While it is important to keep the debate about feminism alive, social thinkers warn against excluding well-informed men from the movement.
The battle about honour and jauhar took a rather ugly turn on Wednesday, when director Vivek Agnihotri and Swara Bhasker had a full-fledged Twitter battle over the topic. Vivek lashed out against Swara’s open letter to Padmaavat filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, where she wrote about feeling “reduced to a vagina” because of the glorification of the social ill of jauhar. In his Tweet, he called Swara a fake feminist and asked her to go to Bastar (in Chattisgarh) to see the real plight that women find themselves in. In this case, Swara’s overreaction to Vivek’s statement seems a tad extreme. One tweet from her read, “I’m sorry did u just suggest that I go get myself raped?????????? Like seriously? You typed out this tweet Vivek... ????? I’d say pretty low and sick even by your own abysmal standards of conduct & civility.”(sic)
A number of other outspoken feminists also rallied around the actress to condemn Vivek after reading her post.
Overlooking one issue for another — in this case jauhar in place for the plight of underprivileged women in Bastar — doesn’t solve either problem. However, the overreaction on Swara’s part brings to the foreground a more problematic plight that feminism has found itself in — the exclusion of men from the narrative.
“I don’t think it necessarily happens only in the feminist movement. It’s just that people get a little possessive about their causes and think they have access to the truth,” explains author Advaita Kala. “When it comes to gender equality, men are pretty much part of the problem and the solution because we occupy the world with them in every societal sphere. We have to move towards a point where we can work together.”
Filmmaker Avinash Das, who worked with Swara in Anarkali of Araah, points out that the narrative is problematic from both ends in the Swara-Vivek case. “It’s true that Swara overreacted. But one needs to look a bit deeper into the context. While Swara has always been outspoken about the feminist cause, it is Vivek who has been selective about when he speaks out,” he reasons.
At the same time, Avinash questions Vivek’s credibility to comment on the issue. “This is the same man who portrayed the Naxal movement in a very negative light in his film Buddha in a Traffic Jam,” he scoffs. “So how can he speak about the good of the very women whose movement that he condemned in his own movie? I believe that he too is speaking from a position of privilege and must be condemned for it.”
Ultimately, the way forward is to allow everyone the right to an opinion — especially if they have contributed to the field. Filmmaker Aditya Kripalani, who has made films on the feminist struggle, including Tikli and Laxmi Bomb, draws an analogy with poverty. “You are allowed an opinion on it, even if you are not poor — even more so when you have worked to alleviate it. Similarly, I believe that men should be allowed an opinion on feminism, especially if they are well-informed and have worked for the cause,” he explains. “However, this cannot mean that you undermine the opinion of a woman when you make your opinion known.”
The way forward is through inclusion of all genders and identities and the feminist movement can only go forward if men are included in it. “It is important to not exclude people from conversation, but definitely make them a part of it. We should not discount anyone’s view. There are sensible men, who know how to approach these issues with sensitivity and fair-mindedness. I am against the culture to shut people down because they are not experts of the subject,” Advaita concludes.
— With inputs from Nirtika Pandita