There is an annual Instagram project by the name of 36 Days of Type which is “a yearly open call inviting designers, illustrators and visual artists to share their view on the letters and numbers from our alphabet.” Delhi-based illustrator and graphic designer Kruttika Susarla took on the 36 Days project last year as a way to use her art as a medium to contextualize the feminist movement and more specifically, Indian feminism. On her site, kruttika.com, the vibrant artist explains her motivations stating:
“For the 2017 edition, I put together a series called—36 days of Feminist Type—a project where I sought to contextualise the feminist movement within the lived experiences of women and minorities in India. Every letter of the alphabet has been illustrated with a concept of feminism or lesser-known feminist organisations and activists through the number series. This project seeks to shift the feminist narrative In India from the mainstream, middle class, western, white single-story feminism to an intersectional feminism in the Indian context.”
Though this series was created last year, The Teal Mango felt it important to share this year as well since the crux of Susarla’s series-intersectional feminism in the Indian context- is still an important conversation with the violence against women and minorities in both India and the diaspora ever prevalent.
“The Feminist Alphabet” has been republished here with the permission of Kruttika Susarla. To view more of her work, follow the artist on Instagram here.
A for Androgyny | Androgyny is a behavior/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 jewelry 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 recognizes 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 offense 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 depoliticisation 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 Political 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 recognizes 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 analyze 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 relationship 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 recognize 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, organizing 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.
P for Personal is Political | The personal is the 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 analyzing private issues helps analyze 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 in 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 behavior 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 scrutinizes 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—social, 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 legalizing 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.
To see Susarla’s illustrations for 0 to 9, click here.