The other day, one of my friends innocently asked me if I considered myself an ‘activist’. I thought about it for a little while before answering. As tempting as it was to declare myself an activist, I told him I didn’t think I’d done enough so far to be an ‘activist’.
I’m 24, still too young to be anything. I’m currently under training to become a family law advocate, I conducted India’s first online workshop on child sexual abuse and soon, I’ll be conducting its first online workshop on preventing sexual violence on college campuses. (India needs both of those workshops very badly right now). But does that make me an activist? I don’t think so. I always think of strident marches, peaceful vigils and passionate speeches when someone uses the word activist.
But when we stand up for something that we believe in, doesn’t that make us an activist for that cause by default? And why do anything about gender equality? Because right now is when your voice really counts. The entire world is going through a huge gender revolution and the noise we make today is going to reverberate across decades. So how do we celebrate today, without looking at the calendar on March 8th every year, consulting our very busy schedules and going like “Right, time for me to be a feminist” and then promptly forgetting all about it for the rest of the year?
With International Women’s Day looming on the horizon, I thought about the simplest steps we can take to become everyday activists for gender equality:
- Help kids understand: You might be one of those adults who doesn’t like kids, you might be one of those who adores them. Either way, start off with your campaigning whenever you’re interacting with children. Whether you’re a parent, a school teacher, a babysitter or just someone who has baby siblings, kids are incredibly impressionable and they’ll soak in equality like a sponge. From teaching cooking, washing up and sewing to boys to encouraging little girls to play sports and speak their minds, you can break the barriers that separate genders. Correct the misapprehensions that they have about gender stereotypes and teach them about gender fluidity.
- De-taboo sex: For too long, sex has been a forbidden subject. Too many doubts have been stifled, queries gone unanswered and concerns been dismissed simply because it makes you uncomfortable to talk about sex. If you’re a woman, embrace and accept your bodies and appreciate your sexuality. If you’re a man, stop using sexual pun, innuendo and come-ons as a way of tormenting women. The more openly we talk about sex, with our parents, teachers, friends and partners, the harder it becomes for someone to wield it as weapon. Sex can be fun rather than a source of shame if you’re empowered with information about sexual health, sexual rights and sexual orientations.
- You don’t have to Take it Anymore: If you see sexual harassment anywhere, anyplace, you don’t have to take it. Sexual harassment victims include men, women and transgender people, so really, everyone has to deal with it sometime or the other. Don’t be one of the people who laugh it off and call a guy a ‘sissy‘ because he’s being stalked by a girl. Don’t tell a girl to ‘calm down‘ and not ‘overreact‘ when a guy threatens to assault her. If you see something happening, remember, you’re there for a reason. Even one loud voice can silence the most violent of aggressors. All you need is to raise yours.
- Call out ‘that sexist bullshit’: It’s high time we look sexism in the face and tell it to piss off. It’s 2017, and if you’re still tolerating sexism in humor, entertainment, at work or in relationships, then you’re contributing to that culture. If you hear a guy making derogatory remarks about women, don’t laugh. Stare down the motherf*****. If someone makes rape threats against a woman because she has an opinion, tell him you’re just about to give the police a call. If a girl is blackmailing a guy she’s going out with, don’t tell him to be a man, tell her to back off. If someone tells you women belong at home, not at work, tell them they don’t even belong to their own mother. If you have sass, gumption or pure anger, use it. Don’t hold it back. Tear a new one into anyone who insists on propagating sexist values.
- Don’t fall for the labels: A lot of people will ask you if you’re a feminist. A man-hater. An activist. A rabble-rouser. If you’re anti-God. Or a masculinist. Don’t get into all those heated arguments, pissed off rants and fervent pleas. Don’t be ashamed of who you are; you’re a good human. Just do your bit, keep your focus and don’t let people diminish the weight of your message. I identify as a feminist, but only because I’ve been in the field long enough to know that feminism is gender equality and cannot possibly mean male-bashing when we actually need men as our allies. To be an activist, you need to be human, not a tag-bearer.
If you’re ever confused about which side you’re on when it comes to the whole gender equality debate, remind yourself, you’re on the side of humanity.
This International Women’s Day, we don’t need the fanfare.
We just need more humans.