Activist & Musician Madame Gandhi On Girl Power, Feminism & Menstrual Stigma

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You may be familiar with her name, or at the very least you are familiar with her work and activism. Kiran Gandhi often goes by the name Madame Gandhi and is a musician who has worked with M.I.A and who also made headlines around the world during the London Marathon in 2015 because of her bold statement about menstrual stigma.

Instead of wearing a tampon during the run as expected Kiram decided to “free bleed” to call attention to the issue of menstruation, not simply to be controversial for controversy’s sake, but to break down barriers around periods. She wanted people to know that there are women who are denied access to menstrual hygiene products in places where they are highly taxed and sometimes classed as “luxury goods” rather than necessities.

And elsewhere around the world, especially in developing countries that are ruled by conservative cultures and governments, a woman or a girl having a period means she is forced to stay home from school, from work and not participate in public life. This can have a compounded long-term financial effect on her future, all because of a perfectly natural and normal bodily process.

Thankfully there is a movement made up of worldwide activists, organizations and various campaigns designed to collectively break down the stigma that has existing around a woman’s period for far too long. And Madame Gandhi is one of the activists raising her voice for the cause. In an interview with Paper Mag, she talked about her work in this area, and also opened up about other feminist issues.

Kiran-Gandhi

She headlined a recent event called ‘F*** Rape Culture’ for GRLCVLT where she performed a collection of speeches from Roxanne Gay’s ‘Bad Feminist’ novel, and ‘The Feminist Utopia’. When discussing her thoughts on feminism, Kiran says her menstrual stigma activism, rape culture and the rise of feminine energy is all part of her passion for the movement.

“I’ve always been extremely inspired by not only feminism but women who look like me who are doing amazing things because that’s where I accessed my power from, even when I was young,” she says, adding that growing up the very narrowly-defined female characters portrayed in children’s media never interested her because they weren’t doing the “cool” stuff like the guys.

“Then when the Spice Girls came around and I was living in India it was such an awakening for me. I was like yes! They were cool and they were different. Their songs were awesome, their clothing was awesome, they talked about girl power, everything about [them] resonated and it felt so good. It made me want to be cool,” she continued.

She recalls how it was the Spice Girls who gave her a lot of confidence and how they inspired her to want to do something for the younger generation of girls when she was older.

“My brand of feminism has been a lifelong journey but really it was really it was only after my experience at Harvard doing my MBA and having this rigorous training to find and own my own voice. Then being given a megaphone after the London Marathon did I really step into my own shoes and decide I’m going to do this,” she said.

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Representation is a big deal for many of us feminists today, and for a musician and activist like Kiran, she recognizes how celebs like Beyonce and the aforementioned Spice Girls really do have the power to elevate topics in massive ways.

“I think now Beyonce stepping into her shoes and using this megaphone to make ‘Lemonade’, is the definition of what I call ‘3D Femininity’, which is experiences of love and life and sex and being powerful and a boss. It is very female to do both: to say, I am a mother and in control and a boss of this group of people, but I also know how to be vulnerable and allow myself to give and be in love and get hurt and all of that,” she said.

Kiran believes the complexity of women being shown more in characters and on stage is important because we have for too long only seen two-dimensional women in the media.

“They’re a girlfriend, a side-piece, a bitch, or the femme fatale which tends to be too extreme and hard to identify with the dominatrix personality. So Beyonce taking control and painting the representation of herself as she wished the media would represent media is so sick,” she said.

Part of her brand is the phrase “the future is female”, which she says essentially means female qualities will no longer be subordinate to male qualities.

“To me, we still unfortunately live in a world where male qualities are more desirable than female qualities and I think that we see things like ‘don’t be such a pussy’ or ‘you hit like a girl’ and all these insults, as if being vulnerable, being feminine, being soft, being emotionally intelligent, sensitive, aware, kind, collaborative, peaceful, all these things associated with female energy are negative. That’s just not the case!” she said.

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“We still live in a world where female is in the private sphere, it’s not that revered, it’s not desirable. We don’t teach boys to be more like girls. I want to live in a world where we can teach boys to be more like girls, be listening more, be attentive, be curious, all those things. So, ‘The Future is Female’ means that we should live in a world where all of us are more celebratory of the female within us. It’s a big act of liberation for men too. It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily attracted to men when you access your female qualities…but you love the female energy you may possess and you see it as an asset to yourself rather than a weakness,” she added.

Of course many of us are already familiar with the ‘Like A Girl’ campaign from feminine hygiene brand Always, which was designed to reconstruct the way we see gender ability. And speaking of feminine hygiene, Madame Gandhi believes championing the end of menstrual stigma is an intersectional feminist issue and has the ability to unite all women in the battle for equality.

“It’s such a common experience that combating this stigma around it has been such an amazing way to unite women and to get us talking to each other. I love that I can go to the middle of Africa or to Nepal or to France or to Sweden, and I can talk to someone who can barely speak my own language but can giggle with me over shitty period stories,” she said, adding what a shame it is that having a period is still largely seen a a “gross, shameful thing.”

We love that her view of intersectional feminism means topics that can unite all women, such as periods.

“One of the most important things to me is creating a new brand of female empowerment and gender equality that is obviously intersectional. Intersectional not only according to race but to sexual orientation, to socioeconomic background, to age, and to whether you are a trans identifying or a cis identifying woman,” she said.

Her brand, which includes her new EP called ‘Madame Gandhi’ being released in the fall, music videos, and a forthcoming book called ‘The Fourth Wave’ is definitely something we are on board with. If the Spice Girls’ ignited the spark for artists to create and empower a whole new generation of girls, Kiran Gandhi has taken that torch and running far into the future with it.

If you want to hear some of her music check out the following tracks from her Soundcloud, as shared by Paper Mag. One of the tracks features another of our fave feminist activists, Rupi Kaur.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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