You may have read the recent comments made by Kellyanne Conway about feminism at a major conservative conferenc, here in the US. When asked whether she identifies as a feminist, she said “not in the classic sense”, as she claims the movement is anti-male, pro-abortion, and rife with victim narratives peddled by women.
“I look at myself as a product of my choices rather than a victim of my circumstances, and that’s really, to me, what conservative feminism, if you will, is all about,” she said.
Collectively, many women smacked their palms to their foreheads and groaned in frustration at yet another misinformed definition of a movement that still, to this day, gets defined by the core of its second wave in the 1970’s. To clarify, the feminist movement is not anti-male (in fact it encourages men to be part of the movement as allies and activists), it is not “pro-abortion”, but rather pro access to safe, legal, and regulated care, and it certainly doesn’t make up statistics about gender violence, rape, wage inequality, paid family leave etc.
Feminism is not about pushing a victim narrative, rather it is about pointing to the data and evidence in the hope that better, more inclusive policies will be made so ALL women can be free to make the choices they’d like without fear of discrimination.
Kellyanne is not the only person who has expressed less-than-savory views of feminism, which is why it is important for those in the feminist activist space to raise their voices just as loudly (if not more) to ensure the myths become a thing of the past. That is exactly what two artists from India are doing, in a comic series they created to dismantle stigma and misconceptions.
Get familiar with Pia Alize Hazarika and Malathi Jogi. As profiled by FeminisminIndia.com, the Delhi-based illustrator and Bombay-based design student/writer were sick of hearing people try to explain to them why they were doing feminism wrong, so they responded in the way they knew best – with their creativity.
The duo created a comic series called Custom Cuts, which you can view in full on Tumblr, where they draw out typical scenarios and conversations where feminism gets misconstrued in society today. Whether it is discussing rape culture and the way society bends itself to protect perpetrators of assault because they are either A) the United States President, or B) a major sports star, the way the advertising industry has adopted a version of feminism that is more about capitalism than destroying systems of injustice, or simply explaining the important definition of intersectionality which is at the core of today’s movement (Kellyanne, take note!) these comics are brilliant.
“With ‘Custom Cuts’ we want to try to understand and explain the in-between spaces that emerge from widely differing contexts, and the custom-made feminism that lies between the labels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feminism. While we’re at it, we’d also like to answer some of the questions we often get, including – ‘why are you so angry?’, ‘So, you’re a feminazi?’, ‘Is it feminist to be ‘girly’?’ and ‘how can a feminist like pink?'” explain Pia and Malathi.
Although the women are based out of India, the themes are universal and it is not hard for women all over the world to identify with at least one of the messages they have created. One we particularly like is where they pay homage to women of color and Indigenous women from around the world who have been on the front lines fighting for equality for centuries, but didn’t necessarily call themselves “feminists”. But their work is what mattered. They battled systemic injustices which disproportionately affected women, and essentially this is what the feminist movement is still about to this day.
The increased conversations around the need to dismantle white feminism, for example, are well overdue as they are finally giving space to black and brown women who have been historically marginalized by the greater feminist movement, especially in countries like the United States. It is imperative that for those in positions of influence and affluence to use their resources to lift other women up, which is what Malathi and Pia aim to do.
“We operate from a relatively privileged position and are constantly trying to learn from and amplify the voices of people feminism has historically excluded. Inevitably, we are most accurate about our personal narratives, but as artists, we hope to include and represent as many people in our work as we can – from widely differing personal and societal contexts,” they said.
For them as Indian women, this means talking about the caste system, religious bias, sexuality, gender bias and people in poverty. “A universal, ‘one-size-fits-all’ feminism is no longer relevant” they say, adding it is time to move away from the annoying labels such as “feminazi” to truly understand what the movement is fighting for.
Yes, there are always going to be fringe and extreme voices that co-opt the message and seem to get a lot of media attention simply for shock factor. But like any movement, for it to be fully understood, especially on behalf of those who are hesitant about getting involved due to negative misconceptions, everyday activists must continue to speak out and forge meaningful dialog that shatters the myth.
Pia and Malathi told Feminism in India how working on this series over the past few months has enabled even them to continue learning, and assessing their own bias that may exist around identity.
“To me, it primarily means unlearning and challenging many of the lessons my very conservative middle class family raised me with, and to Pia (someone who identifies as queer and was raised in a Muslim household), it means being able to find/create a safe space where she is able to voice her concerns & get answers to questions she had when she was younger, as well as answer a few herself,” said Malathi.