Mother, wife, journalist, friend. To my Twitter bio, I could add caregiver, laundry-doer and, oh yeah, feminist too. But then, why state the obvious?

Being a woman does not automatically make me a feminist. Feminism is not a state of divine blessedness that visits those of us born with two X chromosomes. Feminism is about gender but transcends it, which means women can be both victims and perpetrators of discrimination. And, I’m happy to report, many of the men in my life are among the strongest feminists I know.

What makes them feminists? In all the hullabaloo that broke out this past week when actress Lisa Haydon told The Times of India that “I don’t think women trying to be men is feminism", one simple definition has been overlooked. Feminism is a belief that men and women should be treated as equals. So, in a sense, Haydon is right. “Women trying to be men" is not feminism.

Being the mother of two daughters does not make me a feminist. I am a feminist because I believe that men and women should be treated as equals; that being in a public space, including parks and pavements, is not an invitation to stare and grope; that men have an equal right and obligation to family time. I am a feminist because I don’t want to live a life boxed by double standards. Equal pay for equal work, heck yes. Do I wear lipstick? Heck yes, and kaajal and sometimes perfume too.

What we want as feminists is really astoundingly simple: a fair world. It’s a world where women do not have to settle for 27% less pay than their male colleagues for the same work, as found by a report by online career and recruitments solution provider Monster India.

It’s a world where the sex ratio for children aged between 0 and 6 is not as horribly skewed as just 914 girls for every 1,000 boys born, according to Census 2011. It’s certainly not one where—dear Ms Haydon, please note—female characters comprise a mere 24.9% of all characters in Indian films released between 2010 and May 2013, as per a 2014 study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Feminism should not have to disintegrate into a dissing match. And yet, India’s brand ambassador for Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Parineeti Chopra, clarifies that “I am not, I am really not" a feminist. In October last year, Priyanka Chopra told American talk show host Jimmy Kimmel that Quantico, the TV show where she plays the lead, has “strong female characters, but I don’t think it is a bra-burning feminist show where you hate men".

How did feminism get such a bad rap? Perhaps it’s because, as Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out, gender is not an easy conversation to have. “Thinking of changing the status quo is always uncomfortable," she writes in We Should All Be Feminists. “Some men feel threatened by the idea of feminism. This comes, I think, from the insecurity triggered by how boys are brought up, how their sense of self-worth is diminished if they are not ‘naturally’ in charge as men."

There is a somewhat rubbish attempt to try and slot feminists into various types: radical feminist, hot feminist, celebrity feminist and so on. This not only creates false divides within a group that is striving for nothing more than a just world, but it also reduces us to one single adjective. When no human being can be reduced to a sole descriptor, why use the rule to describe feminists?

It’s also a pernicious divide that attempts to impose a rating system on the battles we choose and pick. Every fight from safe cities to clean toilets is worth having. Who speaks for whom and what we should be speaking about is not something that can or should be imposed on us.

When women in positions of power and privilege rush to deny the struggles and gains made by an earlier generation of feminists, I am dismayed by a blinkered and frankly selfish world view. These are women who are where they are because of the struggles and sacrifices that preceded them: the fight to vote, the fight to more stringent laws against sexual assault, the fight to study, the fight against dowry.

All over the world, there is a global conversation about the rights of women. India too has seen the remarkable rise of women’s aspirations as they go about their daily work, breaking down patriarchy one step at a time. In Rajasthan, an NGO helps child brides retrace their steps and puts them back in schools.

Elsewhere, an abandoned Muslim wife moves the courts, asking for justice against a husband who simply pronounces talaaq thrice in order to divorce her. Somewhere else, the survivor of a brutal rape picks up the threads of her life and braves social stigma and a hostile system to bring the perpetrators to justice. These are testimonies of countless lives as they are lived. How can they fail to move you?

To mock feminism is to deny the struggles and sacrifices of countless men and women who want a better world. Feminism is about opening doors. Someone opened a door for us. Isn’t it time for us to consider holding the door open for our daughters?

Namita Bhandare is gender editor of Mint. Her Twitter handle is @namitabhandare

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