Yesterday model and Bollywood actress Lisa Haydon had some things to say about feminism in an interview with Times of India.
Her nine-line take on feminism resounded like thunder across the internet. Before I read the interview social media had already made clear that what I found within might be alarming. But I resolved to read Lisa's take on feminism with an open mind.
What follows is a critical, line-by-line analysis of Lisa Haydon on feminism — as and when it happened.
1) "I don't like the word feminist."
Okay. So Lisa’s starting off her, um, treatise with a simple declarative sentence asserting that she lacks affinity with the word ‘feminist.’
Cool, cool. Words can be tricky sometimes. Me, I could list at least a dozen words that I swear harbour some kind of personal vendetta against me - like diarrhoea, the correct spelling of which has eluded me all my life despite my being a pretty proficient speller. I mean, I just spelled it wrong again. I spelled it D-I-A-H-O-R-E-A which I would have sworn was right but as soon as I hit the spacebar there it was – that squiggly red line which makes me feel like an idiot. I’m so off even Spellcheck refuses to recognise the word. Great.
Anyway, speaking of poop, back to Lisa's take on feminism. I get that Lisa could conceivably hold a similar grudge against ‘feminist’ even though that’s a pretty easy word to spell, I think.
Either way, I’m intrigued. According to logic, Lisa’s next sentence should offer up some kind of definition of ‘feminist’ – or what she thinks the word means anyway, and then she should go about explaining to me why she hates it.
2) "I don't think women trying to be men is feminism."
Whoa. So Lisa’s making an interesting choice here by not presenting her argument against the word ‘feminist’ in a logical sequence. Either that or her first sentence was intended to just kind of soften me up while she prepared to spring her real thesis on me – an analysis of what feminism is (and isn’t, clearly).
Anyway. So, she thinks ‘women trying to be men’ is not an accurate description of feminism.
Well, I can’t find fault with that statement. Congratulations Lisa! You’re 100% correct. ‘Women trying to be men’ is actually NOT the correct definition of feminism.
So what is feminism? Lisa doesn’t tell us, so I may as well.
Now, there are long, complicated answers to this and some simple ones too. This is only fair, considering feminism is a large and complex social movement — also ideology, also field of study —spanning generations that cuts across class, race and sexual orientation.
But for the purposes of this essay let’s keep it real simple and say that feminism is the belief that women shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of their gender. Okay? Okay.
So now I’m guessing Lisa’s going to…
3) "I also don't believe in being outspoken for the sake of it, or just to prove a point."
Wait, what? Let’s backtrack. Because she’s explained what she thinks feminism isn’t I’m assuming she has an opinions on what it is – but we haven’t got there yet. Instead we’re talking about being outspoken.
Lisa has now appeared to have jettisoned logic entirely. I will attempt to put put the pieces together as best I can.
We know Lisa doesn’t like the word feminist. She appears to associate it with something negative. She also appears to believe ‘being outspoken’ is bad under any circumstances. Yes, you read me correctly. She’s issued a blanket condemnation of outspokenness. She doesn’t want you to be outspoken just for the heck of it and she also doesn’t want you to be outspoken when you really have an important point to make.
By analysing her use of the word ‘just’ (in colloquial usage, when preceding mention of an action, thing or person ‘just’ minimises or diminishes the importance of that action, thing or person, for example: “Maa, it’s just a tattoo” or “No need to stand up, it’s just the Vice President”) as it relates to ‘proving a point’ I’m also going to assume that she thinks proving points – that is, following hypotheses to their conclusions — is a huge waste of time.
Hmmm. Lisa really doesn’t like people having opinions. Or discussing, you know, issues.
Enter irony. This is because this treatise on feminism is Lisa’s opinion, and if she were to apply this to her own situation she shouldn’t have allowed herself to be interviewed in a national newspaper.
Hmmm. Hmmm. I sense some inconsistencies.
4) "Feminism is just an overused term and people make too much noise about it for no reason."
Ok. Finally. Lisa gets back to feminism.
But wait – what does she think it is? Ugh, we still don’t know! And there’s that ‘just’ again!
Anyway, she’s forced my hand. Lisa’s forcing me to conclude that she doesn’t have a very high opinion of feminism. I’d go so far as to say she thinks it kind of sucks.
You know what else Lisa thinks sucks? How people ‘make too much noise’ about feminism ‘for no reason.’
Remember how we said feminism is the belief that women shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of their gender identities? Let’s stay with that for a moment.
Lisa Haydon is from India and she’s a woman. Given that a lot of women around her are, in fact, discriminated against on the basis of their gender can Lisa say in good faith that ‘making noise’ (which I understand to mean ‘talking about’ or teaching people about’) feminism is without purpose?
Teaching people that women have the same right as men to occupy public spaces might spare Indian women from brutal rape and murder. Talking about gender discrimination might save one more baby girl from infanticide. If this isn't purpose, I don't know what is.
Heck, if Lisa thinks that isn’t purpose enough to talk about feminism she could think about her own situation.
Earlier in this very same interview she says: “I am just an individual trying to carve a niche for myself that nobody else can fill.” She also says she doesn’t want to be objectified.
Feminism would help with that, don’t you think?
5) "Women have been given these bodies to produce children, and the spirit and tenderness to take care of people around us."
To follow the train of Lisa Hayden's thoughts is akin to taking a tour of a particularly dystopic Narnia. Much like the tale's enchanted closet, entering Lisa Haydon's headspace requires forgetting everything you thought you knew about contemporary debates on gender.
What she's doing here is essentialising differences between women and men (again, no mention of other genders!). Women are inherently maternal and nurturing, says Lisa. What follows from this is that mothering should be their primary role.
This essentialism is a dangerous, dirty business that drives practically every discriminatory practice against women, from gender-based wage gaps to sexual harassment. It's the very attitude women and the feminist movement have fought long and hard against, because they don't want to be seen as 'just' mothers or 'just' wives' or 'just' anything.
Again, this is a pretty odd stance for Lisa to take given that earlier in this very interview she said she wants to be considered "multi-dimensional."
And then she follows this up with...
6) "It's fine to be an outspoken and working woman."
This is the very definition of a U-turn.
Lisa literally just said she thinks being outspoken is a bad thing, and now it's 'fine'. I don't understand where this came from. I have a headache.
7) "I don't want to be a man."
Ok, this is the second time the Lisa has stressed that she doesn’t want to be a man.
In literary theory, repetition is an important indicator of value. Of some underlying theme or point of obsession.
I’m forced to conclude Lisa has real anxiety about being considered masculine.
And this is only natural when , like Lisa, you essentialise gender roles. When you view femininity and masculinity as rigid constructs you feel anything you do that can be construed as even slightly 'male' — like having an opinion, or or being outspoken — might put you in the man box. And that would be bad, because you're really invested in not being a man, right?
I don't even want to think about what little room this archaic construction of the world leaves for people who don't identify as either a man or woman.
But I feel for Lisa. I honestly want to place my hand on her head and say, it's ok. No one's forcing you to be a man, Lisa. You can be a woman and still ask for equal pay. You can ask for the same rights to life and liberty as a man and not relinquish your love for fuschia. How? Feminism. It will let you have these things. Come towards the light.
8) "One day I look forward to making dinner for my husband and children. I don't want to be a career feminist."
Lisa's anxiety seems to be reaching a head. This statement is at least a logical conclusion to what came before: how she thinks men and women should remain within the confines of the roles generations of patriarchy assigned to them.
I find myself wondering how it is that Lisa, a 21st century woman who says she values individualism ("the best person to compete with is yourself," she trilled earlier), is mimicking arguments made mostly as a reaction to second-wave feminism back in the 1970's and 80s. She has access to modern takes on feminism which make clear it's more inclusive than ever, and open to criticism too. She has friends who espouse these values. Why then is her understanding of feminism so regressive, so limited?
What's fascinating is how her view doesn't reflect her experiences — she is, after all, a reasonably independent, opinionated woman who appears to live life on her own terms. Now, whether she wants to identify as a feminist or not is her business. But as a public figure, I do hold her accountable for what she chooses to say in the media, and for spreading ill-informed and damaging arguments that may hold other women back.
Given all the flaws and loopholes in Lisa's argument I can only conclude: Lisa would do well to have a conversation with Kangna Ranaut or even Anuskha Sharma. What she needs, really, is to be woke.