How to Spot a Faux Feminist


How to Spot a Faux Feminist

Illustration: Akshita Monga

In 2017, the most looked-up word on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary was “feminism”. The year the #MeToo movement kick-started, 2017 made major strides on the home turf as well with Lipstick Under My Burkha and the judgment against triple talaq. A year on, India’s #MeToo wave has exposed harassers in the media and the entertainment industry. 

What. A. Heady. Time.

Finally, I thought, we’d break free from the shackles of sexism – at least in the urban circles I occupied. The #MeToo movement was going to liberate us all. In fact, drunk on optimism, I was on the verge of declaring this brand of millennials almost free from the epidemic of patriarchy when I stumbled upon a video en route to work one morning.

Mithali Raj has totally owned the gentleman’s game, and rather than singing ballads about that, here we were – watching videos depicting her “boldness/hotness” in some photoshoot. (I think it’s going to remain a dream unfulfilled, to see a Virat Kohli/Jasprit Bumrah photoshoot labelled “bold” or “sizzling”.)

We were in the middle of a discussion on visa charges and an estimated budget, when the girl suddenly remarked, “Dude, it’ll obviously cost Devrupa more because she’s a girl, no!”

Who had I been kidding? It isn’t as if the “wokest” among us are free of stereotyping. Even the highly educated, upper-middle-class millennial, men and women. I’ve decided to call this uni-gender, omnipresent tribe the “pseudo-woke cult”, or simply, PWC. Best described as a faux feminist, the PWC has nationwide recruits, concentrated mostly in the metros, and mentored by the likes of Carrie Bradshaw, Blair Waldorf, and of course, Regina George.

You’ll hear them say something completely “harmless”, for instance, “Girls LOVE shopping!” or “ Women CAN’T drive.”

Last October, I was hanging out with a couple of friends (a girl and a guy, 21st-century lawyers) planning our upcoming Singapore trip. We were in the middle of a discussion on visa charges and an estimated budget, when the girl suddenly remarked, “Dude, it’ll obviously cost Devrupa more because she’s a girl, no!” Eh? Was the Singapore visa somehow more expensive for women? Was it some sort of a sexist nation?

If only the answer were as simple. My friend explained: “Because Devrupa will obviously go out shopping na, she’s a girl!” Singapore wasn’t the one with a warped take on feminism; my friend was. Well, we went to Singapore. And well, I didn’t shop.

I had just lost a friend to PWC. I just wish Leslie Knope had gotten to her before Serena van der Woodsen did. Once that began, it felt as if I’d stumbled onto the real-life equivalent of The Walking Dead, where every other person was PWC zombie.

This year, a friend was having a water-cooler chat with her colleague who had pledged her waking hours to matrimonial websites. When asked why she wouldn’t consider getting hitched to the batchmate she was then seeing, she declared her husband must be older than her, must be more mature (umm… in bed?), and must also be more intelligent (sure, because comparing IQ test results is certainly a better idea than getting tested for HIV). She went on to say that the groom would need to earn more than her, and be “career-minded (sic)” so that she could “chill”. I know that a woman is at liberty to choose to be a homemakeras is a man.

There it was back again – the strong stench of PWC. But where there is PWC, there is also my old friend optimism.

A male friend was starting out in a city where he hardly knew nobody. And like a true millennial, he resorted to Tinder to meet new people. Not a terrible idea – perhaps. He soon matched with a girl in her early ’20s. As the ritual goes, they chatted for a couple of days before deciding to hang out at a café. From what he told me later, he had made it abundantly clear to her that he wasn’t looking for hook ups. Regardless, when she found out he was genuinely not interested in a one-night stand, he was subjected to minor degrees of yelling and some awfully unkind remarks about how he must certainly be gay to not want to sleep with a girl who was offering herself for sex.

I felt bad for him. It hasn’t been very long since I was in his place a couple of years back. Marvelling at the rather tragic irony, I ended up telling him, “So now you know how we feel when people refuse to take our ‘no’ for a ‘no’?”

I wish we could all understand that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie quote better. “The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognising how we are.”

I don’t wish to burn PWC recruits at the stake for their unconscious bias knowing fully well that it stems from their social conditioning – a social conditioning marinated and deep-fried in patriarchy that has led them to believe that every other woman aspires to don a Zara dress on a hot summer day, or have a fairytale wedding.

But I wonder if we’ll be ready to call ourselves truly woke anytime soon.

Even as Generation Y and Generation Z millennials, we label people’s choices according to their chromosomes on an everyday basis… sometimes, unconsciously. I don’t think we are anywhere close to understanding that humans are multidimensional, non-identical, and mostly weird. We’d get there when we stop wowing over girls riding Harleys and staring at boys with nose rings. When we stop dividing the world in pink and blue.

Although I do love PINK – the movie of course. What did you think?