This Women's Day was hard.
A sinking feeling set in as I woke up to be greeted by sexist memes on WhatsApp and Facebook. Men feel compelled to express their love for women by congratulating us for our service to them. This year was no different—the same uninspired praise heaped on us for being model mothers, daughters, wives and too many other titles. It hurts my head. In a brief lapse of judgment, I tried to explain to a cousin on Facebook why this could be offensive, arguing that we are more than the roles we perform in the lives of men. He told me he was confident that the women he knew did not share my opinion, and I should stop speaking about women as "we," and instead present my ideas as solely mine. How silly of me to have started to argue the veracity of a meme. A meme argued the case for women better than me—a real human woman.
There is an urgent need to normalise women who speak up and show up—the time to treat them like freaks has passed.
The internet is indeed a deep dark pit of gloom for a woman on Women's Day.
That day, I went to bed distressed. The "progress" that everyone talks about seemed too little, and I wasn't feeling particularly celebratory.
On 9 March, I woke up to read a slightly different headline—it screamed badass in the title. It was a first in all of my 30-odd years of reading Indian newspapers. My instinct is to avoid headlines that are way too promising to be anything other than clickbait, but this one did not disappoint.
The story detailed actress Kangana Ranaut's response to being accused of playing the woman card and victim card, by one of the most influential movie producers in the country. The headline, like I said, screamed, "Mr Karan Johar, I Was Playing The Badass Card, Not The Victim Card."
This certainly woke me up! Women in India are gagged, harassed and issued rape threats. We don't clap back. We don't get the last word.
Referencing back to my failed Facebook dialogue, I let the man have the last word. In my defence, I knew I would never successfully change his or anyone's mind. I have nothing on a meme.
Being bothered by memes and comments by movie producers seem like problems of the rich. This particular incident can be dismissed as a celebrity squabble, yet it offers a timely and useful example to examine the trivialisation of a woman's struggles in society. Similar daily events of sexism that cut across class lines. If you are poor you are using falsehoods to make a point; if you are a movie star, then a privileged man will accuse you of using "the woman card" (the reigning champion among trendy euphemisms for "shut up.")
Turn up the volume on the voices of women like Kangana Ranaut; she has a megaphone, but it can be louder.
Every instance of silencing a woman deserves our outrage. The desire to avoid confrontation often pushes us to finding comfort in the higher road, even when we burn with a need to question the status quo. We silence our own voices and choose instead to not rock the boat. There is an urgent need to normalise women who speak up and show up—the time to treat them like freaks has passed.
I do not recommend picking fights on Facebook, but I do urge you to fight self-doubt and use your voice to dialogue with people who attempt to silence us. Turn up the volume on the voices of women like Kangana Ranaut; she has a megaphone, but it can be louder.
This is where social media and messaging apps play a critical role—choose to share stories of women who stand up with apathetic relatives and friends instead of a sexist meme disguised as a joke. When we champion such voices, many more will mushroom across our TV screens, offices, schools, playgrounds and homes.
If we turn up the volume in 2017, it's possible we will wake up next Women's Day to memes acknowledging the crescendo of our voice.