Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Two feminists in my life

A couple of weeks ago my friend Shivani Mutneja, who is also a brilliant poet, wrote this poem on her blog Mock-ethic

Get out girls!
Get out girls!
Get out at unearthly hours.
Get out wearing low cut blouses.
Get out in skirts and shorts.
Get out with friends.
Get out alone.
Get out girls!

Go to pubs, do a few shots,
Go dancing, swing your hips
Go to forts, glide on streets
Go against wisdom.
Wander aimless,
Walk fast,
Walk slow,
Run frantic,
But do not stay at home any longer!
Be overt,
Be shy,
Be rude,
Be perverse,
Be sexy,
But do not be afraid any longer!

On streets! on streets!
You are needed on streets!
You are needed in trains!
Get out in large numbers!

Get out girls!
You owe it to those
who were picked,
raped, molested,

You owe it to
your hands
and legs
and breasts.

You owe it
to your city-
so get out
Reclaim it!
I loved Shivani's poem. Over and over again, I read of women being attacked and molested in public, and it seems like the only 'reason' behind it, if any, was that they were there. Misogyny is not dead, and feminism has a long way to go. Its not just India - all around the world, conditions are becoming more difficult for women even as the 'feminism has won and women now no longer face any problems in being who they truly want to be' rhetoric gains ground. Women work longer hours in jobs where they are paid less than men, they are discursively framed to seek meaning and validation in romantic relationships and consumer items, they are often left shouldering single families, and excessive sexualisation has made public spaces unsafe, while enabling a corresponding 'get back to your homes and stay safe' intervention rather than 'let us change our public spaces'.

Two days later, Vipul gave me a printout and said that Shivani had added to the poem, and posted an update on Facebook. Here it is:
Get out boys!! 
Get out boys
At dusk or at night
And when the afternoon is bright

Look around with drunken eyes
You surely will find a Girl or two
Or a group of them waiting for you
 To be touched, molested, or laughed at,
And if you have a car, po’er, or banknote
You must not hesitate to use force
How else would you qualify as the
Man of the society of women.

Make sure you tell them firmly
that they need to learn the lessons.
Disclose that it is not you
who is perverse or spineless,
it is they
who are provocative and mindless
and consequently need a reminder of our traditions.

Get out boys!
Be bold and adventurous
Try ganging!
Be funny and capricious
Try recording!
 Be aggressive and contentious
Try tearing!
Be moral and conscientious
Try blaming!

Get out boys!
Don’t you worry
Laws will protect you
Cables will applaud you
Society will hide you
Convention will side you
And when more of you do it more often
No one will keep up.

I loved this version too. And as I discussed it with Vipul, one of the things I said was "There is a lot of anger in the poem - this issue must still anger her, for her to go on adding to her earlier version". The next morning, Vipul told me that he had written the above poem, inspired by Shivani's earlier one. And he had not written it in anger. I got a lot of ribbing about my discussion of the poet's state of mind, but then I believe in the intentional fallacy - it is erroneous to judge a text by the intention of the creator.

As I pointed out to him, Barthes argued that the reader creates their own text, and in that sense the author is dead after creating the text, so I still stand by my interpretation. I still see anger in both the poems, and I for one am glad to see it. In fact, Vipul's poem is more pessimistic than Shivani's - she talks about reclaiming the streets and the city, whereas his ends on a note wherein nothing is going to change. Both poems encourage me to keep thinking about issues, and getting worked up over them. I'm thankful to have these two feminists in my life, as I am thankful for all the people I know who care deeply and get worked up over things.

Incidentally, he has time to write poems when he is in the university, and does not have time to do my proof-reading? Now that's even better cause for anger!