The Min­istry of Ut­most Fem­i­nism PARO-NOR­MAL AC­TIV­ITY

Mid Day - - OPINION -

Paromita Vohra

THERE comes a time in the life of most pop­u­lar fem­i­nist icons when mem­bers of the Min­istry of Ut­most Fem­i­nism is­sues cir­cu­lars about their clay feet. We saw it with Rakhi Sawant. We’re see­ing it with Kan­gana Ra­naut crit­i­cized for her in­ter­views and work con­tro­ver­sies on grounds of dig­nity and fem­i­nist pu­rity (much ad­vo­cated qual­i­ties for ladies).

While fem­i­nism an­i­mates their jour­ney in many ways, fig­ures like Rakhi or Kan­gana, set out to suc­ceed, not as fem­i­nists, but as main­stream play­ers. The logic of the main­stream sys­tem is bound to shape and mod­ify their progress. When we de­mand pu­rity from them, we in­ad­ver­tently play into that very sys­tem.

The Kan­gana-AIB video throws throws this into stark re­lief. The video sends up Bol­ly­wood’s sex­ist dou­ble stan­dards for char­ac­ters and ac­tors. It has a gig­gle or two (the script is played by a roll of toi­let pa­per), but mostly re­lies on the ooh value of the song’s re­frain “coz I have vagina re” while de­scrib­ing var­i­ous sex­ist Bol­ly­wood things. Its main im­pact on me was that I, frus­trat­ingly, ended up singing “chit­tiyan kalaaiyan ve” for the rest of the day. Yaniki the video was too long (hall­mark of AIB videos) and po­lit­i­cally dull.

This sort of video does some­thing I call de­scrib­ing the pa­tri­archy. The first step in most fem­i­nist jour­neys, ir­re­spec­tive of gen­der, is the re­al­i­sa­tion that the blocks and con­straints of our lives are not fate, but a sys­tem called pa­tri­archy. It is a pure and in­no­cent sort of mo­ment, bring­ing a rush of ex­hil­a­rated ar­tic­u­la­tion in iden­ti­fy­ing the prob­lem — as we’ve seen with Ms Ra­naut.

The trick is that the sys­tem cre­ates space for this crit­i­cism, even re­sponds to it, but just a lit­tle. It’s like ‘hon­est’ em­ployee feed­back in a com­pany which never in­tends to change, like a woman whose hus­band ‘lets me work’. This is why we are en­cour­aged to out­rage about fem­i­nist-ish things via mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns. Af­ter all, as long as we are de­scrib­ing the pa­tri­archy, even crit­i­cally, not only are we are still at­tached to it, we also re­it­er­ate (like this video) its supremacy and un­change­abil­ity.

So, we ex­haust the li­bid­i­nal fem­i­nist en­er­gies we need to move to the next step in our fem­i­nist jour­neys: imag­in­ing how the pa­tri­archy might change to free us into pos­si­bil­ity and em­body­ing this imag­i­na­tion in art, re­la­tion­ships, busi­ness, work or pol­i­tics. This re­quires new solidarities, new fem­i­nist friend­ships which chal­lenge us, ex­pand our fron­tiers and help build an al­ter­na­tive.

This is also why main­stream loves sto­ries of sin­gle in­di­vid­u­als who suc­ceed against all odds — thrilling fairy tales which do not al­low the imag­i­na­tion of solidarities and com­mu­ni­ties. It is a set up for fail­ure, be­cause in the face of an in­tractable sys­tem, in­di­vid­ual jour­neys in­volve sur­vival strate­gies that aren’t al­ways heroic. When we join in the cho­rus of clay feet, we play into that nar­ra­tive.

Will Kan­gana make a fem­i­nist leap away from Fem­i­nism 101? Will AIB shake off its re­form­ing-bro tim­o­rous­ness to make an ef­fort­lessly fun fem­i­nist video? I’d like to hope so. The po­tency of the Kan­gana fig­ures lies not in their per­fec­tion as much as the nar­ra­tives they throw up, which con­stantly deepen our un­der­stand­ing of fem­i­nism. They do not need to carry its bur­den alone. Fem­i­nism be­longs to us all, and we carry it for­ward to­gether, in our flawed and fal­ter­ing ways..

ILLUSTRATION/RAVI JAD­HAV

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