What is Desi Feminism?

If the word ‘feminism’ conjures up images of angry women burning their bras think again. If you think feminism has nothing to do with you- regardless of whether you are a woman or a man, think again.

Did it upset you when, in December 2012 a woman in Delhi was gang-raped and attacked on a bus later dying of her injuries; her biggest crime being that she was a woman? Or the fact that in this day and age of political correctness, topless models still appear in the tabloid newspapers; like they are nothing more than a pair of tits? Or that in some countries is it considered acceptable for a man to beat his wife as long as he doesn’t leave a mark? If any of these issues made you stop and cry out “that’s not fair” I would say you’re on your way to becoming a feminist, because feminism is the fight for fair treatment of women.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what feminism means to today’s British Asian woman. Not those who sadly have been forced into a loveless marriage, or had the horror of female genital mutilation happen to them, or those facing domestic violence sanctioned by her religion (it does exist). I’m thinking of the average, so-called ‘normal’ British Asian woman.

I don’t know who coined the term ‘desi feminism’ but it seems appropriate, partly because the word ‘desi’ not only refers to people of the South Asian origin but also as it’s often used in everyday language to mean traditional. It’s precisely some traditional aspects of Asian culture that I think deals us a rough hand sometimes.

You see, I believe Asian women face a kind of triple jeopardy:  we are discriminated against because we are women and because we are a people of colour; but we are also oppressed by our culture. The first two are probably concepts you’re familiar with, but the culture thing? Well think about it. Our culture dictates the choices we make every day. From who to marry to how long to wear your hair; finding a ‘suitable’ career or not working at all; the pressure to live with in-laws, pressure to have sons, pressure not to go back to work after starting a family….it’s almost as if our life choices are not our own to make. If we go against the grain of our culture and ‘disobey’ our community, we are ostracised. They’ll fight you for the rest of your life because how dare you try to fight against them. You’ll face isolation, rejection and shame for bringing shame on the family.

As Asian women we live our daily lives under this kind of three-fold discrimination, it’s the constant pressure to do the right thing, culturally speaking; even when it’s not right for us.

So what do we do about this, ladies? Well starting the conversation is the first thing. Last year saw the explosion of fourth wave feminism, that is to say, the resurgence of the feminist movement. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” song, the “Keep Calm & Rape Them” t-shirts for sale on Amazon, Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism website and the campaign to end page 3 models in the British tabloid press have all been markers of this explosion. Crucially, the internet was the space that women used to speak out against sexism. It has got ugly at times but at least women are talking, speaking out.

We need to do the same in order to raise awareness- and the social networks could be a great place for us to start. I know it’s hard to fight against the years of tradition, but if they are traditions that oppress us and take away our freedom to be who we are, then it’s an important one.


Do you have any stories to share of Asian cultural oppression? Or perhaps you spoke out, fought back? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or email me at editor@britishasianwoman.com


6 thoughts on “What is Desi Feminism?

  1. Pingback: Women & The World: 4/11/14

  2. Pingback: The tinted glass ceiling: Asian women at work pt 2 | British Asian Woman

  3. Pingback: Why do we need International Women’s Day? | British Asian Woman

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