Dr Sarika Jain is an author who has made her writing debut with the title SHE: A message for those who belittle girls. Her book, nonfiction in nature, discusses various issues and problems that women have faced and overcome as well. Our team prepared a list of questions related to her book and the issues she has raised in her book. Also, we have put our questions on feminism to her and she has replied vocally. Hope you will enjoy this conversation.
Q1. Sarika, what is true feminism according to you? Do you think feminism in India is a case of misconception?
Dr Sarika Jain: Feminism is often stereotyped as being anti-male, or blind to the unique challenges that men face. But, if we really understand feminism, that’s not what it’s about. True feminism is about equality for both genders. Men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Yes, I do think that feminism in India is a case of misconception because people in India believe feminism is all about hating men and bashing society for the plight of women. I have seen countless times women expressing that they do not “need” feminism because they are not “man-haters” or “marriage-haters” or not a “lesbian”. It is so saddening for multiple reasons; men and women are so ill-informed that they believe this is what feminism means and people feel feminists are aggressive, men-hating women. This is because they might have been around people that claim to be feminists and are actually using this movement to promote their misandry.
I would say feminism is not an ideology but a process. It is about creating an equal society not just for women, but also for men. It is about believing that women are equal to men – equal in access, opportunity, and respect. True Feminism is saying that a woman can step out of the kitchen, and a man can step into the kitchen. It’s saying that a woman can be an army jawan, and a man can be a Kathak dancer. It’s about saying that a woman should not give dowry, and a man shouldn’t be indicted in a false dowry case. It’s about saying that a woman can fight, and a man can cry. True Feminism is saying that women should be paid the same as men and that men shouldn’t have to pick up each restaurant bill. Being a true feminist is being a good human. It is actually as simple as that. If you want to understand true feminism then do this one simple thing: remove all gender prescriptions from your life. Live your life not as a man or a woman, but as a human being. Create an equal opportunity for yourself and exercise equal agency. I became a feminist because I wanted to be a good human, which is what true feminism is all about.
Matt McGorry, one of the most prominent male celebrities involved in the support of equal opportunity, posts frequently to his half a million followers on twitter about his passion: why feminism matters. Matt McGorry has been an inspiration to many of his fans, showing and educating others on the true meaning of feminism – GENDER EQUALITY!
Q2. Do you see the concept of ‘marriage and home-making as the only two destinations’ of women in India changing anytime soon?
Dr Sarika Jain: Yes, with time, the concept of ‘marriage and home-making as the only two destinations’ of women in India is changing. Though at some levels like dowry, crimes like rape, sexual harassment at the office or public places, and molestation, eve-teasing, even after over sixty years of independence women are still exploited, which is the shameful side of our country. Yet one can’t deny that the situation has improved since the earlier times. Women are now getting access to education and employment. The result of this is that India has the world’s largest number of professionally qualified women. Today, Indian women are becoming leaders, doctors, surgeons, scientists, professors, sportspersons, etc. As of 2018, the President of India, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha have been women. Our present Finance Minister is also a woman.
Women in India have slowly started recognizing their true potential. They have started questioning the rules laid down for them by society. As a result, they have started breaking barriers and earned a respectable position in the world. Today, Indian women have excelled in each and every field, from social work to visit the space station. There is no arena, which remains unconquered by Indian women. Whether it is politics, sports, entertainment, literature, technology, everywhere, its women power all along. Women are now knocking down stereotypes in previously male-dominated roles and proving #WOMEN CAN and they are equal to men.
Q3. The novelists like Shobha De put all the weight of feminism on sexual freedom and almost lesbian exploration (many other authors). How do you react to such ventures in feminism?
Dr Sarika Jain: Yes, many novelists like Shobha De, Manju Kapur, and others put all the weight of feminism on sexual freedom and lesbian exploration. Neither I want to react nor do I want to comment to such ventures in feminism because that is their way of looking at feminism. On the other hand, there is this book that advocates GENDER EQUALITY – “Feminist Rani,” written by Shaili Chopra and Meghna Pant that provides a perspective on the evolving concept of feminism in an age when women are taking charge and leading the way. Anuja Chandramouli, the bestselling author who wrote – Shakti: The Divine Feminine and other fantasy and historical fiction said, “Correct the mistaken belief that feminism equals man-hating.”
This is my outlook on feminism – Feminism is not synonymous with man-hating or marriage-hating, but it simply means equality, respect, and breaking the patriarchy and societal taboos that proclaim – men and women are not equal! A feminist is someone who supports women’s rights and believes in gender equality. My definition of feminism is very simple: a movement to establish equal economic, social, political rights and opportunities for both men and women.
Feminism is not a dirty word. We need feminism. Feminism is for everyone (men and women). Feminism doesn’t mean a battle of the sexes, but a common goal for all – EQUALITY! I am an egalitarian, who believe that all people are equally important and should have the same rights and opportunities in life. I am an egalitarian for all the women who face domestic and family violence all over the world and the thousands who die per year. An American actor Zachary Quinto once said, “I think the idea of being a feminist is evolving in our world. Especially now, with these movements toward equality of all kinds, I feel like I don’t limit it to feminism, I just sort of consider myself a humanist. It’s not feminism, it’s just humanism!” So, let us understand the true meaning of feminism and say proudly – “Yes, I am a feminist.”
Q4. Society should be a perfect equilibrium where men and women work together towards a better future. How do you see true feminism supporting this common goal?
Dr Sarika Jain: True feminism is not the hatred towards men. The point of feminism is not to discriminate against men. Feminism is not a movement to discourage men. Feminism is not a movement plotting to pull all men out of power. True Feminism is not a movement to promote women superiority and it is not a competition between two sexes, but it is all about – EQUALITY, EQUALITY, and EQUALITY!
In September 2014, the HeForShe campaign was launched. HeForShe is a campaign that invites people all over the world to join together and fight against gender inequality. 1.3 billion people visited HeForShe.org and signed up to stand together to help create a gender-equal world. The former US President Barack Obama called himself a feminist and urged all men to become feminists too and fight against gender stereotypes and double standards to create a prosperous world and a gender-equal society for women. Gender equality is not a ‘women’s issue’ – it’s good for men too! It is better for balance, better for all of us – #BalanceforBetter. Gender equality must start at home, and each and every parent should raise feminist kids.
I truly believe true feminism will help in achieving a perfect equilibrium where both men and women can work together towards a better future, because after understanding the meaning of true feminism they will not compete with each other or will not make the other gender feel inferior, instead they will understand each other better and would walk hand-in-hand to create a better world and a better tomorrow.
Q5. In your book, you have highlighted the needs of women. However, when do you think parents and society begin to discriminate against women?
Dr Sarika Jain: Yes, in my book – SHE, I have highlighted the needs of women and girls like the need to choose a life partner, need to access education, need to voice their opinions, and so on and so forth. According to my observation and research, parents and society begin to discriminate against women on entry-level, on how they look, what they wear, how they behave, how they choose their lives, how they speak or think, if they work or not, their human rights to their own bodies – globally it is utterly disgraceful how women are treated everywhere.
While in the early Vedic period, Indian women enjoyed equal status with men, it’s the decline in that status during the later Vedic period, Colonial and Post-Colonial period, which continues to define the women of today. Subjugation has been a constant in the lives of Indian women in all spheres. Relegated to the four walls of the home, Indian women even today, are denied good health, education, freedom of thought and expression, careers, independence, safety, and identity. For that matter, in many parts of India, the girl child is denied life itself. With all the economic and technological advancements India has made, it’s unfortunate that ‘she’ still treats her women unfairly! The discrimination against women is continuing since ages and decades, and it actually began before the Industrial Revolution – when women’s place in society was dictated by the needs of society.
Women were needed at home because the lack of sophistication in society basically relegated most men and women into the roles that they had: men = physical power / social manager and women = home power / child-bearer. Even women back then didn’t question their roles; even women in power (queens) believed in these roles. Nobody knew any different! Now, with the advent of the Industrial and medical revolutions, the equalizing of the genders is not something that “men granted” but which society NEEDED and women rightly DEMANDED. More importantly, as a growing world of humanists, we understand that no society can truly be free and progressive until every citizen has the same rights and opportunities.
Q6. How can a writer like yourself come to the forum and spread the message of gender equality when there are many authors who think that feminism has everything to do with competing against men?
Dr Sarika Jain: Yes, there are many authors who think that feminism has everything to do with competing against men because this is their perception of feminism. It’s not surprising that these false stereotypes persist, given their stubborn repetition in the media and across the internet. The idea that the fight for gender equality somehow erases masculinity or disempowers men seems to be strangely insulting to any man whose sense of identity doesn’t come from being offensive to women. The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad is a collection of four stories on feminism written by the successful author Twinkle Khanna, who believes, “Feminism is about gender equality, not men-hating women with a moustache.”
Feminism is for all of us because the inequalities we face are all related. There are many issues that men’s rights activists raise as exclusively “male” concerns, with the suggestion that feminism ignores these problems like accusations of gender imbalance in the allocation of custody and alimony that is also closely linked to the inequality. It will slow us all down if people persist in peddling this outdated dogma that sets men and women up against each other. Of course, not all men are sexist, and not every woman will necessarily face sexism.
There is a vital role for men to play in fighting this battle of gender inequality that persists in our society, and it isn’t as detractors or naysayers, but as allies, agents of change and beneficiaries. True feminists stand with men, neither do they degrade nor compete with men. Feminism is not a female chauvinism. Feminism isn’t about MEN against WOMEN; it’s about PEOPLE against PREJUDICE. Feminism is not about gender war or fighting for women’s rights, but it’s all about women’s liberation and empowerment and just to see how we can create a better HUMANITY! Everybody should be treated equally regardless of their sexuality, so as a writer through my book – SHE; I want to spread the true message of GENDER EQUALITY! The book debunks the stereotypes associated with the word feminism by providing fresh interpretations.
Q7. What do you think about backwardness in our society about women rights and freedom compared to Western societies?
Dr Sarika Jain: There is much backwardness in our society about women rights and freedom compared to the Western societies like – in Indian societies still many women are treated as a labourer who has to do everything from raising the child to household activities, whereas it is entirely different in the western societies. Western women are much freer and got no such restrictions on them. No doubt they are mothers and also look after the house, but yet, they always have a choice to opt for the lifestyle they wish to live. In the west, women are socially, professionally and personally free from the society, as they enjoy more liberty in terms of right to choose whatever they want to do like choosing their own life partner, pursuing their dreams and choosing their own career streams, clothing, education, etc., whereas women in India are not as liberated as western women yet because they are rather a puppet of their families or rather puppet of the socially backward mentality of society. If anyone of them dares to be such liberal as compared to the west, they are often mistreated.
Women however in the west do not often worry about their respect for the constitution already has given a lot of rights to them for their safety and self-esteem. They do not even have to worry to think about the freedom of speech or the right to be protected as they are much more guarded. While many women in India yet have to face the male domination and exploitation sometimes to move ahead in their life whereas women in the west very rarely face such instances and often move ahead without compromising with their pride.
While women in the west enjoy more freedom and rights and are treated free and given respect for whatever is their choice of lifestyle, women in India are yet in a barrier with their parents, then friends and finally society’s mindset to set a lifestyle in hidden darkness for women. Although, some female figures in India did manage to reach the top of the political sphere yet the society in India always think of a woman as a Home Maker. But there isn’t a doubt that India always had been the land of queens and kings then why stereotyping?
Q8. What do you expect might change in the next two decades for women in India? Do you imagine a better tomorrow?
Dr Sarika Jain: In India, the ‘image’ of a woman encompasses her physical appearance, governs her behaviour and thoughts and specifies her role and duties in society. But, every now and then, there comes a woman who rises above the stereotype image, summons strength to battle instability and inequality and hopes to pave way for a better tomorrow. In a remote village in Uttarakhand, an uneducated woman Kalavati Devi mobilised women of her village to bring electricity to their homes, which would otherwise have been thrown into darkness after sunset. They fought against government officials and acquired what is considered an essential service. It took woman power to save the environment of Kalavati’s village. She inspired women to cling to trees when men came to fell them. She got the village women to ban alcohol because it made their men unproductive.
Indian women can now legally be the ‘Karta’ of the undivided Hindu family thanks to a Delhi girl, who fought a case in court against her family. Society calls Vidya Bal and Trupti Desai ‘activists,’ for their struggle to provide other women with equality, justice, and freedom – all three being Fundamental and Constitutional rights. They successfully established a place for women in all temples in Maharashtra, shattering the deep-rooted gender bias and inequality practised by temples across the state. From these cases, it’s evident that these women were driven by intent and it’s their strong desire to bring about change that showed them the way.
I believe that nobody can change the life and destiny of Indian women until and unless they start taking control of their life, and bounce back and fight for their rights and freedom. In the next two decades, I expect one thing will surely change for women in ‘New India,’ i.e more and more Indian women will become empowered – a pillar of strength and a catalyst for change to secure a permanent, progressive future for women in India. The answer lies in women recognising injustice, accepting that injustice is unpardonable, and then taking the initiative to rectify it. I imagine a tomorrow, where Indian women will bombard fetters that tie them down to archaic and unjust norms. In a country where both, men and women, worship Lakshmi, revere Saraswati, and fear Durga, it’s time for these female forces to spring out of their wooden frames on the walls and to come to life to create a better tomorrow for all those girls and women in India who are suffering in silence every day.
Q9. About your writings, Dr Sarika, what’s next in the store? Do you plan to write a novel with women at the centre in the near future?
Dr Sarika Jain: Hope so… Let’s see, what’s stored in the future! Not yet decided, but yes, I will definitely continue with my writing and would plan to write a novel with women at the centre in near future, and she will definitely be a – WOMAN FIGHTER!
Team LN: Thanks for your answers and for sharing your opinions freely! We wish you the best for your works in future!
Dr Sarika Jain: Thank you so much for asking some interesting questions on feminism. It’s my pleasure to participate in this interview. Thanks for the lovely wish…