Interview with FemPositive: On FeministReads and Feminist Positivity

FemPositive describes themselves as “a movement to accentuate the positivity in feminism through positive dialogue by bridging women’s narratives and histories with the contemporary feminist movement to craft a more informed, collaborative movement for gender justice.” Advocating equality for all through the systematic breakdown of the patriarchal order, they think of themselves as “torchbearers of equal rights, equal respect and equal opportunity for all, irrespective of gender, sexuality, race or colour in all fields – political, economic and social.” To that end, the three-member team from Mumbai comprising Riddhima Sharma, Chirag Kulshrestha and Ronak Kakkad have launched campaigns for social change, promoted educational and awareness programmes and have actively supported other feminist activists and organisations.

For instance, along with Price of Silence in New York and 16 December Kranti Official in New Delhi, FemPositive launched the pictorial campaign ‘#FreeSantadevi’ in solidarity with the cause of having all child marriages annulled, which is particularly significant in India as a large number of marriages are arranged against the women’s will and not infrequently before their age of consent. FemPositive, apart from supporting The Kachra Project in their campaign ‘#PeriodOfChange’, has also created an interesting dialogue within the discourse about patriarchy by creating a photo campaign ‘#ToBeAMan’, which has received a huge response over social media. Moreover, as a feminist organisation, FemPositive has also addressed issues of body shaming and body image with their ‘#MyBodyMyRules’ campaign inviting people to share unedited pictures of themselves as well as their experiences with body shaming.

In the education front too, FemPositive has been involved with a host of projects, notably ‘Be Like Her’ which puts a feminist spin on the popular ‘Be Like’ memes and their latest, ‘#FeministReads’ where they actively promote Indian feminist literature of various genres, as well as provide accounts of contemporary and historical women’s movements in India, posting one book on their Facebook page every Friday. An important aspect of their list is the fact that they steer away from commercial mainstream writing and instead focus on the voices of the marginalized.

Among the books featured so far, FemPositive have included Sultana’s Dream, a stunning work of feminist utopian fiction published in 1905 by Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain, a Muslim feminist writer and social reformer. The story is set in the utopia of ‘Lady Land’ where the women run the world and the men observe purdah, thus inversing the traditional gender roles. They have also featured Zohra by Zeenuth Futehally, which is reported to be the first novel in English written by an Indian female writer, alongside discourses on women writings in India, caste and gender issues from the points-of-view of Dalit women as well as sociological studies like Charu Gupta’s Sexuality, Obscenity, And Community: Women, Muslims, and the Hindu Public in Colonial India.

If you wish to recommend a book to be featured on #FeministReads, send them an email at fempositive@gmail.com. Meanwhile, show them your love and support by checking out their Facebook page and website.

In conversation with Eyezine

Was there any particular incident that inspired you to begin FemPositive? How is FemPositive different from other feminist collectives?

FemPositive was born out of a need for a positive, inclusive space to highlight and discuss feminism, particularly in the Indian context. Over the period that we’ve been active and the kind of work we are doing, FemPositive has evolved into a platform to accentuate the positivity in feminism through positive dialogue by bridging women’s narratives and histories with the contemporary feminist movement to craft a more informed, collaborative movement for gender justice.

What is perhaps unique to FemPositive in its approach is that we are working hard to make Indian feminist and women’s histories more accessible to people looking to learn more about our struggles, stories, victories and challenges.

Given that we inhabit an era of many feminisms and that several feminist ideologies are often at loggerheads with each other, do you think the term ‘feminist’ has lost its real meaning and is often appropriated to suit one’s agenda?

Given that feminism was never a uni-dimensional concept, the idea of its appropriation or losing its essence does not arise. Because no two women are the same and the issues they face are also unique, there can be no ‘one size fits all’ definition of feminism. Every form of feminism is working to critique and dismantle a different power structure that is oppressing them but all of them are rooted in the same principles of equality and justice.

What are the obstacles that you faced while building and running FemPositive? How did you overcome them?

Starting anything new is challenging. While we were still forming our ideas on what FemPositive would stand for, one of the fundamental challenges we faced was familiarising ourselves with technological know-how because we were not in a position to hire someone to build our online presence for us. Also, being a two-member team with full time jobs it really required us to set aside time to brainstorm, come up with content, projects and collaborations we wanted to be a part of.

Luckily, between the two of us as we understood our rhythms and the roles we both filled best, it eventually became easier to set into a routine that did not pressurise either of us. It has also helped that we’ve had so many friends and volunteers who’ve supported us in more ways than we can name through the last year and half.

Who are the feminist icons you admire and why?

In the course of our study and work we have come across so many. From artists painting a town with murals that speak of gender injustice, to a woman who fought against the systems that tried to stop her from getting educated, to folk singers and writers who have been chronicling struggles of class, caste and gender, to a young woman standing up against child marriage, to a teacher who is relentless in her pursuit of justice despite attempts to silence her through violence & threats, to the women spearheading workers’ rights movements, to the women fighting state-sanctioned violence against women, to the women who are quietly leading a revolution in their homes. Anyone who has questioned the status quo and systems of oppression is an icon we look up to. And at FemPositive we are trying to create a space to talk about all these women.

As feminists, how important is it to you to address issues of colour discrimination and colour privilege especially among Indian women in everyday life?

Colour discrimination as a form of body shaming and how different bodies have been deemed more “beautiful” or acceptable than others by caste structures that believe white is good and dark is bad is an important issue that needs to be addressed and critiqued.

We are conscious of this and try to weave these subjects into our conversations and projects. For instance, during our first photo campaign which was against body shaming, we received quite a few contributions where the contributors spoke up against colour discrimination that they had been facing. All of these messages on the subject can be accessed on our page and website.

With regard to popular culture (for instance the latest Sherlock episode), do you believe that mansplaining seriously undermines the feminist worldview?

Yes. Given that feminist histories had largely been muted out of popular discourses, and pop culture too has had a similar situation where women’s stories have seemingly been less popular or appreciated, mansplaining is a big issue. But we still have some hope, because recently shows like How To Get Away With Murder (one of our favourites!), Agent Carter, and Jessica Jones which are diverse and powerful, are gaining popularity.

What are the projects you are currently working on? Any future plans you’d like to share with us?

Currently we are working on building some exciting content and new collaborations which should start rolling out soon. Follow our pagewww.facebook.com/fempositive to keep up with what we’re doing.

With reference to the ‘#ToBeAMan’ campaign, do you believe it is possible to prevent men from being interpellated in patriarchy?

The idea behind the ‘#ToBeAMan’ campaign was to shed some light on the standards that men are pressured to conform to in a patriarchal society and the ostracisation they face if they reject the gender identities and roles assigned to them. It was amazing to have so many men participate and share their experiences which were all testament to the problems for men who perhaps don’t conform to the patriarchal delusion of who a ‘real man’ is. Yes, we think with greater awareness and dialogue, it is possible to prevent men from being interpellated in patriarchy and instead, question its problematic standards.

With the context of the ‘MyBodyMyRules’ campaign in mind, do you believe that the selfie culture, which proliferates the use of photo editing apps, play a significant role in issues of body shaming?

Any form of expression of the female body is subjected to judgement and prejudice and hence the pressure to present oneself in an appealing fashion is overbearing. Photo-editing apps and filters are a factor in issues of body shaming because a lot of ‘jokes’ these days talk about how women represent themselves online. While an X person may face jokes for looking a certain way, there is still a very high chance that they will face more shaming if they use photo-editing apps and be called out as ‘fake’. We know all too well the jokes and memes that have gone around that compare a woman’s ‘Reel’ vs. ‘Real’ selves which mock the women who ‘look nothing like their profile photo.’ The MyBodyMyRules campaign was aimed at highlighting exactly these everyday occurrences of body shaming that are often passed off as a “harmless” joke or a thoughtless comment.

Which is your favourite #FeministRead so far? Which is that one book that you think every feminist should read?

We are total bibliophiles and get excited every time we find a cool new book. But for anyone wanting to start reading about Indian feminism and women’s histories, the two volume set titled Women Writing in India, Volume I & II: 600 B.C. to the Early Twentieth Century is the place to start because these volumes house a treasured compilation of translated excerpts from valuable writings by Indian women in eleven languages. It’s a wonderful way to acquaint oneself with what women in India have been thinking and writing about throughout history.

We are encouraging people to read more about Indian feminist literature through our project #FeministReads where we share a new recommendation every Friday. We’d love to have Eye Art’s readers have a look at it, tell us which your favourite book is and help us build this into a bigger resource for Indian feminism.

 


This article of mine edited by Pallab Deb was previously published on EyeZine

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s