Why do women fear being labeled as a Feminist in India?

Feminist literature is increasingly becoming popular with readers in India and even movies with women-centric roles are becoming popular. Actors like Kangana Ranaut and Vidya Balan are proudly playing lead roles in women-oriented films and happily shining as beacons of women’s self-determination, choice, strength and independence.

Even as more Indian women empower themselves with education, careers and knowledge, are women still afraid of being labeled as a feminist? Perhaps yes. If a woman declares herself a feminist, will she be seen as anti-male or a ‘man-hater’? Will she be seen as a threat to the family system or a bad influence on other young ladies? Why?

Being a feminist myself, I often wonder. Sometimes, male friends who are otherwise sensible have acted like my feminism is a threat to their ‘manliness’. As if a feminist is a ball-buster, as if I’m trying to put them down or something. One thought feminism is all about burning bras and slitting men’s throats. Another make friend thought feminism is about women misusing laws on domestic violence to torture their husbands!

This shows that feminism is highly misunderstood in a country like India, which is still struggling to leave behind archaic attitudes and patriarchy and project itself as a forward economy.

Feminism is, erroneously, thought to be about hating men and putting them down. But feminism is not about putting any one down! Inequality goes against the very grain of feminism, which is all about equality. Feminism says that men and women are equal, and not that women are superior to men or anything. Remember, there are men who are proud feminists, and there are women who are patriarchs. Feminism is an inward-looking concept- it’s about women’s equality to men, their rights and self-determination and empowerment. The fight is against the mentality of patriarchy that enslaves and objectifies women, and not against men.

Then why is feminism such a dreaded word for many Indian women? Why do women think that being labeled a feminist will make them less desirable for men?

From all the readings and observations I’ve done over the years, here are two possible reasons:

  1. Feminism is confused with misandry: Misandry is the opposite of misogyny- it’s prejudice against or hatred for men. A lot of women have confused misandry with feminism. Actor Priyanka Chopra, in a glittering example of confusing misandry for feminism, said infamously that she needs a man only to produce kids. This attitude is wrong in more ways than one. Feminists, as I have clarified earlier, aren’t man-haters. Feminists marry men of their choice and have families. It’s misandry which has a skewed idea of gender equality.
  2. Patriarchal backlash : In a country like India, whose social dynamics are changing rapidly with urbanization, education, the Net and industrialization; subversive attitudes towards women are still to completely disappear. Women today are breaking free from patriarchy, educating themselves and getting jobs and high-flying careers. Women today walk shoulder-to-shoulder with men. They are not dependent on men for money or fulfillment- many women do not define marriage as their life goal and refuse to be seen as sex objects for gratification. They marry late, choose their life partner and often decide not to have kids. Women are more vocal in their protest against gender violence, misogyny, regressive socio-religious practices and objectification.

This is unbearable to those who have their attitudes still steeped deep in patriarchy, who cannot stand powerful women or tolerate women controlling their own lives and sexuality. So such men often accuse feminists of hating men and destroying the family institution.

Even men who are jealous if their wives or girlfriends make more money than them or are more successful professionally- some might mistakenly perceive it as a blow to their masculinity and demonize women who strive for equality. Their mistaken anger might land on feminists as well.

It’s high time to educate the public about feminism and its real meaning, and why it’s important. Every man and woman who supports gender equality is a feminist- there is nothing to be ashamed of about it. It’s also high time that female celebrities stop making dumb statements, educate themselves about feminism and start making responsible comments.

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