Becoming a feminist is a little like losing your virginity: what at first manifests as a disappointing set of revelations about the world is often the beginning of meaningful new experiences and deep kinds of fulfilment. ~Emer O'Toole, Irish author, feminist, teacher
Inspired by author Emer O'Toole's article on the 10 things that feminism ruined for her, I decided to compile my own list. Because it's true that once you wear feminist glasses, you'll struggle to appreciate some of the simple pleasures of life.
I struggle to appreciate art because I can't stop lamenting the invisibility of women in the field. Most famous artists in the world are men. Women of every civilisation in every age have been denied the opportunity to express themselves through art -- they could rarely pick up the paint and brush because their hands were full of household chores. Same goes for literature, poetry, philosophy, music, films, sports, handicrafts and so on.
God, religion, spirituality
As an atheist and feminist I have established for myself that god doesn't exist. Religion is the root cause of gender-based oppression because in every religion women are given secondary status -- after all, it is imagined that god is a male and so are his messengers. So far so good. But spirituality? There are many rationalists who do not believe in god, but they appreciate spirituality, meditation, soul cleansing and so on. Not me. I cannot even appreciate spirituality preached by gurus because if you do the math, you'll see most of the life-changing practices, knowledge and wisdom are preached by male gurus.
"I cannot celebrate traditional festivals with my family because they smack of marginalisation of women."
Culture and traditions
I cannot appreciate the traditions and culture of my nation because I cannot ignore the millions of women marginalised due to these. I cannot celebrate traditional festivals with my family because they smack of marginalisation of women. Raksha Bandhan, Bhai Dooj and Karva Chauth are some of the most regressive festivals. It disappoints me to see that so many modern, empowered, educated women still practice these festivals without questioning the basis of them. They argue it is their day of showing love and affection but the inherent biases in the origin of these practices don't change.
Travel and tourism
I love travelling but it gets ruined for me because of nagging feminist thoughts. For example, the traveller in me loves Rajasthan, its royal grandeur, rich heritage, the imposing forts and the tales of heroism of the royal fighters. But when the feminist in me travels to Rajasthan, all I can see are tales of oppression towards thousands of Rajput women written on every brick on every wall of those forts. All I can hear are the desperate cries of the countless royal women burnt to death along with her husband's pyres, the practice of sati being an integral part of royal aristocracy in Rajasthan. The tales of heroism only speak of deep machismo, preference for male children to run the royal families, the killings of millions of girl children. Rajasthan is a deeply offensive land to women's rights and freedom across class and caste.
Similarly, whenever I travel to any new place, I cannot limit myself to enjoying the natural beauty of the place, relishing the local food and learning about its culture and traditions. I am always trying to investigate the status of women in that place. The beauty of a place means nothing to me if I see indications that it's a low ranker on the Gender Inequality Index. At times it is too much work to be a traveller, a photographer as well as a feminist.
Dr Gregory House
I love this man beyond all limits. I would go to my grave loving him but in loving him I find myself burdened with guilt of cheating on my feminist values. Dr House is an offensive, mad genius who saves more lives than anybody else in the fictitious Princeton Plainsboro Hospital. He is rude and insensitive towards his colleagues and patients. He calls everybody around an idiot, hurts people by blurting out bitter truths in their faces. Now most of the time it is fun to watch him but when he makes an offensive remark about Dr Cuddy's dress or cleavage the feminist in me cringes. Dr House inspires me in many ways but the feminist in me baulks because I cannot find a female equivalent of him in the entire list of books, films and TV shows that I've known around the world.
"The beauty of a place means nothing to me if I see indications that it's a low ranker on the Gender Inequality Index."
Everybody loves a mad genius. We've had many such eccentric, rude, arrogant, selfish, annoyingly honest geniuses in both film and literature that you can't help but love and respect. You love them because at the end of the day they say and do things you cannot but wish you could. But how many of them are women?
This beautiful fairy tale of a film makes me cry every time I watch it. But I cannot feel good about it because I cannot stop thinking about the clichés it reinforces, the idea of a damsel in distress and a knight in shining armour.
Both the book and the film are among my favourites. But I cannot enjoy it without confronting the nagging feminist question, "Why there were no women in the club? Was the first rule of Fight Club not to allow in a woman?"
Che Guevara and his Motorcycle Diaries
Simply because I can't stop being jealous of his male privileges. I mean if a woman in India tried doing what he did -- travel around the country in a motorcycle -- she'd be raped and killed before making a dent in her bike's mileage. Remember what happened to Thelma and Louise? Secretly, I want to wear a Che Guevara T-shirt, put his posters on every wall and live my life by his quotes but instead I keep searching for a woman rebel who can match him.
For the most part, feminism has made me fight a continuous war with myself. As a feminist I want to be inspired by female leaders and role models, follow their path, be like them, carry their quotes on bumper stickers, wear T-shirts with their names or faces. But instead in most fields I have a male to look up to. Most of my favourite authors are men (Tagore, Sarat Chandra, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde), as are my favourite film makers or actors (Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, Satyajit Ray, Aamir Khan, Tom Hanks), my favourite scientists (Einstein), my favourite rationalists (Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawkins), my favourite economists (Amartya Sen)... the list goes on.
Thankfully, two of my favourite comedians are Ellen DeGeneres and Tina Fey, and one of my favourite journalists is Barkha Dutt.
There are plenty of women in all of the fields I mentioned above who can be extremely inspiring and worth following, but if I leave my feminist glasses they are not my favourites. And that is a great internal as well as external struggle.