Manak Matiyani is Director at the YP Foundation, a support organization for the youth of India. Here, he speaks to us about his views on Feminism.
What is feminism for you?
Feminism is my way of understanding the world and figuring out how to deal with it. Fundamentally it is really part of who I am and my identity because it gives me the ability to say that I shouldn’t have to fit into these various boxes that the world gives me in terms of a gender, a cast, a class, a particular religion, and fit into these boxes. Feminism gives me the way to say: this is not what I need to be bound by and I can be who I am.
Globally there are hardly any men in this movement and in India there’s a special scarcity of it. Why do you think men scare away from words like feminism?
It’s interesting to look at how feminism and the history of feminism is perceived by the people who are not part of it. It is like the demonization of the other which in this case is feminism because there’s this whole history of bra burning feminists which I was continuously fed when I was growing up and then you learn history and realize that no bras are ever burnt unless they were really bad bras. So it’s just like that: whenever we talk about gender and feminism we assume that it has to do with only women and not with men, and that’s about telling men that they’re bad and evil and should change the way they are. In the work I’ve done with young men particularly, you’re right there are few men, but in the way we are approaching them there’s a good movement that people are trying to build in India to have feminist men which basically means not feminist men leading women’s work, but feminist men giving up the power, giving up the leadership, the position of privilege to say there is something to be said for women’s leadership and it’s very important as a concern and as an area to be developed. In terms of how men engage with feminism, feminism is a great way for men to think about how patriarchy and patriarchal values oppress them. How patriarchy oppresses me into telling me how this is the only way that I can be a man. If I can start challenging that stereotype of being a man – masculine, macho, aggressive man, which is the only stereotype that I have been given by the society, automatically the situations under we look at violence across genders will change and it will be a much better way of approaching values of equality.
How do you perceive feminism in India as compared to other spaces?
Feminism is not a monolithic template, there are various types of feminism and in India some of the core issues that feminism has taken up have been around the issues of Dalit rights, issues of identities which are really related to the context of India. In that it is very different. At the moment South Asian patriarchy is distinctive in the way that oppresses everybody, men and women, across genders, and tries to fix everybody into a mold. In that feminism has had a considerable history of doing pioneering work in terms of allowing people to come out, find stories that are similar, connect those stories and use that personal experience connected together to figure out what the world is like and try to deal with it. Most of my experience of working in the feminist movement in India has been in the urban middle class and it has given lots of way of questioning assumptions that people make about my identity or assumptions that people make about the template of life that is handed to me and allows me to question very meaningfully.
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