India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Verve People
June 18, 2017

The Female Gaze: The Girl Who Will Make You Sit Up and Listen

Text by Simone Louis

What does it mean to be a feminist today? Aranya Johar talks about the shift in ideologies and acceptance

You’d have to have been on an internet detox for the past two months or so if you haven’t watched, heard about, shared or discussed A Brown Girl’s Guide to Gender – a spoken word video uploaded by UnErase Poetry that went incredibly viral in no time. The writer who made the performance every bit goosebump-inducing as it was, Aranya Johar is a force to be reckoned with. More recently, she impressed viewers yet again with To Bleed Without Violence – a video released on menstrual hygiene day, May 28 – and the eloquent 18-year-old is certainly not stopping any time soon.

Did you have any inkling that A Brown Girl’s Guide to Gender would go viral in such a big way? How did it make you feel?
“Not the slightest! I wrote it barely a week before the piece went up and did it just for myself. I don’t usually write about the topics I addressed in it, so I was very conscious about making sure it was true, real and different. A lot of people write about feminism, and I wanted my work to be unique…I wanted people to know that there are feminist men who are trying to help and shouldn’t be unappreciated. I was very overwhelmed by the response since I barely expected it, but I was glad it started a conversation.”

How do you feel about the increasingly viral nature of feminist, political and activist posts? Have you noticed a shift in ideologies and acceptance?
“I’m glad there are more posts about these themes circling the internet, but my only concern is people still think feminism is only the empowerment of one gender. That’s incorrect; it is the equality and equity of both. That means: we are against fake rape allegations, we are pro men talking about their assault or rape, and we are pro getting men acts for sexual harassment at the workplace.”

Did you have to face much backlash after the performance?
“Yes, to a certain extent. A lot of people said I was blaming or against men, which I wasn’t. In fact I appreciated them. I also got comments saying that it was exaggerated, which is unfortunate because this is our reality. Still, a lot of people supported and stood up for me. It felt great to have people connect with the piece enough to support a random stranger over the internet.”

What does feminism mean to you? And what does it mean to be a feminist today?
“Feminism means equality. Being a feminist today means that you make it a point to be inclusive of all intersections within it and realise that we’re not against men.”

Who or what has influenced your being a feminist?
“My brother, Ankur, introduced me to feminism. He made sure that I read up on it from the right places and that my ideologies were correct. My sociology teacher at Lilavatibai Podar, Mrs. Vinita, also hosted wonderful discussions in class regarding similar topics so that really sensitised us.”

And which other writers/voices have inspired you?
“Sarah Kay, Denice Frohman, Sabrina Benaim, Barkha Dutt, Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Chance the Rapper….”

What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome to do what you do?
“Not being taken seriously because of my age. People think that just because I’m 18, I can’t be informed.”

What’s next for you?
“More poetry! My piece about periods is out and I have another one coming which is about how media sells millennials as technology-driven and ignorant. We’re a lot more than that.”

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