shaming

Boys will be boys, but girls will be sluts. Shaming a woman for exercising her right to decide who and how many people she has sex with is slut shaming. While men are congratulated for their sexual conquests and promiscuity, women are ridiculed and sometimes punished for it.

T for Tease

There are women who are shamed for being prudish and there are women who are shamed for being slutty. Calling a woman a tease somehow makes it possible for entitled jerks to shame her for being both at the same time. When a woman is branded a tease she is being called slutty because she was agreeable to sexual flirtation but too prudish to "go all the way" (read: actually have sex).

"No" doesn't mean "yes", neither do "later" or "maybe".

U for Uptight

Uptight is a term most often used for women who know their mind and aren't willing to compromise at the behest of the men around them. While a woman who has standards is called "uptight" and accused of having a "closed mind", a decisive, firm man is considered great management material.

V for Victim Blaming

When the victims of a crime are held responsible for what happened to them by implying that their behaviour warranted the crime and their subsequent treatment, it is called victim blaming. The most rampant form of this is when rape victims are asked what they were wearing and whether they'd been drinking at the time of molestation (meaning that if they were wearing revealing clothes or were intoxicated, they deserved it).

W for Wage Gap

It is the difference between what men and women earn for the same work. In India, women make 27 per cent less than what men do, on an average. Which means, women make 73 rupees for every 100 rupees a man makes for the same job.

X for xoxo

xoxo stands for hugs and kisses. It is simply an informal sign-off at the end of emails and text messages when there is a friendly equation between the receiver and sender. It is not a signal that a woman is ïnterested", and it is certainly not an invitation for romantic or licentious advances!

Y for Yes

Yes as in consent. A man must not put his hands or penis or, for that matter, any other part of his person on a woman until she very explicitly, without a shadow of doubt says "yes". Yes is a word that must not be confused with any other verbal or non-verbal cue. "No" doesn't mean "yes", neither do "later" or "maybe".

Z for Zealot

This is a word used to mock passionate, uncompromising feminists. It is most likely to be used by people who will deride the feminist agenda by calling it an exaggerated fight for "so-called equality". These people are also very likely to casually use "feminazi" to goad feminists.