Why I am a feminist…

I’m not a man hater. In fact, I hope to marry one someday.

I’m not into burning my bras…it’s the only sexy secret I get to keep in a country bent on modesty…

But I do call myself a feminist.

I care about all people, treated as people. As equal heartbeats. I’m talking about respect, not who can win an arm wrestling match.

And living in India, has made me all the more sure.

Life in Kolkata is like living in an American 1960’s throwback.

AMC’s Mad Men, live. Everyday.

And yesterday, I decided to write about it.

I am not angry. I am not trying to push my ideals onto you. I am expressing my experience and my conviction. I too am a work in progress…

People say the red light area exists here in Kolkata to keep the good women safe…what does this say for the self- control of men? What does this say for the value placed on women?  I am dumbfounded that some women can be allotted as daughters, mothers, sisters, pure. And others because of lack of resources, are deemed a body to be purchased, owned, used.

Protection against the good…

These women are my friends, my sisters, the ones who cried with me when my grandfather died, the ones who call when I’m sick, the ones I spend every day alongside.  These women are not second-class. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, pure.

And when I walk home at night, chatting with girls draped across the alley, colorful, empty, working. My heart, it does more than ache, it is crushed, it is offended, it cries out for something else, something new.

Yesterday, I was grabbed by two guys on a motorcycle. I was walking back from purchasing syphilis injections for some of our women…a gift from the men in their lives…

I later had visions of pushing them off their bike…

The locals in the alley offered their fight, they were offended for me, they would have chased after them and brought justice. I am respected and known in the red light area.  And I am so thankful for the good men in my life.

Then I wondered, what about the girls who have no one to stand up for them…why is it different when there’s a monetary interaction? Abuse is not different, even if one is waiting on a street corner.

I was told last week that sex workers do not report their rapes, the police will blame them, better to burden the load alone than be publicly blamed I suppose…

But yesterday was not an isolated incident. Last weekend two guys on a bike harassed me through a taxi window…

Once a guy followed me out of the red light area, saying “fucking, fucking fucking,..” I called my co-workers for backup. Upendra and Kyle met me on the road, and shamed him in front of everyone, with his hands around the guy’s neck, he “encouraged him strongly” to “apologize to the Madam”…it was the first time someone stood up for me. Most of the time, justice is elusive. And we shove it down and go on…

And this is what breads the anger…

Just sit down at lunch-time with the Sari Bari women and listen to the stories. Next time stick your finger in his eye one says, then he’ll never get to act like that again…Carry a safety pin on the bus to jab the guys who try to rub their crotch against you, my Bengali principal once commented…Next time take your shoe off and beat him in the face, another advises…

Story after story after story, and that’s just normal abuse on the streets, everyday conveyance. Men see you exit the alley of the red light area to grab a bus or a train, they follow, they assume, they want.

There is no regard for the other, for a human heart beat. There is only lust and want.

I have been grabbed countless times in this country. As a foreign woman I once thought it was because of my difference, my color.  I now understand it is because of my gender. It is the solidarity of being female.

Until the ideology of this country changes, and both men and women act differently nothing will change. Women can grow stronger and more empowered, yes. But until men realize that they do not own the right to grab and enjoy and satisfy their lusts at any whim on the street, metro, auto, or bus…nothing will change. And women, yes, women (and men), we must use our voices. And somehow begin believing the mantra at Sari Bari: our lives have so much value…

I wonder, in this city of sexual oppression and rampant lust how differently it is from anywhere else in the world. It may look different but the root, the poisonous results, still come out the same. Trauma. Anger. Fear. Division of what was meant to be beautiful relationship between male and female.

Why am I writing this?

Because I needed to share the reality.

It is not just my experience. It is my community’s. It is an entire population’s. And I am aching to know how to bring change to it.

I believe in more than equal rights of women, though that is part of it. Equality is more than equal pay, equal vote, equal opportunity. A law can force those things into existence.

But the change of heart, the acknowledgement of humanity and equal respect is what I’m advocating.

I still do not know how such change comes about. Except for voices like Sari Bari’s and Freeset’s, the chorus of women and men throughout the world who sing against being treated this way. I don’t believe it comes through anger. Violence for violence cannot solve a problem like this.

Perhaps its starts within our own hearts.

Believing we carry value. Believing others possess the same.

Perhaps it comes through prayer, though it doesn’t seem that God promises to keep us safe from such abuse, just that He is present, even in the suffering…at least in my experience…and perhaps that is enough…

I admit, I don’t know…

But I’ll give my life to figuring out how to affect change.

And bringing as many along with me as I can.

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30 thoughts on “Why I am a feminist…

  1. Beth, this is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heart. You’re right, it’s the bigger picture that most important and the bigger mindset that needs changing. And I think you’re right, that it starts within ourselves. You know, if we believe we have value, and loving and treating our neighbors as ourselves ultimately becomes showing love and value to them. Beautiful.

  2. Changing a culture takes a long time and starts with education. Start with yourself and then just change one person at a time. It’s like the story of the boy throwing the sand dollars back into the sea. He couldn’t save them all but saved one at a time. Don’t lose heart, Beth. You ARE making a difference!

  3. You quote this by Mary Oliver in your sidebar: “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

    So my question is this: Aren’t the those men in your story just doing that? Aren’t they just “letting the soft animal of their bodies love what it loves” when they rub their crotch against the women on the bus? (Maybe Mary Oliver was only talking about people who love babies and puppies ?) I am just wondering how you square the poem with what you wrote. I would say that we ALL need to be good, we ALL need to repent; in fact some of us probably need to “walk on [our] knees For a hundred miles through the desert” though almost none of us think that we are one of those.

    I am not sure things are going to get any better when we all stop feeling the need to be good and repent and when we all simply let our animal appetites rule us. I think that is the problem in the first place. I seriously question that feminism is the way to solving the problems you describe. There are other philosophies of life that also would not condone this sort of behavior on the part of men. How is feminism the answer?

    • feminism is a way of thinking, not a religion or a way of life or an “answer” as you seem to imply. feminism is basically just the idea that women and men are equal and deserve to be treated as such (both with dignity and respect). i am baffled that anyone living in 2013 thinks this is wrong.

      • Feminism is not just what you want it to be. It is not defined as thinking of men and women as equal: both Marxism and Christianity teach that too. In what ways does feminism offer us anything new and unique? Have you read feminist thought? do you agree that it that men have systematically kept women down throughout the ages? do you think that women are history’s victims? do you believe that motherhood is slavery? do you hold that heterosexual sex is always (or usually) rape? do you believe that women are morally superior beings (ie that most bad things are perpetrated by men)? Is it true that men cannot speak for women and rule them according to their best interests but women can rule men and speak for men and know what is best for men ? In what way are you a feminist?
        The men in this blog entry do reprehensible things that are not to be defended; I do not take issue with pointing out theses problems, I take issue with the notion that feminism is the answer (from the title) or that hedonism should be embraced (from the the side bar).

    • Just a note – there is a big difference between Love and Lust. Rubbing your crotch against a woman on the bus is the opposite of love.

      • Yes that is just what I mean. The poem asks people to trust their animal instincts “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves” and don’t worry about being good or repenting. Your animal instincts do not answer the question “is this love or lust?” You have to engage you mind to answer that question and yet the poet seems to say that your animal instincts will guide you to do what is right but they don’t- they lead us do things like the man on the bus.

    • Dear Arete,
      Beth is talking about true love for one another which is a very real consideration of other people’s feelings, protection and care. “The soft animal” within a person is not expressed physically to a stranger in public or private.
      I don’t think Beth is talking of feminism as you may understand it. I can’t speak for her but I think she is talking about women receiving consideration and respect. Philosophies are not the answer, but a change of HEART.

      Susan

      • I agree absolutely that “Philosophies are not the answer, but a change of HEART” is. That is why I am asking, why did she begin her story by saying : “Why I am a Feminist” ?

      • Arete – Please correct me if I have the wrong interpretation of your postings. It seems as if you are continually referencing this poem and her use of the word feminist. Perhaps it is my background, but my interpretation of the poem is quite different in that I relate it to a relationship with God, or higher being if you will, and it’s simply the idea of being apart of something bigger than oneself and not being alone in it. And I think, just as in any religion or association of something, that there are different stages of development and commitment. So for her to use the word feminist, perhaps is partly in a effort to develop conversation about one portion of what that word means. I personally didn’t see any conflict in the presence of both as I think they probably represent the different parts of Beth as human being, through growth and what moves her and her reflections alone the journey.

      • The problem is that words mean things. “Feminist” means something and it is more than just the idea that men and women are created equal. Feminism is at its heart a child killing, man hating institution and its a sad thing that people so easily attach their name to it without thought. Read Carolyn Granglia’s book “Domestic Tranquility: a Brief Against Feminism” for an intelligent critique (she is a lawyer having graduated from both Cornell and Columbia – one of its first graduates back in the 40’s).

      • Arete, feminism exists in multiple variants. While you appear to be familiar with critiques of some of the odder variants these critiques are not valid against all of them. For instance, you say, “do you hold that heterosexual sex is always (or usually) rape?” Which strand of feminist thought holds to this? Certainly not the sexual liberation end of feminist thought! In fact, this particular idea is found only amongst a relatively small group of feminist thinkers and you can’t assume that anyone who identifies as feminist agrees with this minority position.

        A Christian can easily embrace the idea that men and women should be legally and politically equal (the core of feminism) and can base that on Christian teaching (that men and women are equal in God’s eyes). A Christian can easily embrace the idea that women have been systematically oppressed by men throughout history. Indeed, I’m unsure how anyone who is remotely historically-literate could disagree with this position – legal equality for women is obviously a new thing in most societies. While Christians should avoid the lunatic fringe of feminism that fringe is not what feminism is except in the eyes of feminism’s critics.

        Beth’s post is a useful reminder for those of us who live in the industrialized West and don’t often see feminism except in its odder flavors (in large part because of the victories won by the early feminists) that the default state of the world is not inter-gender harmony but that predatory exploitation lurks around the corner. Again, this is something any Christian should find easy to agree with. What is the Fall if not the tendency to crush and oppress wherever possible?

      • Even in its least offensive, (least fringe) form Feminism encourages the mentality that women are always victims and never the perpetrators of violence and wrong. It perpetuates a new double standard where men are now at the mercy of women’s whims. In many states a woman need only say that she “feels threatened” for a man’s basic human rights to be infringed upon, for his children to be taken away for his reputation to be ruined. If a man fathers a child that he does not want to take care of he is pursued all over the country to get money from him for their support; he is a “deadbeat “. If a woman conceives a child she does not want to take care of she can simply have it dismembered (as long as its before birth) and be applauded for making a “brave choice.”

        Men’s sins against women are listed and yet if you ask the public what sort of sins women commit against men no one can think of anything. Almost no one would admit that they think that women are morally superior to men but we have no problem discussing how men need to be “changed” from the womb and yet women are pretty much ok the way they are. Really?

        Women sin. Egregiously. Against themselves, against the men in their lives against their children and fellow human beings, just as much as men but in forms that are so subtle that they could never face prosecution (say, teach their child that they are “nothing” for instance). Real change will not happen as long as any one group is encouraged to blame their problems on any other particular group and that is exactly what Feminism does. History is a long, long tale of oppression and men suffered as much as women and often because of (or even at the hands of) women. Its time we own it, Ladies.

      • I simply disagree that, “Even in its least offensive, (least fringe) form Feminism encourages the mentality that women are always victims and never the perpetrators of violence and wrong.” Despite knowing a large number of feminists I have never run across this view in person. It is clear that some people hold to it but these people seem to receive overly-enthusiastic rebroadcasting by the enemies of feminism. Moreover, most female feminists are quite well aware of the ills perpetrated against them by other women. At best, there are only a few arenas of life where the majority of feminists see women as consistently being oppressed. And, as it happens, history itself bears out the idea that there are arenas of life where women have been consistently oppressed.

        Again, while you list laws that should in theory give women more power than men in many legal arenas we still find that the majority of rapists do not serve jail time, that domestic abuse cases remain ridiculously hard to prosecute (and while women do abuse men these cases are strongly slanted towards the abuse of women by men), and that the supposedly-omnipotent child support laws have many loopholes (which were happily exploited by an old neighbor of mine). Crime statistics also show that men are much more likely to engage in violent crime than women. It’s nice to suppose that women have the upper hand and that you’re as likely to be left dead in a ditch by a woman as a man but it’s simply not so. (And how many men worry about being raped if they walk down a dark alley? Very, very few.)

        None of this excuses women for bad behavior nor does it mean that there are not certain areas where women are favored (like education, where we tend towards styles that work better for young girls than young boys and where we often insist that typically male behaviors are incorrect) but it does mean that as a man I really think the idea that I’m about to fall under the oppressive shadow of the matriarchy to be silly. Instead, I can clearly see that I remain in a position of privilege where to be me is to be a normal person but where to be a different gender or race than me is to be some sort of special sub-category.

  4. Beth, thank you once again for your transparency and honesty of heart. When I read this I put myself in the shoes of those beautiful women you choose to honor. You are the CHrist in flesh they desperately need. Your compassion, beautiful smile, and tender words must be a balm to their soul. Hope. What if? Can I possibly be a woman of value or worth? Just the sight of you must put these questions and stirrings in their souls. Stay strong for us and know that what you live everyday is not going unnoticed. Your prayer warriors are many and above all, God sees. Your sacrifice and obedience stirs us all.

  5. There are men who use sex-workers’ “services” in absolutely every country in the world. The way you have written the story is touching and it should apply to every woman in this situation not only in India. But we can’t change male biology. I wish we could. Any ideas about how we can change male mentality?

  6. Lady, I feel you. Thank you for putting words to one of the most infuriating experiences of my life- my daily commute. It is so hard to explain what happens there, every single day. A lot of people did not believe me when I shared a few of my experiences. You are much, much stronger than what I was. Take heart! The lack of protection left me frustrated, raw, broken, unsettled, hurt, angry at my own unforgiving heart. At first, I thought it was because of my skin as well, but when I stepped back, I realized it was disrespect towards ALL women.

    It was so easy for me to become bitter, so right now I am praying that you do not experience that, and right now that all negative emotions would be drained out of you and replaced with the knowledge and JOY that you are doing something so great with men and women who are so beautiful and pure. I am praying for you all, my sisters I know and the ones I never had the delight to meet, to find peace when that, ahem, junk happens. And I am praying for the men- that they would be able to get a new lens prescription so they can see your heart and not just your flesh. I don’t know you, but you are LOVED.

    Annnnnnnnnd ya know, eat a dosa for me today. Texas is killin’ me-I have yet to find a place that sells them! 😉

  7. Beth, unbelievably beautiful post and I think you’re completely on track when you say it’s a heart problem. This thought from you says so much to me!

    “Perhaps its starts within our own hearts.

    Believing we carry value. Believing others possess the same.”

    So simple and profound, yet so very hard to carry out when we constantly have others criticizing us in the work place, at school, even within the church. And then we begin to believe maybe they are on to something and tear ourselves down.

    As for an answer I don’t know either, but it will require us to truly believe that God loves us and that He sees us a immense value in us. When we finally and truly believe we are of value maybe then and only then we will finally see the value that He sees in everyone else. If a small few do just that then amazing things can and will happen.

    For me it truly drives home one of my favorite quotes from Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.

    “I’m the problem.”

    It’s so simple yet so profound because as you imply if we can essentially “fix” ourselves and see our own value we can maybe finally see the same value that Christ views in the rest of his creation.

    And I’d say you’ve already started that process with the women you work with in Kolkata. You’re breathing the truth into them and showing them they are valued beyond belief! Keep up the amazing work! We are all proud of you back home.

  8. Dearest Arete– Feminism is not at the heart of child killing, I think a lack of the value of human lives is at the heat of child killing, they are not synonymous. I know maybe it seems confusing but i am pretty sure that feminism is also about valuing the human life. Feminism came about because there was an injustice, it was a response to that injustice, the mistreatment and abuse of male power which subjugated and devalued more than half of the human race, women. Not just a little but serially, continually and maliciously and still everyday all over the world. I would not disagree that in some cases feminism has been distorted and misused for reasons that are not honorable but most good causes have their bad days and there are folks who give a good causes with very good and just reasons, a bad name. Sad about that…

    I am can appreciate that you are not a feminist. That’s okay. Name calling and personal accusations are not okay. Also devaluing and dehumanizing to a person that i do not believe you know personally is not okay. I think it would work better for your cause to share your experience about not being a feminist and why, as Beth did so beautifully sharing her perspective in her blog.

    I know beth thought about what she said and how she said it. I know what she has lived with and lived through. Feminism is a response to injustice, personal injustice and corporate injustice to women, to Beth, to myself. Feminism is about a “change of heart”, a big change as it happens, one that calls for women and men alike to honor and value equally each other, and remember the value of human life lies in both male and female. Feminism would not be required if all was right with the world.

    I read this blog today which gives a pretty clear picture of why feminism is still a needed response, until the injustice ends….

    http://sorayachemaly.tumblr.com/post/50361809881/why-society-still-needs-feminism-because-to-men

  9. I’m a feminist, too. I’m for little 5th grade girls that can rest assured in the knowledge that they are beautiful just within their own sweet, perfect selves. Not made “sexy” by the overwhelming, evil mindset our media blares at them. For shame! For Shame, fashion world, television, advertising.. Let our baby girls be baby girls!!!

    • But its feminism that teaches your little girls that they must be “sexy.” Its feminism that treats “sex work” as just another kind of employment. Feminists are the ones who write programs called “Happy, Healthy and Hot” for girls as young as ten to be used in girl scout programs using tax payer money. (look it up!). Its feminism that started the sexual revolution, that encourages promiscuous behavior that has as its agenda getting extremely young girls on contraceptives.

      Listen to the “founding mothers” of feminism: Simone de Beauvoir says that women should not be allowed to choose to raise their own children and Kate Millet says that “the family must be destroyed” (which is actually a quote from Engles, friend of Marx, one of the first Socialists) and children must be raised in common by the government. Andrea Dworkin thinks all heterosexual sex is rape. Jane J Mansbridge lays out her plans to keep women – even those who want to- from raising their own children b/c she says that this is bad for women as a whole. Feminism says that only through participation in the workplace can a woman achieve fullfillment and happiness and those of us who disagree need to be forced to comply. Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple) teaches that “motherhood is slavery” and her own poor daughter grew up to denounce her mother’s treatment of her in a public letter which you can read online.

      Feminism in all its various forms is basically a branch of Marxism. There are “sex positive” varieties that call for public sexual acting out and then other types that try to impose limits on things like pornography but at its heart, what it all has in common is a desire to “liberate women from the tyrrany of their own bodies” and make them to be like men in every way possible through scientific breakthroughs and the re-organization of society to be no longer based on the family unit as well as by emasculating men who are thought to be inherently “violent” and “selfish aggressors” by nature. If you believe that both men and women are equal in dignity and worth and posses DIFFERENT but equally valuable traits and that family is the basic unit of society (not individuals– b/c babies cant fend for themselves right?) if you believe those things you are not a “feminist” but a “complementarian.”

      • It sounds like you are self projecting a lot on feminism. I’ve read your responses and it seems like you aren’t interested in reality but rather promoting your own demonized interpretation of Feminism. Feminism is what will make your life better, if you allow it.

        There will always be naysayers, there will always be those that if one is so inclined not use their brain. What’s more interesting to me is your motivation. Feminism seems to be a trigger for you. This is more of a reflection of you than of Feminism.

        Sadly all you do is promote hate and anger and sexism, and clearly a very personal ax to grind. It detracts from this beautiful piece of honesty. I will stand with my Feminist brothers and sisters in uplifting this incredible this wonderful woman’s words.

  10. Beautiful, Beth.

    “Perhaps its starts within our own hearts.
    Believing we carry value. Believing others possess the same.”

    In my opinion, that quote is basically at the heart of all decisions we make. Do I believe I carry value? Do I believe others possess the same?

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