ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Doing and Undoing Feminism

A Jurisdictional Journey

What does it mean for a man to conduct oneself as a feminist? It is this question that the author, a legal academic, dwells on in this essay. The article can be seen as a jurisdictional auto-critique about feminism's relationship with law, which by extension is a comment on the author's relationship with both law and feminism and his attempt to fashion a lawful feminist self as a man.

I acknowledge Debolina Dutta’s contribution in helping me develop some of the core ideas in this piece, and also for her critical conversations on methods of feminist writing and living. Thanks are also due to Pratiksha Baxi, Trina Nileena Banerjee, Zaid Al Baset and Romit Chowdhury for their very useful comments on an earlier version.

The theme of this special issue “Men Doing Feminism in India” is a framing that can be read both as celebratory and contradictory. Depending on what strand of feminism one subscribes to, it might mark the moment of triumph for feminism that it has now got men on board, or it might be that fatalistic moment of defeat when feminism has been infiltrated, appropriated, and colonised by men. The framing can even sound like: “Capitalists doing Communism,” or “Fundamentalists doing Secularism,” or their equally ironic inverted avatars. This continuous double-play of possibility and limitation, of glee and caution, is what feminism has meant for me as a biological, practising heterosexual, married, elite, and upper-caste man.

The word “men,” in the title of the theme, is not an empty signifier of mere biologism. Although I carry some discomfort in the connection that the theme might suggest between identity and ideology, I cannot deny the deep ideological performance of privilege that I embody and enact as a man doing feminism. It is this embodiment and enactment of contradictions, being the recipient of privileges of this hetero–patriarchal–Savarna social order, and at the same time being embedded in struggles against that very order, is what living with feminism has meant for me.

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