The Female Gaze: Kruttika Susarla’s 36 Days of Feminist Type
Delhi-based Kruttika Susarla, whose hobbies include observing and drawing people and practicing her lettering, is a graphic designer, illustrator and comic book creator. Her 36 Days Of Type project took Instagram by storm a while ago, where she illustrated her views on feminism, being a woman, and all things gender. Through her quirky, vibrant illustrations – using 26 alphabets and 10 digits, one for each day – the young artist’s stories, thoughts and narratives familiarised women with the movement that’s currently on everyone’s minds, while giving them things to ponder.
Click on the images to see the description
A for Androgyny | Androgyny is a behaviour/characteristic that includes aspects of masculinity and femininity. While this is more of a recent phenomenon in fashion and pop culture, it was not uncommon in India for men to wear jewellery or for women to wear the nine yard saree like a men’s dhoti.
Because it’s 2017 and apparently ‘feminazi’ is still a thing.
B for Bodily Integrity | Bodily integrity is a concept that recognises the right for every human being to have autonomy over their own bodies—any physical intrusion against a person’s will is considered a violation of basic human rights in most countries.
Because it’s 2017 and a certain orange man somewhere thinks it’s okay to dictate what women should or should not do with their bodies.
C for Continuous Consent | Consent is a physical, emotional and mutual agreement that happens in a safe, positive mental space without manipulation and violence. Consent should be continuous irrespective of your relationship status. Even if you’ve said yes once, you can change your mind, stop whenever you want and just because you said yes once does not mean it’s a yes always.
Because it’s 2017 and marital rape is still not a criminal offence in India.
D for Dalit Womanist Paradigm | Dalit Womanism was a term coined by Cynthia Stephen(Indian intellectual and activist) in 2009 as a statement against the de-politicisation of mainstream Indian feminism that excluded experiences and realities of the Dalit community—which meant mainstream feminism = patriarchy.
Because it’s 2017 and as we enter the fourth wave of feminism in India, it really needs to become inclusive.
E for Emancipation | Emancipation is the idea of fighting for and gaining social and political rights for oppressed communities. In her book, 'Recovering Subversion', Nivedita Menon(activist and Poltical Science professor at JNU), talks of emancipation as more of a constant process than an end goal.
Because it's 2017 and to resist is the only way forward.
F for Feminisms | The usage of 'feminisms' is very recent in the history of feminist discourse—largely because of differences in opinion (amongst feminists) of how patriarchal structures affect/operate in specific social and political contexts. The common ground/aim however is to achieve a state where gender is seen as malleable instead of a rigid social construct–often used to oppress individuals/communities that do not adhere to it.
Because it's 2017 and we should be open to dialogue and challenge our norms
G for Gender Performativity | A concept that recognises gender as an elaborate act or performance instead of binary male or female. This was first introduced by Judith Butler(American philosopher) in 1990. Drag is probably one such example that defies gender as a construct.
Because it's 2017 and it's time to put an end to gender based violence and oppression.
H for History | Feminist history should not be confused with the history of feminism (of the movement). This is an important aspect of the feminist theory that demands a critical re-look at history from a cultural and social angle through a feminist lens. The danger of a single narrative is always that it is written by and for the people in power and hence eliminates the realities of minorities. (Alternative facts, anyone?). Feminist history does not merely seek to represent women but also to analyse their influence in shaping what is 'public history'. H for 36 days of Feminist type for this
Because it's 2017 and our textbooks could use some serious feminist upgrade.
I for Intersectionality | Intersectionality is a very relevant trait of feminism, (especially for India)—where one cannot think of fighting for equal rights without understanding that there is a prevalent overlap of social identities like caste, class(economic and social), gender, ethnicity, religion and disability. A discourse that does not take these into consideration is simply not a feminist one.
Because it's 2017 and feminism is not a marketing tool to sell your new nude-shade lipstick.
J for Justice | Social justice is a system based on some universally agreed values of human rights and equality. It explores the relation of an individual with the society and defines how their rights are manifested at every level(social, economic, political). This is also the core idea of the feminist movement that works towards removing oppression. Often the criticism that social justice faces is that it is elitist and for the privileged which is exactly why we need a feminist movement to make it more accessible and inclusive.
Because it's 2017 and the ethics of social justice demand that we recognise every individual's basic human right to achieving their full potential (without oppression.)
K for Kindness | Kindness is the quality of being considerate and empathetic towards others. The idea of kindness seems the most obvious but as we've seen in recent times is probably the toughest—to embrace and make room for dialogue and discussion with people who share different ideologies from yours.
Because it's 2017 and in a time where social media thrives on calling out and shaming, it's time to 'call in' and create room to have dialogue by showing empathy and kindness.
L for Language and literature | Language reform is the effort of changing how language is used to portray people, activities and ideas of an individual at a political and social level. For the longest time, literature has been gender biased towards the 'male'. Linguistic activism raises important questions like—why is the universal pronoun for describing an individual 'he'? It works towards changing stereotypes and norms to make literature more inclusive.
Because it's 2017 and verbal abuses in colloquial language, (insult)jokes are still female targeted.
M for Marginalised | Marginalisation is the exclusion/sidelining of certain groups(of) and individuals of society that are perceived as unwanted/not useful and hence do not have enough representation or voice in the society and by the government like—women, scheduled castes and tribes, adivasis, sexual minorities, elderly, even the north-east. Feminism stands up for the marginalised. Mainstream journalism and feminist discourse have always ignored them because it's always trying to ape contemporary western feminism—their context and their current struggle are slightly different from ours. In her essay, 'Can the subaltern speak?' Gayatri Spivak(Indian Scholar and Feminist critic) critically points out what exactly is wrong with hegemonic western academic writing(by white authors). It examines the 'other'(other cultures)—as something that needs to be understood as a foreign object by them.
Because it's 2017 and we need a feminist scrutiny of mainstream journalism.
N for Net Neutrality | What does net neutrality have to do with the feminist movement? In times, where it's getting tougher and tighter to express dissent, the internet provides a platform for gathering, organising and advocating for women's and gender issues. Net neutrality is important because if companies take control of what content users should and should not see, there is very little we can do to change it and potentially lose our freedom to protest.
Because it's 2017 and internet is one of the leading sources of news, information and knowledge. And knowledge is power.
O for open dialogue | The basis for the success of any political movement has always been an open dialogue, solidarity and systematic planning and working. The feminist movement invites allies and adversaries alike to cut through the noise of scapegoating and blame-games, have an open dialogue, empathise and see things from the point of view of the oppressed.
Because it's 2017 and we face a serious threat to our rights and opportunities from the rise of the right wing in the global political scenario because of a lack of open dialogue.
P for Personal is Political | The personal is political argument is a product of the second wave feminism(circa the 60s) that presents the idea that a person's personal experiences are directly what create larger political movements and social changes. If it wasn't for this argument and understanding, women wouldn't have a lot of basic human rights including the choice(or now the lack of) of abortion(childbirth being a personal experience) which is now at risk. Discussing and analysing private issues helps analyse how patriarchal structures and misogyny have led to oppression of women and other minorities.
Because it's 2017 and even as the world ironically celebrates women's day, talking about women's personal issues is still seen under a negative light.
Q for Queer | 'Queer' is a broad term used by sexual and gender minorities who do not identify with heterosexuality or binary male/female as their gender. What's interesting is that queer actually means 'strange' and was used in a negative connotation—which was then reclaimed by queer activists and feminists to represent themselves and organise.
Because it's 2017 and archaic Section 377 is still a thing in India.
R for Reclaim | Reclamation is the act of re-appropriating and owning of derogatory terms, oppressive behaviour and misogyny towards minorities—and instead use it to represent themselves, fight against the hate and empower themselves. You have the right to autonomy over your body, to be out at whatever time you please in public spaces, dress in whatever you're comfortable with, a right to have an opinion(and disagree) in a safe space on the internet and offline. There is no shame in having a stain when you're on your period and you don't have to have to carry your sanitary napkins wrapped in a newspaper in an opaque black bag—half the female population does not even have access to hygienic sanitary measures. You have the right to resist oppression, push back and reclaim feminism.
Because it's 2017 and nobody should have to think twice or keep looking over their shoulders, no matter what time of the day they step out.
S for Society | Feminist effects on society and its feedback and consequences are an important cycle to talk about. There is no doubt that without a feminist movement, women wouldn't have had basic rights like the right to vote or reproductive rights. We wouldn't be talking about having gender fluidity and its acceptance in the society without feminism either. What is crucial to this cycle is also how our oppressive social structures have led women and minorities to unite and fight through various waves of feminism. Today's post is dedicated to the fearless Irom Sharmila, who lost the 2017 elections in Manipur despite 16 years of constant struggle against the AFSPA(Armed Forces Special Forces Act) and the atrocities it caused to the people in her community. She still stands strong and graceful, despite us(the society) letting her down.
Because it's 2017 and our society needs more free thinkers, activists and leaders like Irom Sharmila.
T for Theory | Feminist theory is directly responsible for the creation of some of our best activists, leaders and sociologists. It is the theoretical and philosophical part of feminism that scrutinises social structures, gender roles and inequality and in a broader sense looks at our world through a feminist lens. Mahasweta Devi, Zubaan books/Urvashi Butalia, Gayatri Spivak, Nivedita Menon, to name a very few are some of the noted Indian feminist writers.
Because it's 2017 and we don't need Chetan Bhagat to mansplain feminism.
U for Universalism vs. Particularism | How is the universalism(the idea that laws/justice/rights should be applied to every individual without modification—irrespective of race, gender, nationality, sexuality, etc.) vs. particularism(the idea that social and political rights and justice should be specific to circumstances and take various ethos into consideration) still relevant in the new wave of feminism? While universalism is a concept that eradicates any notions of discrimination, the largest criticism so far has been the white-washing or hegemonic nature of wanting to "save" the 'other'. Particularism on the other hand, while being inclusive is also constantly threatening to the larger social rights picture—especially if you consider the concept of let's say, a 'nation'—which as we know by now, is largely exclusive of/does not represent minorities. As, Nivedita Menon puts it in her book, 'Recovering Subversion', the feminist movement lies between the tension of a healthy debate between universalism & particularism and the way forward is—in her words, 'anti-imperialist, counter-globalist and post-nationalist'. U for 36 days of
Because it's 2017 and feminists and feminist discourse should not create any room for oppression by excluding experiences that are not the same as theirs.
V for Vigilance | No society or individual is truly egalitarian—unless you're probably Tarzan and were raised by wolves and have never interacted with a human being. This is exactly why eternal vigilance is important to feminism. We constantly need to keep a check on our privileges—soical, political, even gender and closely watch and learn from how our(society's) ingrained prejudice, sexism, homophobia and misogyny hurts and oppresses people who don't have access to the same privilege as us. We have to try and educate ourselves and find out right approaches to deal with it.
Because it's 2017 and it apparently takes a double digit number of sexual harassment complaints about anybody to even believe a woman when she calls out.
W for Woman | There has been an ongoing debate amongst feminists on the notion of a 'woman'. It is a slightly grey area when you take queer politics into the picture. The argument or debate, which I want to clearly state at this point is not about the use of 'woman' to identify as a gender category but instead a political one. Many feminists have asked—can the experiences and sufferings of women from different castes and classes be equated to those of a transgender person? In 'Seeing like a feminist', Nivedita Menon suggests demanding for and adopting the strategy of a third gender for transgenders in order to introduce a new way of thinking about representation in political entities and for democracy in the larger picture.
Because it's 2017 and a feminist discourse and movement that is trans-exclusionary, is only going to hurt the gender equality movement.
X for x-rated | Sex workers often have it very tough, not only because of taboos around their profession but also from their social identity overlaps. A lot of arguments against legalising sex work have been merely on the basis that these women can simply 'choose' another profession or that they've been forced into it(which is true in many cases, yet not an adequate argument). Here, 'choice, is a very ironical concept because ultimately, any choice only exists within certain boundaries(especially in a capitalist economy). While sex work is still illegal in India and many countries around the world, the feminist movement asks that we instead—have laws in place to ensure safe sex practices, regulate fair wages, support organisations and introduce policies that actually work towards helping women who choose to leave(sex work) and most importantly keep a check on and punish violence against the women in the profession.
Because it's 2017 and we've to end this hypocrisy(patriarchal approach) of mystifying sex work.
Y for You | You and your individualism (the concept that everyone has control over their own actions instead of being controlled by an authority) are core to being a feminist. Often, there is this image of 'someone' fighting for gender equality or women's rights, while we silently observe but of course, this someone is each and every one of us. We have to constantly educate and inform ourselves + keep a check on our prejudices, speak up against sexism and misogyny. The notion of individualism is important to this discussion because only by making a conscious attempt to eliminate class and gender privileges(at every level—and so it begins first at an individual level) we can ensure that every individual truly has equal rights.
Because it's 2017 and by keeping quiet and not speaking up or taking action, you're contributing to the patriarchy.
Z for Zeal | Anyone who is motivated by a burning desire to challenge gender norms, fight against inequality and oppression of women and minorities, understands that feminism is an ongoing process of—unlearning, thinking, talking, questioning authority and a constant zeal(feminist zeal, if you will) for social reform. Wrapping up the alphabet part of the series with this spirit today—from tomorrow, I'll be illustrating + writing a little bit about 10 women and gender equality rights movements that have happened/are happening in India—0 to 9.
Because it's 2017 and you're missing the bigger picture if you're still unsure of calling yourself a feminist.
00- Blank Noise | Blank noise is a project that seeks to raise awareness of and create interventions to end gender-based violence. A lot of their events and demonstrations are around women reclaiming public spaces—like 'meet to sleep', 'walk alone', 'walk the night' etc. Jasmeen Patheja started this as a student project at Srishti in Bangalore, which later spread all over India and even some cities in Pakistan. The project is now run and organised completely by volunteers.
01 - Anti-rape movement | Women's rights movements in India gained national importance during the 1980s largely with the anti-rape movement that resulted because of the shock from the gross violation of civil rights during the Emergency imposed under Congress' rule (1975 - 1977). The Supreme Court had passed a verdict on the Mathura rape case(Mathura was a teenage girl from a village near Nagpur and was raped at a police station that she was summoned at, by two constables) that caused a national outrage which eventually led to the anti-rape movement. While the accused were given 7.5 years imprisonment in a high court, a sessions court in Nagpur had earlier accused Mathura of being a woman of loose morals and declared the policemen innocent.Mahila Dakshita Samiti, Stree Sangarsha Samiti, Feminist Network Collective, Socialist Women's Group—were some of the women's organisations that formed at the time, primarily focused on discussing rape as a civil liberties issue, conducting mass rallies and worked towards what would eventually become the anti-rape law. Marital rape, however, is still not a criminal offence in India.
02 - Pink Chaddi Campaign | In January 2009, a group of right-wing activists from Sri Ram Sena, attacked women and men in a pub in Mangalore. Pramod Muthalik, the founder of the group claimed that it was a violation of Indian culture and announced that they would forcibly marry off any unmarried couples seen in public on Valentine's day. This caused nation-wide outrage that eventually led to the Pink Chaddi Campaign—a non-violent protest where a group of young women(who organised this through a Facebook group called 'Consortium of Pub-going, Loose, and Forward Women') sent pink briefs to Muthalik's office. The campaign was started by Nisha Susan who is a writer, journalist and one of the founders of The Ladies Finger(feminist online magazine).
Muthalik received over 2000 'chaddis' from India and abroad—he and his supporters were held in preventive custody on Valentine's eve by the state government.
03 - Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan | BMMA is a secular, Muslim feminist voice that emerged in 2007. Zakia Soman (activist) founded the organisation to advocate for Muslim women's equality and rights. Their focus is specifically to make reforms in the Muslim Personal Law in ways that would not oppress women and save them from marginalisation. They seek to repel the practice of verbal Triple Talaq and polygamy + amend clauses in the Muslim personal law that not only leaves women at the mercy men in the family but also prevents them from inheriting any property. A draft for 'Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act' was released in June 2014.
04 - Anti-Arrack Movements in India | Arrack is a cheap liquor that's made from distilling fermented molasses(sugarcane, palm, etc). In the early 90s, the state government in Andhra Pradesh was receiving a lot of income from the sale and production, which led to a huge subsidy in the rates of arrack(these liquor contractors would eventually become politicians and hold important positions as ministers in the state). They also passed laws that allowed men to carry the liquor and drink at home—which led to domestic violence and directly impacted the economy because the men would spend all day drinking at home without going to work(and spend about 75% of their income on buying alcohol). The anti-arrack movement started in Dugabanta village of Nellore district as a result of a mass literacy mission that was happening around the time—women sat and discussed and quickly came to the conclusion that the sale of cheap liquor in their village was the cause of the domestic abuse and violence. They demanded that sale of arrack in their village be banned and that arrack shops be shut down. This agitation eventually spread to the rest of the state and around 200 shops were shut down during the period(of the agitation).
05 - Anti-Dowry Movement | Delhi saw one of the first emergence of an anti-dowry movements in the country with the formation of 'Shakti Shalini' an NGO jointly set-up by Satyarani Chadha(feminist, artist and activist who is noted as the face of the anti-dowry movement in India) and Shahjehan Aapa(a middle-class working woman who would eventually become the face of the 1970s feminist movement in India). Satyarani's 20-year-old daughter(who was 6 months pregnant) was burnt alive in her in-laws home following harassment for more dowry. Following this incident, she set on a 21-year fight against gender-related harassment and violence and helped a lot of survivors empower themselves. In an interview with Paromita Vohra(for her documentary 'Unlimited Girls'), she talks about what kept her going for every single day of her two-decade fight(paraphrase): "Every time a girl in a village dies in a dowry related incident, I see my daughter".
06 - LGBTQA movement in India | The first LGBT walk in India, is considered to be in 1999 by a small group of 15 people in Kolkata. Homosexuality was made illegal in India under the British rule in 1861—until the Delhi high court passed a law to decriminalise homosexuality in 2009 (Naz Foundation vs. Delhi high court) recognising Section 377 as a fundamental violation of dignity and privacy and basic human rights to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. This was later rebuked by the Supreme Court in December 2013 and Section 377 was re-instated and homosexuality was criminalised again. The Naz Foundation and many other groups filed review petitions post this judgement—but in vain. Shashi Tharoor, a member of the Indian National Congress Party introduced a bill in December 2015 to decriminalise homosexuality—which was rejected by a majority in the parliament. The Naz Foundation had stated that it would file a petition for review again against this decision. As of February 2016, the Supreme court has decided to review its stance on Section 377.
07 - Kali for Women: Zubaan | Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon set up Kali for Women in 1984 and Zubaan eventually became its own independent imprint in 2003. Kali for women is India's first feminist publishing house that is for and by women and minorities. Their work especially has stood for providing a platform for women's voices that would otherwise be unheard—for example, 'A Life Less Ordinary' which is Baby Halder's inspiring and empowering journey as a young woman who was working as a domestic help in Delhi to an author. They were also one of the first publishers to bring out a book about sex education and women's bodies in the 80s, through 'Shareer ki Jankaari' (About the Body). This book was written and illustrated by 75 village women. As a publishing house, they're conscious of keeping their books affordable and accessible—making them a catalyst for social change and women's rights in India.
08 - Savitribai Phule and her husband, Jyotirao Phule set up the first women's school in Bhide Wadi, Pune in 1848. She's considered one of India's first modern intersectional feminists and a lot of organisations focused on working for gender equality follow the footsteps of their work. Through their efforts, they fought to represent minorities, educate women and fight gender and caste based oppression. At a time when it was uncommon for girl children to go to school, she and her husband campaigned and convinced their community to encourage educating girls—they opened many schools for women and minorities and protested against ill-treatment of widows and rape victims.
09 - Jagori | Jagori, literally meaning 'awaken, woman!' is a feminist resource and learning centre that was set up in Delhi in 1984 by Kamla Bhasin, Abha Bhaiya, Runu Chakravarty, Gauri Choudhury, Sheba Chhacchi, Manjari Dingwaney and Joginder Panghaal. In their own words, it was set up as a creative space for feminist ideology and for women to spread this ideology amongst a larger constituency of women—especially villages and rural areas. Since their setup, they have been consistently advocating for single women, sexuality, mental health of women, safe travel for women in the railways and violence against women(Safe Delhi being their most recent campaign). Jagori also has a resource centre (most of which is available freely on their website) that has a lot of material in a nuanced manner on women's issues and safety, that is targeted at urban and rural women.
What does feminism mean to you?
“It is lens through which one looks at the world to work towards an inclusive society that gives equal opportunities for every individual to realise their full potential, irrespective of gender identity and class division.”
What inspired you to take up feminism for your 36 Days Of Type project?
“The project is an annual Instagram call for designers and artists to present their take on the alphabet and the number series. For this year’s edition, I wanted to work on something that would contextualise the feminist movement within the realities and experiences of women and minorities. I sought to keep this within the realm of Indian feminism because the issues surrounding us here are so complex — they’re mixed with religion, caste and sexuality, and a majority of public discourse is devoid of these intersectional realities. There is an urgency for this conversation, especially with violence against women and minorities increasing by the day. I found a channel to stress on this topic using my art.”
What’s the feedback been like?
“The reception was very welcoming, as opposed to what I’d prepared myself for. There were some insightful conversations that kicked off because of the project. I’m also currently reading a lot of resources and books on the topic, that I found out about during my research.”
People who inspire you…
“My grandmother, who’s over 88 and has been through a lot of struggle in her life but is still a total badass! I hope to be as strong as her someday. In reel life, it would be Uma Thurman’s character as the vengeful bride in Kill Bill 1 and 2. She’s strong, fierce, and is determined to take destiny into her own hands. Her portrayal as a physically-strong woman who is smart, has a plan, and figures her way around is refreshing in comparison to the typical damsel-in- distress who needs a man to save her.”
Check out more of the artist’s creations here.