Why I am a Feminist – Rita Banerji

“Why are you a Feminist?” is actually not a question. It is a defense that some women are now having to make to a majority of women world-wide. A majority which thinks that now that women have the vote (even if not in all countries yet) and can apply to most jobs (even if not all yet), Feminism’s time is out. All it is – is an oddball, angry outfit that makes all women look bad. Look bad to whom? To men, of course! If women want men to like them, many believe they must rid the world of Feminism. In an oddly circular way the reason they believe that is because that’s what men are telling them: Want us love you, get rid of Feminism.

So even as I will do my bit by explaining ‘why I am a feminist,’ I also need to state how strange I think it is that I (or for that matter anyone) even needs to explain. It’s not just having to explain—to women—that’s strange, but also the aversion I see in most women towards Feminism is puzzling to me!! It’s weird because it is like an African-American having to explain why they are civil rights activists to other colored people who happily use the rights the civil rights activists have fought for, but hate being identified with the anti-racism movement!!!

So here goes:

1) I am a feminist because I am an individual, who wants a gender-just society, and not just because I am a woman. Therefore, even if I was a man, I would still be a feminist, like many men are! It is not about my gender, but about my ideology as an individual. Just as the civil rights movement was supported by some white people who like the black civil rights activists wanted a racially just society.

2) I am a feminist because as a woman I want to live on and occupy this earth with the same freedom and nonchalance as men. I don’t know what planet the anti-feminist people live on, but more than 98% of the land and resources of the planet that I inhabit—called EARTH—by the U.N.’s 2012 estimate is owned and controlled by men! Women own less then 2%. For me, that is already a mind-blowing, unacceptable, and fundamental inequality. It’s the equivalent of slavery!

3) I am a feminist because women don’t have the most basic of human rights – the right to live safely, simply because they are female. By 2030, India will have systematically eliminated 20% of women from its population, annihilated both before and after birth — only because they are female. And China will have similarly eliminated 20% of its female population. Since these two countries together constitute 40% of the human population, the implication of this is global. This is a genocide – the systematic and deliberate destruction of a targeted human group—on a scale that’s historically unprecedented. Furthermore, there’s not one country in the world where women are not subjected to one or another form of violence, like rape, sex-trafficking, “domestic” violence, random femicides, lethal customs like FGM — because of their gender. Women live in fear of their safety and lives, inside and outside their homes, everywhere, all the time, in a way that men never have to. Yet, governments and international bodies don’t see this as a violation of the basic human rights of a group that constitutes one-half of the human race. They just relegate it to the ‘domestic’ bin, along with cooking, cleaning and laundry!!

4) I am a feminist because I understand that I am a part of the social momentum for a just and humane society. There are rights that I am fighting for today, like the fundamental right to life and safety for girls and women everywhere, which may not be realized in my lifetime. But this I must do for the generations of girls and women to come, just as today as a woman there are certain rights I have, only because the women (and some men) before me fought for those rights for my generation.

Sometime ago, a friend who has two daughters, one of who dreams of becoming an astronaut, was telling me about how she wants this and that for her daughters, like she would for her sons, and then shuddering, like she was shaking off some insects that had crawled on her, she said, “But I am not a feminist!”

And I replied, “That you certainly aren’t! To be a feminist you need to be fighting for girls and women to have equal rights and access to all things, to life, like boys and men. Then there is the “feminist user.” That is – people who directly or indirectly use rights that women and girls are already entitled to only because feminists have fought for these rights. “Feminist users” are important as well! For it is only when rights are used, that they are strengthened. You however fall into the category of a “shameless feminist user.” You curse the very people who fought for the rights that you use, and that you hope will help your daughters’ lives in the future!”

I think that ever man and woman, who wants all the girls and women in his/her family and community to lead a life of dignity with every right and freedom that every human being is entitled to, needs to support the feminist movement worldwide.