On Egalitarianism and Male Feminists

So, this is something that comes up over and over. I think pretty much all of us have met at least one person who has said something like, “I believe in equality but I am not a feminist”. A lot of feminists tend to balk at this, because frankly, it tends to represent a fundamental misunderstanding of feminism and a belief in hackneyed feminazi stereotypes. It also represents a fear of the ‘F-word’, and the negative labeling that that tends to bring to the fore.

Having said that, I have a bit of a confession to make. The confession is that despite my strong views on gender equality and patriarchy, I’ve become increasingly wary of using the feminist tag in public forums myself. This is certainly not because I’m afraid that people will label me for that; it’s not that. This change has happened largely because of my recent interaction with a bunch of people who subscribe to a growing point of view within the feminist movement: the idea that men cannot and should not call themselves feminists. As far as I know, there are two main arguments generally put forward in support of this:

  1. A man cannot possibly relate to a woman’s perspective on the patriarchal system, because he has simply not experienced the same kind of discrimination that a woman has. You cannot be a feminist until and unless you suffer to the same degree under that system. Therefore, men cannot be feminists in the true sense.
  2. Feminism is a movement by women and for women. Men have much greater access to various spaces in the public view; the feminist space is something that should be woman-only

I don’t agree with the first stance, and I sympathize with the second only on an emotional, not logical level. BUT, I do get it. Feminism is one movement that women should have control over. If a woman comes along and tells me that she’s not comfortable with me calling myself a feminist, that’s fine by me. I don’t insist on the label.

To be honest, I don’t give a rat’s fart about what other MEN  (i.e, non feminist men) think about this aspect of my value system. What I definitely do care about is being labeled as a self-serving White Knight by people whose issues I actually SYMPATHIZE with, for reasons that are frankly very selfish. I don’t support feminism purely out of altruistic interests; patriarchy hurts me personally, and I have a vested interest in seeing it die. It’s that simple.

And in the face of that, a degree of marginalization from a movement that I relate very strongly to is, well, not very pleasant.

I mean, don’t get me wrong here. I’m definitely not expecting any medals for holding the views I do. BUT, I’m also not expecting brickbats from the people whose ideology I share. I understand that women have it bad, and I understand that I’m treading on sensitive ground here, but the fact remains that is that it does feel unfair to be mistrusted to that extent purely for being male.

Therefore, as a defense mechanism, I’ve started to shy away from calling myself a feminist, and have begun stating my views a bit more elaborately. Usually something like, “I generally believe in social egalitarianism, but have a heightened interest in gender equality”. This approach has several advantages over calling myself a feminist. For one, it conveys my sociopolitical viewpoint much more unambiguously. More importantly, it is a ‘safe’ statement, in the sense that it tends to offend far fewer women who identify as feminists. However, I can’t get rid of the nagging feeling that it’s not the same thing. Why? Well largely because they really AREN’T the same thing.

Egalitarianism is a worldview. Feminism can be described as a worldview, but it is also much more than that. It is a movement. It is a whole school of thought focused exclusively on women’s rights and the damage caused by patriarchal systems. An egalitarian says, “I believe everyone should have equal opportunities and rights in life”. A feminist says, “I believe in equality of the sexes and I’ll be damned before I stop fighting for that”.

The overwhelming majority of feminists I know are unflinchingly egalitarian, and care a great deal about all sorts of things apart from women’s rights. So why even bother to call yourself a feminist? Well, because no one can focus on everything at the same time! I care about disabled people, I care about genocides in Africa, I care about illegal wars, I care about political repression, I care about LGBT rights, I care about censorship… but I can’t talk about all of them at the same time. There’s a lot wrong with the world today, but when I say I’m a feminist or profeminist or whatever, I’m choosing to focus my energies on that one aspect of the world that I find the most wrong, the one that I also feel I have the greatest understanding of and the greatest power of change.

And that’s why, no matter what I label myself in public, when it comes to my internal thought process, I most definitely consider myself a feminist – not just an egalitarian with an interest in gender equality.

There is a difference there, and that difference is important. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

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About Laziness, Seat-Belts and Meaningless Crap

 

We’re driving around in my car, a colleague and I. You know the drill. Random shop talk, traffic noises and…weird beeping sounds?
“Did you clear that docu I was talking about earlier?”, I ask her
*beep* *beep*
“Nah, I have to get moving on that. Thanks for the reminder”
*beep* *beep*
“No problem. Just get it done before Wednesday”
*beep* *beep*
“Yeah”
*beep* *beep*
“Hey, CE?”
“Hmm?”
“What’s that beeping sound?”
*beep* *beep*
“It’s a seat-belt chime. Honda’s telling you to wear your seat-belt.”
“I see”
*beep* *beep*
“You don’t want to wear it?”
“Nah, no police around here”
*beep* *beep*
*****
One thing I figured out early in life is that people look at traffic rules in different ways. There are people who lean towards following traffic rules rigidly and without question. There are people who can’t quite differentiate between a traffic rule and a general guideline. And, of course, there are people who fall somewhere in-between.

In India, people follow traffic rules for one reason and one reason only – to avoid court visits and consequent fines.

See, when it comes to non-work related issues, the vast majority of us here in India aren’t just cheap, we’re also incredibly lazy. It’s in our blood. We may work 90 hour weeks, but goddamn it, when we get home, the couch better be ready to bear the burden of a sweaty backside and the AC better be running. Heck, we even have Air Conditioners which turn on with an SMS.

But lazy doesn’t come in one variety. Here’s a bit of life gyaan for you folks.

There are two extremes of lazy in the world – completely inexperienced, overly optimistic lazy and very experienced, highly cynical lazy. It’s like a sliding scale, and most people tend toward one or the other. What’s more, the two categories vary drastically in their approach to life in general and traffic rules in particular.

The inexperienced lazy person breaks rules left, right and center because following them is like, well, work. S/he omits wearing helmets and seat-belts, talks on a cellphone without bothering to pull over, takes the car out without bothering to sober up, drives at insane speeds for fun and frankly, just kind of creates trouble wherever s/he goes. The

Wilbur the pug

Inexperienced Lazy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

inexperienced lazy person is a walking talking health hazard. You can find these people at trying to get bail at police stations, recovering from their latest accident at trauma centers and chilling off while driving DTC buses. This is the kind of person you don’t want to bang into, because that may well be the last thing you do. Don’t get me wrong here. These guys aren’t all evil. In fact, they’re vital to modern society. Inexperienced lazy people are good for the economy, just not for you. If you went ‘huh’ at this point, you really need to think about this a bit more.

Journalists like these folks because they make neat little filler stories for them everyday. Physiotherapists, orthopedic surgeons and lawyers owe half their clients base to them. Safety Engineers love them because they’re the one thing that lets safety engineers afford the ultra safe and ultra expensive devices they invent everyday. Repair contractors would be out of business if these guys didn’t exist… like I said, they’re vital.

Contrast this with the experienced, cynical lazy person, who I’ll call ECLP for short. The experienced lazy person is every bit as lazy as the inexperienced lazy person, but unlike the latter, this individual knows that indiscriminate violation of traffic rules creates even more work than following the rules does. Through long bitter experience, the ECLP has lost all semblance of optimism and realizes that while rule-breakers are not always punished, the rule-breaker who really, REALLY does not want to be caught on a particular day is sure to get pulled over, make an unsuccessful attempt at bribery and then be made jump through hoops in court to regain a driving license. Therefore, the ECLP religiously wears their seat-belt, double checks insurance papers and blood alcohol levels and generally behaves like an ideal, law-abiding citizen  – as long as there is a cop within earshot. No cops, no rules; this individual lives on the idea that nothing is a crime (and therefore, work) unless you get caught.

Husky

Experienced Cynical Lazy Person – Dog Version (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The ECLP can be seen, complete with the characteristic ‘screw the world’ smirk and unbelievable street-smartness, in corner offices, presidential villas and other nice places you’d like to visit before you kick the bucket.

In other words, the ECLP is badass and by golly, knows it.

India is full of both kinds of people as well as a lot of intermediate ones.

Hear about the drunk kid who smashed his car into a bridge? Inexperienced amateur.  Totally the first kind.

Cop who arrested him? On the way to ECLP status.

Cop’s boss? You know it.

What are you going to be? The choice is yours.

But always remember; that seat belt chime? It’s just to keep you from paying a fine. Wear it or don’t – depending on the concentration of Khaki in your area. It’s not really your head that needs protection. After all, Indian heads are the hardest in the world.

But your wallet and your time – now that’s a whole different story.

 

Talking about sex in India: Why is it so damned hard?

Okay, I’ll admit that heading isn’t entirely accurate. Talking about sex isn’t hard in India – at least it isn’t if you’re youngish and male. What I really wanted to discuss here isn’t why we can’t talk about sex. Like I said, we can (if you’re surprised, read on). What I wanted to discuss is why we can’t talk meaningfully about sex, without the haa haa hee hee, without the nudging and gesturing and without the general immaturity.

See, there’s a big difference between talking about sex and talking about sex like a frigging adult. I’ve been to high school in India. I’ve gone to engineering college in India. I’ve worked closely with young engineers in India. I know Indian guys talk about sex. They (that is to say, the uninitiated ones) talk about it like it’s some kind of shiny object in the sky that they want as soon as possible. They talk about it like it’s something they need to grab, grasp, enjoy for themselves. They talk about it like it’s just another toy they want, like a car they’d like to buy. And at that point, I tend to ask myself – aren’t they missing a little something here?

I’m not about to brag about the extent of my sexual experience here, but you see, I do have a little, and as far as I know, the act takes TWO people. You can’t just have sexual intercourse on your own, you need someone to have it with. And notice – I said someone not something. 

The typical Indian guy’s view of sex seems a bit like this – Sex is like this awesome fruit. I need that fruit. I can’t get it on my own, so I have to get a tool to grab it. That tool is a woman. Ergo, I need a woman.

The woman is incidental, little more than an enabler. She’s not the point, the sex is. She doesn’t count, the physical act does. She’s like a keyboard on a computer – vitally important to what you’re trying to do, but not something you really think about or even want to have to think about.

To be fair, this is not something that’s uniquely Indian. I have a number of American and Canadian acquaintances who think similarly, and I’m sure the Europeans aren’t immune either. BUT, in India, unlike America, Canada and Europe, this seems to be pretty much the only point of view that exists. Not the dominant point of view. The ONLY point of view. It is accepted, completely and utterly, without any challenge whatsoever. Accepted in the same way that you might accept the sun rising in the east. If you try to question this notion, people look at you like you’re speaking Swahili.

Why is it accepted? Because we’re a sexually repressed nation.

Indians don’t need this sex ed thingy. We were the ones who wrote the flippin’ Kamasutra, goddamn it!

Sex is dirty, wrong and thirty six different kinds of evil, so just brush it under the carpet. Send your son to grab a glass of water when there’s a condom ad on television. Protect your daughter’s innocence by protesting against sex education. You know the drill.  Save Indian culture while you’re at it too. That’s how it works with ‘respectable’ folk in mainland India.

‘Respectable folk’ fail to understand that sexual repression, like most kinds of repression, doesn’t work. You can’t really effectively repress something as fundamental as sexuality. All sorts of people have tried it for thousands of years and haven’t succeeded.

See, kids are going to find out about sex sooner or later. This shit isn’t hard to figure out -it’s not meant to be hard. It’s arguably our only real purpose on earth.

What we can do, is deny people exposure to the modern, civilized way of thinking about sex. Leave them to caveman instincts, then rave about moral bankruptcy when it doesn’t work. Become an apologist for that repression. In other words, become a member of the ‘respectable’ clan.

It’s time we lifted the covers off this topic as well and let people know the realities of their own biology. The link between letting your teen attend sex ed and seeing a fall in sexual harassment (“eve-teasing”) may sound tenuous but is very real. Let’s cut those giggles and reserve them for inappropriate farts. Let’s wipe those stupid smirks off and bring some maturity here. Consensual sex is something that most of us want and enjoy – let’s acknowledge that as a fact instead of some kind of dirty secret.

The less we talk about it, the unhealthier and more ill-informed our actions get.

Let’s stop being ill-informed. Ignorance may be bliss for a while, but it is never a virtue and it catches up with you at some point in life. You don’t want to be at that point; let’s make sure none of us are.

 

Guess Who’s Back!

Is it a bird…Is it a plane…Is it…CE?!!

So yeah, you read that right. I’m back! Ta da! *crickets*

Ahem…To any of my wonderful readers loyal enough to be reading this, I offer my humblest apologies. This comeback took way longer than it should have, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve missed this space, I’ve missed hammering out those articles one after the other, I’ve missed everything. And believe me, I’d have loved to be back sooner.

Unfortunately, events have prevented me from doing that – namely, the bodily demands of a fresh corporate career, the physical exertions of moving to Bangalore and then back to Delhi in the course of that career, and the emotionally draining effects of a breakup, even one as amiable as mine (more on that sometime later).

At any rate, yours truly is now back – wiser, richer, angrier, edgier, cooler and more intense than ever before. Yours truly’s sense of humor remains as bad intact, as does his fondness for rodents, arachnids, good food, smart apps, intelligent debate and egalitarianism.

Watch this space.

PS: The cynically.engineered blog now has a spankin’ new and totally badass Gmail ID – cynically.engineered [at] gmail [dot] com. All private comments, bouquets, brickbats, threats, bribes, Nigerian scams, inheritance announcements and/or marriage proposals to be sent that way, please. Thank you 😉