Saturday, June 20, 2020

Is Feminism Brahmanism?

This post is an analysis on the points made in the transcript of a talk titled "Feminism is Brahmanism" (FiB) and the counter-points raised to it. I know that it is difficult to separate points made by a person from that person themselves. It is difficult to separate generalizations and personal attacks from solid arguments. But nevertheless, I will make an attempt, for my own sake. Because I call myself a feminist and I want my flavour of feminism to be the best flavour of feminism possible.

Firstly, I have to state my own biases here. I have been pondering over the question "Is Reverse Sexism Possible?" for about an year now. I've not had a conclusive answer yet. The first time I read the FiB article I thought I had an answer. Maybe the answer will take another year to be clear. Anyhow, I believe in intersectional feminism as of now. The kind that is being talked about in Data Feminism. And I believe that gender equality is not the only thing that feminism is about or should be about.

Let's now move to the original: "Feminism is Brahmanism"

We have to realize that this is the transcript of a talk and therefore a lot of meaning may have been lost in the transcription process. Also I have no idea on the context in which this talk was given, nor have I been following the speaker to know their background.

In the beginning of the talk Anu Ramdas makes this point:

That all these women produced this vast amount of knowledge and some of it has been responsible to make my rights possible. They have all worked for it. And I should just find it and I am going to find it. But in real life that was not the story. The person who worked to make education possible for my family was my paternal grandaunt. It was my paternal grandaunt who took decisions about her children having to go to college and through her effort and clarity of thought the family begins to have education as a benchmark we need to get. She is the person that I associate, in my life, with education. But feminism is telling me it is not her, it’s all these other women. So, either my grandmother (aunt) is a feminist and her role is documented in that feminist literature or they are disconnected. This reality and the materialized feminist knowledge and my real life have no connection. That is the first part of the journey.

And later this idea is revisited

What have these feminists clarified for me to stop women from spending so much of their time searching, fetching, storing water [in most parts of the world]? Or about having safe childcare, when their occupations are not white-collared jobs. The majority of the women of the world are working in agriculture. So how does childcare look for agricultural workers and what has feminism articulated about it? In all these hundreds and hundreds of books [...]
So, my conclusion is that this is about ruling class women, 99% of which is white women’s struggle. Their struggle of becoming equal to who? Are they struggling to become equal to the black man or the Asian man? No! They are struggling to become equal to the white man. Their struggle, in one sentence, if I have to say: feminism is about the white women’s struggle to become equal to white men. While white men are the oppressors of the entire world, men and women together. Feminism demands all women to help white women win their battle to become equal to white men who oppress the rest of the world. And this is repeated in every society. Elites of that society adopt this ideology, saying we are fighting for all women but all they are doing is fighting to be equal to their class men. But all women are recruited to perform this duty. And hence I cannot see their achievements, their success as being warriors of rights for all women because the water problem has not changed. It is not even there in their orbit. Therefore, I have started to see feminism as being oppositional to all the historical struggles of marginalized people, where men and women, are engaged in. For example, anti-caste battles and struggles.
I think these paragraphs summarize the premise on which the speaker is making the assertion. The premise is that lots of feminism is just about gender equality. If we assume that is true, then I can easily draw the line from there to how feminism suppresses conversation about caste and how it allows continuation of class structures like brahmanism. (Tangential question: Why should the B of brahmanism be capital? Isn't brahmanism a concept like feminism? Won't it be a common noun then?)

Now let us take the response by Anannya G Madonna - "Ambedkarism is Feminism – A Response to ‘Feminism is Brahminism’"

The author here looks at various waves of feminism. If I read it correctly, the first wave is equated to white feminism - of equal right to vote between genders.

Then "womanists/black feminists" gets introduced and in the same vein "Dalit feminism".

They then go ahead and give various examples of Dalit feminists who have independent existence and aren't just agents of white feminists. Later, also, they justify the point that being influenced by white feminism is not a bad thing per se. That the idea of human rights in Europe will apply to India as well, even if the context changes.

Essentially, I think, the point they are making is that Indian feminism is/should be Dalit/intersectional feminism.
Another point worth mentioning is that the fourth wave feminism is predominantly run by womxn of colour and various ethnicities and sexualities where they are taking the reins into their hands.
Of course they also talk on a different point about Anu Ramdas' agenda and question their integrity. But perhaps we don't have to worry about that to answer the question whether feminism is brahmanism.

We will come back to what Indian feminism is after looking at a few twitter threads.

What we see in these is that there are two view points and one political issue.

The political issue appears to be that there is an attempt to cover-up patriarchy inside Dalit communities. I don't know much about the background of this.

But the differing view point is easy to figure out.

One side (mostly consisting of Dalit feminists) believe that their kind of feminism is what "feminism" is (or should be). And that is reasonable.

The mistake made by Anu Ramdas' side seems to be that they don't acknowledge these Dalit feminists at all. They say that all of Dalit feminism is brahmanism NGOs telling Dalits what to do.

If they had said "Dalit feminists exist, but so do Savarna feminists and the latter is same as brahmanism", I think both sides would have agreed.

The question remains though. What kinds of feminism do we see around us? Are all of these feminists subscribed to the fourth wave of feminism? How much of them don't oppose brahmanism? Perhaps there's no way to systematically measure this. But I have a sense that intersectional feminism is slowly catching up in India.

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