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No, we don’t get to tell any woman what feminism should mean to her

1
The generation of women that came before mine had a different view by and large of what abuse and violation represented. I remember being told many versions of “apni izzat apne haath mein hoti hai” (your honour is in your hands) while growing up and in my twenties by women who could not understand why I hit a conductor, or why I got into street fights with molesters or why I could never stay quiet if I felt a boundary had been crossed.
*
Even at the age of 10 or 11, I knew that I was absolutely alone in my battle to stand up for myself because everywhere I turned, I heard and saw apologists for men and boys who were never held accountable for their behaviour but I was. Once, I remember being told, “it happens to every girl..why do you think you are special?” There was my father of course who never asked me to tone down my anger in situations like these but rarely if ever ever , has a woman told me to “go ahead and get into trouble” by calling out a man for his inappropriate behaviour.
*
But this is what I realised while growing up. If you screamed at an eve teaser, he slunk away, ashamed to have been unmasked in a crowd. If you loudly berated someone in a bus, a train, on the street, in a cinema hall for trying to inch too close, he pretended he did not mean any harm and moved away. I never kept quiet because I wanted a potential molester to know that he would meet a woman once in a while who would show him up for who he was. That is why I once chased a molester on a Luna right to his house, knocked on his door and saw the colour drain from his face when he saw me. And then heard him beg me to not tell his parents about what he had done. This is why I told a stalker years later that I was going to call his family and heard him say, “Please don’t! They will misunderstand.”
*
This is the key to stop abuse. To make abusers afraid of being unmasked for who they are before those who do not know their reality. To always know that you have less to lose than those who try and abuse whatever power society has bestowed upon them because of their gender or whatever the hell they think will give them a free pass . If you loudly name the intent of a person trying to test how far he can go with you, he will be afraid to go any further in most cases.
*
The key is also women standing up for women. That is what finally brings down a Harvey Weinstein. When women stop siding with abusers, apologising for them, defending them like Donna Karan did, things shift.
*
In my thirties and forties, I realised however that many things that my generation has taken to be normal are not in fact normal at all. That the generation of women that has come after me is angrier and for want of a better word, more ‘disruptive.’ They want things that we never thought were possible for women to have. Like the right to stake a claim upon public spaces at night, refuse to be slut shamed for claiming their bodies as their own, be confessional on public platforms about their lives, be unafraid to show up with all of their emotions without fear that they will be judged. There are many things that despite my deeply rebellious nature, I have never attempted and still won’t do. I like things clean, not messy. I want peace because I have resolved and laid to rest, anger and memories of being undermined as a young woman in a society that is programmed to treat my gender as less important, worthy of less space, less respect, less power, less freedom, less joy, less opportunities in personal and professional life.
*
While I cheered young feminists from sidelines, I occasionally found myself feeling a bit uncomfortable with the drama, the loud proclamations that I thought were a waste of time and energy. And then I realised, I was becoming in the context of these women, what the previous generation of women had been to me. Oblivious and dismissive. Over the years,I have trained myself to understand that every new wave of feminist thought stretches, challenges and questions the limits set by the previous generation. Feminism is not one idea, one voice, one view point but many. And I don’t get to tell any woman how far she can or should go in her quest for equality. Or how she will come to the point when she too would have laid to rest some of her pain and anger. I don’t get to tell her what is the appropriate form of feminism because am not her. This I do know for sure though. It is not easy to name a powerful man in a public space as an abuser because there are consequences and if there are lists being shared today, may be we need to ask ourselves why the culture of silence has survived for so long in our academic circles, in corporate spaces, in entertainment, even in homes where nobody wants the veneer of respectability to be shattered.
*
I don’t know still, to be honest, if I would do what Raya Sarkar has done. I would have possibly confronted a man personally and struck the fear of God into his heart for daring to believe that he could in any way abuse his power at my expense but I don’t get to judge Raya for doing what she has done. I don’t get to shame or attack her because the right to name an abuser no matter how “respected” he is in a public domain and to stand by the consequences of what happens after that are hers. If she wants to be a “vigilante,” I don’t get to tell her that she can’t. As a woman, I cannot and will not question her intent behind doing what she has done because in doing so , I will become those women who told me, “It happens to everybody. What makes you think you are special?”
*
As for the men who are being named? I am uncomfortable with the idea that some of them may be innocent but in presuming that, I assume that Raya and women like her have no integrity and that they have an hidden agenda in naming them. It amazes me still that the most virulent personal attacks against women are often made by women and that we are still, after all these years of gender sensitisation, willing to disbelieve that women who choose to speak up may have a very good reason to.
*
The only thing I get to do in situations like these, is to decide if I would do what Raya has done. Maybe not. I fight differently but I don’t get to talk down to her, belittle her, question her idea of feminism, berate her just because I have decided that only certain kind of feminists are capable of leading the charge and bringing about change.
*
It says something about us that while the Me Too narratives were being celebrated and empathised with all over the world, many of us forgot to ask ourselves what was the next step in taking charge of our personhoods? So we are okay with victim and survivor narratives as long as we don’t don’t name those who victimised us? And we are not okay with a woman who shakes up power equations in public?
*
I was always told while growing up in multiple versions, “Don’t create a scene.” Well, what is happening to Raya right now is another version of that. I hope for her sake, that she will continue to do what feels right to her. And to learn on her own, whether “the list” is a way forward to control her own narrative. Or if there could have been another way. In any case, if I can’t stand up for her, I have no right to stand in her way either.
*
Reema Moudgil is the editor and co-founder of Unboxed Writers, the author of Perfect Eight, the editor of  Chicken Soup for the Soul-Indian Women, a  translator who recently interpreted  Dominican poet Josefina Baez’s book Comrade Bliss Ain’t Playing in Hindi, an  RJ  and an artist who has exhibited her work in India and the US . She won an award for her writing/book from the Public Relations Council of India in association with Bangalore University, has written for a host of national and international magazines since 1994 on cinema, theatre, music, art, architecture and more. She hopes to travel more and to grow more dimensions as a person. And to be restful, and alive in equal measure.

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