New Internationalist

Women on the edge of time

July 2014

What can different generations of feminists learn from one another? Leading Indian grassroots activist and author, 68-year-old Kamla Bhasin, connects with 16-year-old Londoner Lilinaz Evans, co-founder of the Twitter Youth Feminist Army. Facilitated by Hannah Pool.

Lulu Kitololo/Asilia
Lulu Kitololo/Asilia

Hannah Pool: How and when did you discover feminism?

Kamla Bhasin: I was about 24 when I first heard the word. I am one of those women who became a feminist before she heard the word and before she heard that there were many others [women who thought like me]. After 50 years of this journey I identify with feminism in spite of the fact that it creates lots of problems because it is highly misrepresented.

Lilinaz Evans: I found it through social media. It was around the 2010 [British general] election, I was 13 or 14. I got on Twitter and started asking questions. People started telling me stuff about politics. Most were women and they were talking about feminism. At first I thought, ‘Why are these strange feminists talking to me?’ But then as I learnt more about it, not from the media but from feminists themselves and reading their blogs, hearing their lived experience, I realized this is really important, I really agree with this.

Kamla Bhasin: I believe that sexism is all pervading, it’s global. And if you’re born in a country that claims to have got independence, which says that men and women are equal, then at every step you find that that is not the case. For example, today, everything is gendered. Umbrellas are gendered, watches are gendered, handkerchiefs are gendered, every damn thing. And in India we have also a very gendered language. Everything small is feminine and everything large is masculine. So this whole thing is just going from bad to worse; we cannot fight gender inequality without fighting this economic system where god is profit.

Lili: I think patriarchy is a result of capitalism. That’s one of the ways that feminism is misrepresented – it’s never represented as the fight against capitalism and its products: it’s always presented as, oh I want a job.

Kamla: I really admire Lili – at such a young age, how do you come to all this? I’m amazed and I want to salute you!

Hannah: Lili, what are your priorities in terms of activism?

Lili: Focusing on a more inclusive way of getting younger women into feminism. It shouldn’t be accepted that you’re harassed on the street, or that you starve yourself to be thinner. But also feminism should be for all women, not just for white or fair, richer women.

Kamla: I totally echo this. I have spent my life training or talking to younger women. Patriarchy is all around us and we have to keep looking at the interconnectedness of it all. All issues are women’s issues. Rape is not just a feminist issue; it’s everybody’s issue.

Hannah: What are your thoughts on men and feminism?

Lili: I’m not a fan of men. I do think their participation is important in the furthering of the feminist agenda, but feminism is about celebrating women, making their voices louder, improving things for them; so I hate focusing on men. I know it’s necessary but I just hate it. Once you say, patriarchy hurts men as well, they’ll go, ‘Oh, I’m so oppressed’! Or they’ll say, ‘I don’t really have male privilege.’

‘Feminism is like water. It’s everywhere but it takes the shape of the container into which it is poured’

Kamla: I know enough women who are totally patriarchal, who are totally anti-women; who do nasty things to other women, and I have known men who have worked for women’s rights their whole life. Feminism is not biological: feminism is an ideology. Men who are against patriarchy and who fight patriarchy are also feminists. I agree with Lili in so far as men cannot take over our movements and I don’t even invite them to join feminism per se, but to start their own organizations, to think what patriarchy is doing to them. But women can’t do it alone; we need to work with progressive men who are willing to learn. So while I understand what Lili is saying and I think it’s the right position for her to have at her age, I’ve moved on.

Hannah: What do you think of the notions of ‘waves’ of feminism?

Lili: I like the categorization of it because it connects suffragettes to feminists, which doesn’t happen so often, but it’s very confusing – are we on the fifth wave, the fourth, the seventeenth…?

Hannah: Do you consider yourself any particular wave?

Kamla: I don’t, but if I were pushed, I would say I am an eco-feminist, a socialist feminist – I see the links between rape of women and rape of mother nature. I see links between all other forms of oppression: class, caste and race. Feminism will keep changing because patriarchy is constantly changing, constantly renewing itself, coming in newer phases. The power of patriarchy has increased so many fold. If we had to fight only our traditional patriarchies, we might have succeeded.

Lili: Second-wave feminism did a huge amount, especially around laws and equality; however, it was incredibly racist, at least in the West, transphobic and homophobic, a lot of the time. The third wave started to move towards violence against the everyday woman, but again it was still very transphobic and quite racist, especially in America. And now we’re maybe on the fourth or fifth wave, we’ve got this globalized media which more people have access to and it brings us a more intersectional viewpoint. I hope we will soon no longer have these oppressive attitudes within feminism.

Hannah: Lili, would you like to get Kamla on Twitter?

Lili: I’d love to tweet Kamla, but if she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t have to: it’s all about what is best for you. I found it good because I learned through listening to other women’s experiences, not through a book or a report. So while I’ve only read three or four, maybe five, feminist books, I know a lot more than that.

Kamla: Lili, can you explain to me why you call yourself Twitter Youth Feminist Army? Here I am working on women and peace – I hate armies.

Lili: It started as a joke; we don’t really use the name anymore, just the acronym TYFA – we’re not just on Twitter, and we’re not just young people, and we eat a lot more cake than we do fighting, so we’re not really an army either; but I do find anger very constructive.

Kamla: Use anger, but don’t allow anger to use you. I find a lot of feminists, because they are angry, alienate other women and that doesn’t help the cause. So, anger is to be used as a tool: we are using the tool, the tool is not using us.

Lili: I like that quote, ‘Well-behaved women rarely make history’. We didn’t get the vote by asking nicely. Feminist anger is always presented by the media as irrational and ‘what are these crazy people talking about?’ Anger and passion are important in de-normalizing these sexist experiences that we have, but we have to use it constructively and not just be really angry everywhere, to no purpose.

Kamla: Yes, I agree. Feminism is like water. It’s everywhere but it takes the shape of the container into which it is poured. My feminism is different from Lili’s feminism because I live in India, because my patriarchy is different, my technology is different. But in order to succeed, feminism has to be a global movement, because patriarchy is global, capitalism is global, racism is global: so we need to be fighting them all together, on all fronts. n

Kamla Bhasin is from Sangat (the South Asian Feminist Network) and part of the One Billion Rising campaign.

Lilinaz Evans co-founded the Twitter Youth Feminist Army and Campaign4Consent in schools.

Hannah Pool is a journalist and author. She is chair of UK Feminista and curates the talks and debates at the WOW festival, Southbank Centre.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 474 This feature was published in the July 2014 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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