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Dec 9, 2014

Having Those Difficult Conversations

Julie Thekkudan

I have over the years come to realise that there are three categories of people when it comes to women’s rights and gender equality. Those who are intrinsically convinced that women should have the same set of rights as men do and therefore are open to change and even to the backlash that change often brings about, largely as a result of personal experiences. Let’s face it, these are mostly women and a smattering of men.

The second category of people are those who are ambivalent, who often shift their position based on what is convenient in the given moment. But deep inside, there is an element of openness to change, to having a dialogue on what is the ideal situation with reference to women’s rights. Some of the best conversations happen with this second set of people as they challenge you theoretically and even in practical situations. They grudgingly accept that an alternative reality is possible and should be realised maybe at some distant point of time.

The third category are the closed minds who often come across to us as being belligerent about their stand (at least to us), opposed to any kind of change and are the reason for the backlash. According to me, these are the difficult conversations that we as campaigners on women’s rights, need to have.

Easier said than done! At the start of the 16 Days of Activism, I was exposed to the process of having these difficult conversations. Fairly new to Facebook activism, I shared the activities that we are doing on the International Day for Elimination of Violence (25 November) and the 16 Days of Activism (25 November to 10 December). I did get the usual accolades and the encouragement. But what stood out for me were the brickbats.

I was asked by one woman, who is part of my friend list (this was when I was exposed to trolls in cyberspace, is she? I don’t know!), whether I was for those mothers and sisters who have suffered violence at the hands of women. She then went on to update her status on something similar. My instinctive reaction was to lash out in return. But remembering a sane advice, I waited to get over that moment before replying. Of course, my reply became a little different and was much more toned down.

But before I could count to 10, my reply sparked off more comments from many men (called masculists, another new word for me) spewing venom on feminists, feminism and organisations like ours. I got slammed for my name, my surname and I brushed it aside thinking, “I don’t have the energy for this”. Yet, next morning my ideas had changed. I thought to myself, “But these are the conversations that we need to have. If we are able to influence these stalwarts of patriarchy, we could have a clue to how we could effectively change could people’s mindsets and behaviours”.

I jumped right back into the conversations again, only to see two other people I knew valiantly trying to get some logic into the venom. But they got their fingers burnt and dropped from the scene. I also explored a small opening to make some sense, some kind of a dialogue. I am not sure whether I have made any dent at all. The venom continues. The questions that wrestle in my head now are, “Do I want to engage? How far would I get with whatever form of engagement I would choose? How would this affect the organisation that I work with? Is this a brand risk for the organisation?” And at the end of the day, I am still struggling to make sense of the way ahead. And comments and ideas are totally welcome.

 

Written by: Julie Thekkudan, Lead Specialist, Gender Justice, Oxfam India

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