I VOLUNTEERED TO HELP at the Jaipur Film Festival and one of the films I liked most was UnLimited Girls by Paromita Vohra, which is being touted as India’s first feminist film. UnLimited Girls humorously explores engagements with feminism in contemporary India and is a must-see for those participating in this blog. Whoever said feminists don’t have fun? The film takes a quirky approach and is rich with discussion material. It is intended less as a source of easy answers on feminism than as a call to re-open the debate and question our assumptions. I wish to provide you less with a review on the film (which can be found here and here), than to pick apart some of the issues that struck me personally. Many of the themes the film deals with have already been discussed on this blog, particularly in Indhu and Anindita‘s posts. And the “Many Faces of an Indian Feminist” initiative hints at the complexity of defining or describing oneself as a feminist.
In a clip of an interview with a young woman, she says it is in women’s nature to sacrifice (and the word echoes several times to bring home the point). In another interview with Mumbai’s first female taxi driver, she says that women’s first duty is to look after the home. While I cringe at these depictions, I also wonder if there is any truth to them. Albert Einstein was serendipitously quoted in a recent Times of India ‘Mind over Matter’ article as having said: “And the high destiny of the individual is to serve rather than to rule, or to impose himself in any other way.”
I juxtapose all these because in my head they are slightly jumbled. In matters of spirituality, both men and women are urged to submit our ego to the higher purpose, to be humble and giving; in matters of politics, it is quite the opposite. (Usha, I hope to hear from you on this in light of the book review you posted here!). Thus, feminism calls for women’s equality because we have been subordinated through service for too long. I don’t think there is necessarily anything spiritual about doing something for someone else if it is by force (whether physical or social pressure). Yet is there something to say for women’s willingness to neglect their own desires in the interests of others? Perhaps it makes us more in tune with the interdependence of all living things. Perhaps, as Jennifer writes, “caring for others is caring for ourselves.” But what happens when women’s desire is simply to serve and not to seek anything more? Do we feminists dismiss them as retrograde and un-feminist?
Sadly, the film does not address in depth the question of feminism in marriage or in child-rearing, with only a brief interview of a young, supposedly modern couple. Personally, I have questioned my own marriage as possibly against some unwritten feminist code of conduct. Yet there are plenty of married feminists despite the stereotypes that feminists are lonely, ugly, etc. How do we and those in committed relationships negotiate our ideals for gender equality and keep them alive without creating too much tension? Even though my husband is quite the feminist and believes in gender equality, at times he has requested me to keep some of my feminist ideas out of the relationship because they can become a barrier. Yes, the personal is political, but sometimes we may have to leave politics at the front door if we want to continue to have a partner to come home to. As the couple in the film contemplate, how do we maintain a relationship based on equality and compromise rather than based on the assertion of our individuality and independence?
The film admits that there are no easy answers to the questions feminism(s) raise. Funnily enough, the narrator of the film, ‘Fearless’, concedes that she is hesitant to label herself as a feminist because it may take away her right to be confused!
I highly recommend seeing the film, it can be viewed online here in it’s entirety and be sure to rate it.