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Am I a Feminist?

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I do not boldly call myself a feminist. I call myself a feminist ally, because I learned from my amazing Literature teacher Ms Andaleeb N Choudhury, that there is a school of thought among feminists, wherein it is perceived that a man can never fully comprehend how difficult it is to live as a woman in a patriarchal world. Before hearing about this school of thought, I used to call myself a feminist. I remember being slightly annoyed when I heard about this school of thought. Over time, I reflected on the various hardships experienced by women in my vicinity, and seeing how helplessly I just listened to the stories and did nothing about it - because there was too much on my plate - I asked myself if the injustices were happening to me, wouldn’t I have been more vocal and actively working to overcome them? If a guy ogled at me when I was walking down the street, wouldn’t I pick a fight, or complain to people around me, to seek some kind of outburst that would make the guy stop? So, when my friends tell me about how they were ogled at on the road, what am I doing to protect them? Maybe give them some empty advice and move on? Hence, the question stands, “Am I really a feminist?”

So the guilty thoughts from my inaction also made me realize that the little bit of annoyance I exhibited when I heard that men cannot just boldly claim they are feminists, is also a subtle moment of patriarchal emotion I expressed. That bit of annoyance came from a sense of self-entitlement, I analyzed. 

Just because I volunteered a few hours in voluntary projects for the cause of women's empowerment does not automatically give me the right to call myself a feminist. 

I now think the adjective feminist, when describing a man, can only be provided by women around me. I do not get to call myself that blatantly. The self-reflection on my own actions for the feminist movement was like a slippery slope. The more I analyze my own routine, and my daily interactions, I realize that there are some very subtle patriarchal traits within me that seep out into my daily life. Now I am questioning whether I have done enough to call myself a feminist ally.

The biggest problem I found was how I am not too inclined to be confrontational about any injustice. A clear example of this was when my cousin recently got harassed on the street in front of our house, and how I dealt with the situation. My cousin, a Management Trainee Officer for a leading bank in Dhaka, was heading to work. She walked a short distance before catching a rickshaw to her office. A guy on a bicycle stopped in front of her, and then showed her a pornographic image on his phone, and then guffawed at my cousin’s shock, and then cycled away.

Upon hearing this, I felt upset. I considered possible solutions, including the idea that if she had stayed abroad as I suggested, this situation might not have occurred. However, I recognized that this isn’t a true solution; it’s my escapist mindset resurfacing. Instead, I need to focus on preventive measures. I accompanied my cousin to our landlord, explaining the situation. The landlord confirmed that the man wasn’t from our area and promised to alert people on the streets about him. I advised my cousin to carry pepper spray and instructed her to holler if she saw the man again, while also capturing a photo of him. Additionally, I spoke with the shop owners downstairs, and they assured me they’d keep an eye out and take action if they caught him. Despite these efforts, I’m questioning whether this is all I can do as a “feminist ally.” 

When I imagine my girlfriend facing a similar situation, I realize I’d likely take time off work, accompany her, and be vigilant until she felt safe. But this double standard—treating women differently based on our relationship—makes me nauseated.

How can I truly be a feminist ally if I don’t treat all women equally? 

I have noticed some patriarchal tendencies within me at my work as well. My boss is a woman, and she is one of the most workaholic women I have ever come across. She always treats me with utmost politeness. She expects me to complete the school newsletter by the 27th and circulate it by the 28th, of every month. Yet, I consistently fall behind. Strangely, when the male Principal assigns tasks, I complete them promptly. I wonder why—am I hoping for growth and recognition by prioritizing his requests, or is my mind conditioned to listen more actively to male leaders? May the Universe/Multiverse forbid it.

 Absolutely, from now on, I’ll focus on what’s within my control. Right after finishing this blog, I’ll complete the newsletter promptly. My boss, who juggles patriarchal challenges at work and manages her home and child, deserves my commitment. By finishing the assigned tasks promptly, I can alleviate one less burden for her.

 When my female friend confided in me about workplace mistreatment, I took it upon myself to discuss the issue with her boss. However, I realize now that I overstepped. Her work relationship with her boss is personal, and my intervention was unwarranted. Whether or not we share the same boss, I shouldn’t have meddled. It’s a classic case of patriarchal behavior—my misguided chivalry to protect the “damsel in distress.”

 I consider myself to be late in submitting the blog post for Swayong as patriarchal. I must have not deemed it as important as the Principal’s tasks.

I am sure by now the readers of this blog post might be annoyed. You might be thinking am I being sarcastic about patriarchy?

The truth is I am not. I am not making light of the problems caused by patriarchy.

 What I am trying to convey is that I think patriarchy in its essence is just a simple micro act of not actively listening to women.

The act of procrastinating about something that a woman in our life expects from us is where patriarchy begins. Then it snowballs on a slippery slope, and then we see the misogynistic, rape-culture-filled world that we are living in right now.

 So to the male readers of this blogpost, I arduously ask you to listen and act. The first step is self-reflection on how you are treating the women around you. The second step is to stop being a passive listener and become an active one. By that, I do not mean just being more reactive while conversing. I mean that men should listen, think, and act appropriately. The third step is not creating double standards while doing something for the women in their lives. The fourth step is first doing the bare minimum that women ask them to do, before going out there and boldly claiming that they are a radical feminist or feminist ally or whatever. The steps can go on if we keep self-reflecting. But that does not mean we should stop self-reflection.

 It’s time for us, as men, to move beyond apologies and actively strive for improvement. Let’s be better!


Faruque Ratul is a freelance journalist and writer. He has worked for the English national daily Dhaka Tribune for a year and a half. As a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program alum, he has worked on women empowerment projects such as 3.5 Billion Reasons and Nari O Rani Kothon. He has been a follower of Swayong since its inception and feels very privileged to be working with its team

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